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«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»

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More than 4,400 Catholic priests and brothers were put into concentration camps, where half of them were killed. Of 1,100 nuns imprisoned in concentration camps, about 240 perished.

I regretted that I never had the opportunity to express my feelings to Father Żalski, but the Jewish child was not a topic 191 to be discussed then. … Only recently I learned about the fate of Father Żalski and the child. Father Żalski stayed in his parish until his death in the 1960s. Little Marianna, whose real name was Rachela, survived. Her mother had taken poison in Siedlce during the deportation. An old school friend of her mother’s had rescued the child. Later, after being passed from hand to hand, she was entrusted to Father Żalski’s care. In 1946, with the help of Mrs. Glazer-Olszakowska, Marianna was sent to an uncle in Israel and was brought up in a kibbutz there. Eventually, she studied economics, married, and has two children. Mrs.

Glazer-Olszakowska visited her in Israel and reported that she had become a highly respected civil servant. I never saw her after that early spring of 1944 in Father Żalski’s parish house in Sobieszyn.

Rev. Jan Poddębniak of Krężnica Jara near Lublin, was the chancellor of the diocesan curia. He helped many Jewish youths from Lublin, among them Lea Bass, Sara Bass-Frenkel, and Manfred Frenkel. With his assistance the Bass sisters were able to register for labour in Germany. Rev. Poddębniak corresponded with the sisters so as to allay suspicion as to their identity, but their lack of discretion could have cost him his life. He was awarded by Yad Vashem. Rev. Paweł Dziubiński, a prelate from Lublin, provided baptismal certificates to the Bass sisters.

(Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, pp.296–97.) In September 1942, during the liquidation of the Lublin ghetto, 20-year-old Sara Bas and her 13-year-old sister, Lea, escaped from the ghetto after their entire family had perished. Since none of their Polish acquaintances were prepared to take them in, they roamed from village to village for about a month vainly trying to find shelter. At night they hid in abandoned ruins and in Lublin’s old cemetery. In early November 1942, when they were on the verge of despair, Wladyslaw [Władysław] Janczarek, an old acquaintance of their father’s, noticed them and approached them cautiously, offering them help. Since Janczarek was unable tp put the two girls up in his home, he arranged to meet with them the next day and bring them two Aryan birth certificates of relatives of the same age, so that they could register for work in Germany. The two sisters, however, continued wandering around Lublin for several months until they found work in the home of a Polish woman. Since they were well known in their hometown, the sisters feared discovery and therefore decided to ask the nuns who worked in the local hospital for help. The nuns [Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul67] put them in touch with Jan Poddebniak [Poddębniak], a priest, who advised them to register for work in Germany. Enlisting the help of the Chief Recruitment Officer, Father Poddebniak arranged for the two sisters to be sent to Germany, where they worked in a hospital for foreign workers until the area was liberated. Father Poddebniak made a point of sending them letters to allay suspicion as to their identity.

Rev. Jan Gosek, the pastor of Kanie near Chełm, provided false documents which enabled a Jewish woman to pass as a Pole and survive the war. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 5: Poland, Part 2, p.649.) Until the war broke out, the five members of the Wagner family lived in the village of Wolka Kanska [Wólka Kańska] near the city of Chelm [Chełm], in the Lublin district, and had been friends of the Puch family. During the occupation, after the Germans began liquidating the Jews, the Wagner family tried unsuccessfully to find a place to hide in the area. By 1942, of the entire family, only the 15-year-old daughter, Gita Wagner (later Stanislawa [Stanisława] Konopka), remained alive.

In her despair, she arrived at the home of Antoni and Maria Puch, who, although unable to take her into their own home, did not wish to abandon her to her fate. With the help of the local priest [Rev. Jan Gosek, the pastor of Kanie68], they arranged to have a Christian birth certificate issued to her with their own surname. Their daughter, Danuta, who was a young woman at the time, took responsibility for the care of Gita upon herself and tried to find a safer place for her to hide. Despite her young age, Danuta set out on her own at her parents’ behest to distant Warsaw to the home of Janina Wroblewska [Wróblewska], an acquaintance of Jewish extraction who was living there under an assumed identity. After Wroblewska agreed to take Gita under her wing, Danuta traveled with her by train to the capital and got her a job with a dentist. Gita Wagner stayed with Wroblewska until the Warsaw Uprising in the summer of 1944 and survived. After the war, Gita Wagner remained in Poland.

