«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
William (Wolf) Ungar had taken refuge in the town of Nowy Dwór, north of Warsaw, in territory incorporated into the Reich, where he lived with the family of his Jewish friend. He decided to leave that town and return to Lwów, when it appeared that the ghetto in Nowy Dwór was about to be evacuated. In March 1943, Ungar approached a Polish smuggler who agreed to take him and another Jew, who had a very bad appearance, across the border to the General Government. The smuggler directed Ungar to an unidentified priest in Warsaw for assistance. (Ungar, Destined to Live, pp.235–36.) We waited as the chief smuggler talked to the fisherman. When he finished he came over to me and said, “You shouldn’t stay here. It’s not safe. … This man here,”—gesturing toward the fisherman—“can take you to the other side. There’s a railroad station not too far off. You can get a train there for Warsaw.” “Okay,” I said, “that’s what we’ll do. We want to thank you for your help.” “One more thing,” he said. “Take this.” He gave me a piece of paper. “It’s the address of a priest in Warsaw who can help you get train tickets. You might not be able to do so yourselves.” The fisherman had a rowboat tied to a little pier that jutted into the river. We climbed in and two minutes later we were on the other side. There the fisherman led us to a path.
Jola Hoffman, who lived in the Warsaw ghetto together with her family, recalled their rescue and the assistance they received from friends and a priest in the Polish underground. (Testimony of Jola Hoffman, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, November 3, 1987.) Anna Kovitzka fled during a German Aktion in Grodno and remained in the countryside for several weeks until things quietened down and she was able to return. An unidentified village priest sheltered her during that period, made enquiries about her husband, and drove her part of the way home in his cart. (Donald L. Niewyk ed., Fresh Wounds: Early Narratives of Holocaust Survival [Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998], p.208; Anna Kovitzka’s account is also posted on the Internet at http://voices.iit.edu/frames.asp?path=Interviews/&page=kovit&ext=_t.html) The Germans were grabbing the people and dragging them to work in Germany. I wanted to return to the ghetto. Then thousand Jews were deported that day. The ghetto was surrounded. One couldn’t get in, nor could one get out. Part were going to Treblinka, and to get in one also didn’t know how. I ran into a Christian—he was a working man. I told him I am a Jewess—“I can’t get into the ghetto.” And he said, “Get out of the city. You do not look Jewish. Go where ever you can, but don’t remain here. You see here it burns.” And so I departed alone, without papers, into the woods. I did not know the roads. Through the woods, into a village. I entered. “Give me some water.” If one is alive, one has to drink water. And sometimes one has to eat. Everybody gave me something. I did not look Jewish, but they knew—what else could be driving me in the snow through the woods? Everyone kept me for one night.
The Christians—I can’t complain. Everybody gave me warm water to wash myself. They gave me food, so that I should have strength to wander farther. And there was a preacher—a Christian, a Catholic. He hid me “for strength” for eight days. But it drove me back to Grodno to find out what was going on. The priest encountered some Jews that were going to work. She he asked them: “Do you know whether Jack Kovitzki is there?” So they said: “He is there, he has remained alive.” Three thousand Jews were still in Grodno. So he said, “Tell him that his wife is alive—that she does not want to remain among us. She wants to go back, and in a few days she will be back.” The next week he took me out part of the way in a cart—to go further, he was afraid. And I went alone towards Grodno—I can’t remember how many kilometers. I arrived in Grodno. It’s the same story again—how does one get in—into the ghetto? And then it occurred to me that my father had a chauffeur, a Christian, a decent man.
He was a good business man; so he had an automobile and a driver—a very decent person. He lives now in the yard of the house that once belonged to my father-in-law. So I went to him. He didn't know me, but I gave the name of Meyer Kovitzki, and he said: “Don’t be afraid. You can be with me as long as you want.” But he had a wife and a child, and I did not want to cause him anxiety. So I went down to the cellar, and he went to the ghetto to find out about things, and Friday morning his own wife went with me through the streets, and she led me to the ghetto. Then another Pole helped me to get in. But before I went in, he told me:“You know where you are going?” And I said, “Where is my man, and where is my place?” That was on Friday noon.
Sometimes, Christian benefactors were put at risk because of internal rivalries and bickerings within the Jewish community, as in the case of Lida, in the Nowogródek region. (Shmuel Spector, ed., Lost Jewish Worlds: The Communities of Grodno, Lida, Olkieniki, Vishay [Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1996], pp.212–13.) In December 1941, all the Jews of Lida were concentrated in a ghetto … At this time Aktionen were being carried out in Vilna [Wilno], and a few hundred Jewish survivors fled from there to Lida. By paying off Polish municipal clerks, the Judenrat was able to obtain residence permits for the refugees. However, not long afterward a group of Jews was caught while trying to steal the Jewish property that had been left for safekeeping with the local [Orthodox] priest. The thieves were taken to prison. Their wives demanded that the Judenrat intercede to obtain their release. When the Judenrat refused to act, the detainees told the authorities about the permits the Judenrat had arranged for the Vilna refugees and promised to disclose the identity of the latter as well. On March 1, 1942, all the town’s Jews were assembled in the square next to the new post office. They were then made to walk through a narrow passage, where one of the thieves identified five people.
They were immediately arrested and two days later were shot in the prison courtyard. