«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
At St. Casimir Hospital in Radom, where I was finally sent to have my eye attended to, the groans of the wounded seemed restful to my ears after the screams of Demblin [Dęblin]. The atmosphere of this hospital was tense and a little surrealistic: The Germans had taken charge of everything, from surgery to administration, but they had left the religious at their posts. The nuns were excellent nurses and especially strong Polish patriots, conspirators even. The sister who looked after me had a German-sounding first name, Kunegunda [actually this would have been an assumed religious name, that of Blessed Kinga or Kunegunda, the Hungarian-born wife of King Boleslaus V the Shy of Poland], but she would rather have had her tongue torn out that pronounce a word in that language. As with all the other religious, the occupiers had to speak to her through an interpreter. The German military doctors didn’t believe in talking to the wounded. I only learned the details of my operation from Sister Kunegunda. … Sister Kunegunda was very kind to me, perhaps in the hope of bringing me to religion, or more simply because of my relative youth. She sometimes brought me sweets and promised to contact my family with the help of another sister who happened to be traveling to Lodz [Łódź]. I wrote my parents a long letter, which ended by declaring my irrevocable decision to move to the provinces incorporated in the USSR, beyond the River Bug.
In Polish Pomerania (the so-called Polish corridor), in the fall of 1939, thousands of Poles, as well as some Jews, 21 were rounded up and killed in mass executions in the forests near Piaśnica. One group of 300 prisoners, transported there in November from the jail in the nearby town of Wejherowo, included Jewish children. Sister Alicja, born Maria Jadwiga Kotowska, the superior of the convent of the Sisters of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Wejherowo and school principal, took them into her care. She led them by their hands like Janusz Korczak would later lead his Jewish orphans from the Warsaw ghetto onto a train headed for Treblinka. (Lucyna Mistecka, Zmartwychwstanki w okupowanej Polsce [Warszawa: Ośrodek Dokumentacji i Studiów Społecznych, 1983], pp.94–96.) On the entry of the Wehrmacht into Wejherowo (September 9), the extermination action began. The jails were overcrowded, and prisoners occupied not only the cells but also the corridors and the chapel. There were over 3,000 of them …including members of the clergy … The Sisters were also blacklisted. They were placed in isolation in their convent which was occupied by the German army. … At 3:30 in the afternoon [of October 23]… during prayer the Gestapo burst into the convent, causing an uproar, with the aim of terrorizing the Sisters. They demanded that Sister Alicja leave. Upon leaving, they arrested her and took her to the courthouse. … The next day the Sisters … learned that Sister Alicja was in the local jail [where she remained despite numerous interventions] … Commencing November 5, every day six or more automobiles left the jail for Piaśnica … On November 11 a large transport counting 300 prisoners left for Piaśnica. Among them was Sister Alicja Kotowska. Before entering the automobiles they had to empty their pockets … Sister Alicja was the last member of the group to enter the courtyard of the building. She approached a group of Jewish children, took them by their hands and led them into the automobile.
In Piaśnica forest the prisoners, stripped to their undergarments, were lined up in front of the graves that had been prepared. They were forced to kneel [before being shot] … Their bodies were covered over with a thick layer of lime and soil over which sod was placed.
The Germans started to abuse the Jewish population as soon as they arrived in Żelechów near Garwolin. After a brief respite, matters came to a head again in November 1939, when hundreds of Jews were rounded up and were on the verge of being killed. A priest intervened with the Germans on behalf of the endangered Jews.