67 Testimony of Rev. Jan Poddębniak, in Anna Dąbrowska, ed., Światła w ciemności: Sprawiedliwi Wśród Narodów Świata. Relacje (Lublin: Ośrodek Brama Grodzka–Teatr NN, 2008), 191–94. The Bass sisters wrote postcards from Germany in which thet addressed Rev. Poddębniak as “Mr. Priest” and thanked him for what he had done for them.

68 Grynberg, Księga sprawiedliwych, p.440. See also Dąbrowska, Światła w ciemności, pp.348–50.

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During the liquidation of the ghetto in Opole Lubelskie in October 1942 two young Jews escaped and arrived unexpectedly at the home of the vicar, Rev. Władysław Krawczyk. His account, “Żydzi zwracali się ku kościołowi,” is found in Opoka, London, no. 11 (July 1975), at page 83.

When the ghetto in Opole Lubelskie, in the county of Puławy, was being finished off in 1942, I had the misfortune of seeing from the church tower the market square of the ghetto which was covered with corpses and blood. They [the Jews] had all turned toward the church when they were being shot at. A few days earlier some had visited the church and said that this was their nemesis for having once called out: “His blood be on us, and on our children.” [Matthew, 27:25]. The Schupo, dressed in green, shot them. Our police, dressed in navy, refused to do so. The dean, who had also ascended the tower, almost fainted. I held on to the frame of the window. We descended quickly but awkwardly since I had to hold up the dean.

It is difficult not to have a great deal of sympathy for that nation and it is entirely understandable that one would have wanted to protect them from that historical nemesis and hatred. That day, the 23rd of October 1942, when they were being liquidated, two young Jews managed to arrive at my home. I had only one room. The office of the Gestapo was next door and a [German] commander occupied the dwelling above mine. The buidling was well guarded. The punishment for hiding a Jew was death. Despite this, I fed them, gave them provisions, and around midnight led them across some fields to a forest about three kilometres away. There there already were [Polish] partisans and among them the son of the local rabbi.

A similar eyewitness’s testimony—that of Maria Bill-Bajorkowa—is recorded in Shmuel Meiri, ed., The Jewish Community of Wieliczka: A Memorial Book (Tel Aviv: The Wieliczka Association in Israel, 1980), at page 75.

Beaten, kicked, shot, fainting, the Jews fall to the ground. They cry, they scream, we hear their voices: “Jesus Christ, since our Jehovah has forsaken us, take pity on me and I will convert to Your faith.” Others cry out: “If there was a Jehovah he would not have allowed what they are doing to us happen. There is no Jehovah, there is no God. We perish and no one helps us. Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.” The theological ramifications of accepting the tragedy that befell the Jews as the will of God, something that strikes one as particularly harsh and glaring in retrospect, are explained by Leon Wells, a Jewish survivor from Lwów, from the traditional Judeo-Christian vantage point. (Harry James Cargas, Voices from the Holocaust [Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1993], pp.91–92.) I read the Lubavitch in ’43, ‘44—it’s not proper to mention—Soloveitchik and all the others, they said the Holocaust was sent from heaven and did good because it is the time of the coming of the Messiah. Even the Lubavitch in ’43, I have here the document where he said enjoy, enjoy, because the Messiah is coming. And he said that Haman does not come by himself. He’s sent by God. I said to a major Jewish theologian recently, “Why are you only condemning the Pope? Or about what Cardinal O’Connor in New York said about the Holocaust?” I said, “Didn’t the Lubavitch and others say the same, that it’s God’s will and we should believe it? It is only cleansing, because of our sins. God threw us out from our land because of our sins.” And he said, “Yes, if you are a religious man and if I would be the Pope, I couldn’t behave differently because I cannot say it’s not God’s will because he can stop everything.” I said, “Fine. So why don’t you as a leading Jewish theologian come out and ask why are we jumping so much about the Pope and all?” He said, “What should I do? It is the people, it is their will. They know what they want to hear and I know what I want.” And I said to myself, it is theological, they have no other choice. There is no other choice. If you believe in a God, then it’s the will of God. We’d have to change the whole religious outlook in order to see it differently. But as of the moment, we believe in God’s will.