(“Zelechow,” in Encyclopedia of the Jewish Communities in Poland, Volume VII, Internet:
http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Pinkas_poland/pol7_00199b.html; translation from Pinkas hakehillot Polin, Volume VII [Jerusalem: Yad Vahem, 1999], pp.199ff.) The Germans entered Zelechow [Żelechów] on 12 September 1939. Immediately upon their arrival, they seized Jews on the street, subjected them to harsh abuse, plundered their property, and set several of their houses on fire. The next day, the synagogue was set afire, and the blaze claimed the life of Hayyim Palhendler, who before the war had been a member of the municipal council. At the same time, the Germans seized Jewish and Polish public figures as hostages and imprisoned them for twenty-four hours. After a few days, the Germans gathered a group of Jews and sent them to OstrowMazowiecka [Ostrów Mazowiecka]; on the way, they shot many of them to death. … In November 1939 … That month also saw a serious incident that jeopardized the lives of hundred of Jews in Zelechow.
On a market day in town, a former Polish soldier shot at a German. The Germans immediately gathered hundreds of Jews and prepared to kill then, but through the lobbying of the priest, and after the actual culprit was captured, the Jews were set free.
In early November 1939, the Gestapo in Łódź carried out mass arrests of the intelligentsia, Catholic clergymen and political and social activists, both Poles and Jews, and confined them in a concentration camp created in nearby Radogoszcz. Józef (Josef) Saks, who arrived at the camp on December 23, 1939, recalled the atmosphere of solidarity that prevailed among the prisoners. (His account, recorded in October 1945, is found in the archive of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Record Group 301, Testimony 1023.) On December 23, 1939, I arrived with a group of 39 Jews and 40 Poles from the [Gestapo] prison on Sterling Street (also some people from the prison [police detention for arrests] on Kopernik Street). There were a few dozen women in the camp, including a few Jewish ones. … In the camp there were 4 big rooms. The Jews were in two rooms, but there were no special ghettos.
The Poles’ attitude to the Jews, with the exception of particular individuals, was generally good. It should be pointed out that there were a few dozen priests in the camp. Most of the Poles were from the intelligentsia. The prisoners’ honesty
From western Polish territories incorporated directly into the German Reich, Jews were deported en masse to the General Government. Many of them passed through the Franciscan friaries in Limanowa near Nowy Sącz and in Niepokalanów near Warsaw. On January 2, 1940, Emanuel Ringelblum wrote in his diary Kronika getta
warszawskiego: Wrzesień 1939–styczeń 1943 (Warszawa: Czytelnik, 1983), at page 68:
In Limanowa, the behaviour of the Franciscans toward 1,300 Jewish refugees (500 from Kalisz, 500 from Lublin, and some 300 from Poznań) was very favourable. They gave them accommodations in their buildings and helped them [in various ways]… even giving them a calf to kill.
In a biography entitled A Man for Others: Maximilian Kolbe, Saint of Auschwitz (New York: Harper & Row, 1982; reissued by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division of Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., Huntington, Indiana, 1982), at pages 91–93, Patricia Treece writes about the extensive assistance provided to large numbers of Jewish refugees in Niepokalanów, Poland’s largest monastery, which was under the direction of Father Maximilian [Maksymilian] Kolbe.8 8 Father Kolbe’s beatification and subsequent canonization gave rise to an ugly campaign of vilification by uninformed sources, who hold themselves out as “experts” on Polish-Jewish relations. The charges against Father Kolbe were thoroughly discredited at the time but has been revived in recent years. In 1982, two historians—Daniel L. Schlafly, Jr., a Catholic, and Warren Green, a Jew—undertook extensive research on Father Kolbe’s prewar activities. In their report, “The Charges and the Truth,” published in the St. Louis Jewish Light (June 30, 1982), they stated that, in all of Father Kolbe’s published works, there were only 14 references to Jews, some very positive, five negative, and none racist. Another charge levelled at Father Kolbe had to do with Mały Dziennik, the popular daily newspaper produced at his friary, which was accused of promoting anti-Semitism. Father Kolbe was away in Japan for much of the 1930’s and issued instructions
not to publish articles that could be construed as being anti-Semitic. See Michael Schwartz, “The Deputy Myth,” The Persistent Prejudice:
Anti-Catholicism in America (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 1984), pp.235–38. The tone for the hatred spewed on Father Kolbe was set by Rabbi Lev K. Nelson, who wrote in the Boston Jewish Advocate (November 4, 1982): “…the sainted Kolbe was a notorious anti-Semite during the Hitler regime in Poland … How can we possibly say that Kolbe is Kosher when his whole life has been unclean—seared by the disease of anti-Semitism and sullied by the spewing of hatred towards human beings of a different faith? Is it irony or poetic justice that the man who was indirectly responsible for crowding Auschwitz with its victims, was in turn compelled to share their bitter lot and witness the result of the preaching of hatred!” Anne Roiphe, a literary editor of the liberal Jewish-American periodical Tikkun, who appears not to appreciate that the Nazis also built camps for and engaged in the systematic destruction of Christian Poles, especially the clergy, made the following remarks in A Season For Healing: Reflections on the Holocaust (New York: Summit Books, 1988), at p.130: “Father Kolbe was a nationalist of great fervor. His objection to the Nazis was nationalistic not moral … A known anti-Semite, even one caught in the machinery to kill the Jews, hardly seem a candidate for sainthood, at least to Jews. In making a pilgrimage to the camp and marking the death of Father Kolbe, [Pope John Paul II] seems once again to diminish the death of all Jews who died there.” Joseph Polak, director of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation at Boston University, called a modest shrine erected in the Auschwitz cell where Father Kolbe was put to death “a landmark etched only in thoughtlessness and cruelty”. See his “Auschwitz Revisited: Icons, Memories, Elegies”, Midstream, June/July 1990, pp.17–18. In his best seller, Chutzpah (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991), Alan M.
Dershowitz wrote, at p.143, that Father Kolbe was “a notorious anti-Semite who almost certainly would never have sacrificed his life for a condemned Jewish inmate. (In fact, it is unlikely that Kolbe ever even met a Jew at Auschwitz, since the Polish prisoners were kept entirely separate from the Jews.)” On August 1, 1994, The New York Times ran a letter from Alfred Lipson, Senior Researcher, Holocaust Resource Center and Archives, City University of New York, which stated: “The Polish priest’s canonization caused a controversy because of past anti-Semitism, especially his attacks on Jews in his popular publications and preachings.” David M. Crowe, a historian who taught at Columbia University in New York and is former member of the Education Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., wrote in his study The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2008), at p.371: “Kolbe was a Franciscan priest from Łódź who operated a religious center near Warsaw. He was arrested on several occasions by the Germans for helping refugees. But most of Father Kolbe’s fame came from his willingness to die in place of another prisoner in Auschwitz. In 1971, questions were raised about his beatification after it was discovered that Kolbe was an anti-Semite who accepted the fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion as authentic [as did Winston Churchill, at the time—ed.]. He wrote about the ‘perverse Jewish-Masonic press’ and claimed that the Talmud ‘breathes hatred against Christ and Christians’ [which reputable scholars such as Peter Schäfer (Jesus in the Talmud [Princeton, New Jersey and Oxford: Princeton Univerity Press, 2007]) readily acknowledge— ed.]. He also thought that the Holocaust was God’s punishment for Jewish sins. [This is a totally preposterous charge, as the Holocaust did not get underway until after Kolbe’s death. Ed.] In 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized him as a ‘martyr of charity.’” 23 Truckloads (Brother Juventyn [Juwentyn] estimates as many as 1,500 Jews and 2,000 gentiles at one time) were dumped at the friary by the Nazis, displaced persons who had been forced from their homes as “undesirables” in territory annexed by the Reich.9 The first group (Jews and gentiles from the Poznań area), many times outnumbering the Franciscans, was practically waiting on the doorstep when Kolbe and his malnourished friars returned from imprisonment. … Kolbe and the Brothers somehow managed to feed their bedraggled guests until the Germans began allotting food for them. To do so, the friars begged in the neighborhood. … Kolbe not only provided housing (the guests were given about three-fourths of the friary) and food, but clothing and every other kind of assistance as well.