Rabbis throughout Poland were inclined to attribute the calamities that befell the Jews to divine presence in terms of punishment. When the Jews of Brańsk were being rounded up on November 7, 1942 to be transported to Treblinka, that town’s chief rabbi, Itzhak Zev Cukerman, addressed the crowds in the following words: “The judgment was passed in Heaven. We have to die. But I believe that those who survive will inform the world of our 193 suffering.” (The Story of Two Shtetls, Brańsk and Ejszyszki: An Overview of Polish-Jewish Relations in Northeastern Poland during World War II, Part Two [Toronto: The Polish Educational Foundation in North America, 1998], p.78.) Similarly, in the face of imminent annihilation, Rabbi Shimon Rozovsky was reported to have said to the Jewish community leaders of Ejszyszki: “Jews, you see our end is approaching rapidly … God did not want us to be saved. Our destiny has been decided, and we must accept this.” (Perets Alufi and Shaul Kaleko (Barkeli), eds., Eishishok, koroteha ve-hurbanah: pirke zikhronot ve-‘eduyot (be-tseruf temunot)/liket [Jerusalem: Committee of the Survivors of Eishishok in Israel, 1950]; translated into English by Shoshanna

Gavish, “Aishishuk”; Its History and Its Destruction: Documentaries, Memories and Illustrations [Jerusalem:

n.p., 1980], p.62.) Another observation by a Jewish survivor, now an American sociologist, is also worth noting. (Samuel P. Oliner, Restless Memories: Recollections of the Holocaust Years [Berkeley, California: Judah L. Magnes Museum, 1986], p.98.) During the tragic moments in the Bobowa ghetto [near Gorlice], the rabbis had one standard answer. All the rabbis I ever met or saw said the same thing: “Children, go and pray because the day will come when the Messiah will appear and he will protect us. The Lord knows what he is doing. He will help us.” There wasn’t one rabbi or other leader I know of who said to his people: “Children, let’s take up arms. Let’s train ourselves. Let’s fight. Let’s barricade ourselves and save our lives. Let’s not obey the German laws any longer.” As one scholar observes, “There are many such stories in the literature, describing rabbis who encouraged their followers on the way to execution by singing, reciting psalms, even dancing, so as to prepare themselves spiritually for the great honour and privilege that God had given them—to die for kidush hashem.” (Jonathan Webber, “Jewish Identities in the Holocaust: Martyrdom as a Representative Category,” in Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, volume 13: Focusing on the Holocaust and its Aftermath [London and Portland, Oregon: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2000], p.140.) Rabbi Kalonymos Kalmish Shapira, a prominent Hasidic leader, wrote in the Warsaw ghetto: “We must persist in our belief that whatever God does is exactly what must be done.” (Rabbi Kalonymos Kalmish Shapira, Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939–1942 [Northvale, New Jersey and Jerusalem: Jason Aronson, 2000], p.306.) While confined in the Wilno ghetto, Zelig Kalmanovich, the wartime voice of the Orthodox community, kept a diary that is replete with scriptural and rabbinical quotations. Why, Kalmanovich asks, did God allow the Jews of Wilno to be destroyed? Because the destruction would serve as a sign (1) that what was once a proud Jewish community was already rotting, crumbling from within, and (2) that future generations—unaware of this decay and left only with the detritus of the external destruction—would have something useful, even inspiring, to remember.

God’s purpose in destroying the community of Vilna [Wilno] was perhaps to hasten the redemption, to alert whomsoever might still be alerted that there is neither refuge nor hope for life in the Exile. … But if we take a hard look we can see that it was necessary for the destruction to come from without. The fortress had already been destroyed and laid waste from within. Vilna had put up no resistance to the assimilation and the obliteration of the Jewish character, had not stood up to the spiritual destruction decreed by the Red conquerors. … And these undesecrated stones will serve as a memorial to our Exile, for their merit was not to have been desecrated through the hands of their own children, by those who had once built the walls, but rather, through the hands of a savage nation, acting as the emissary of God.

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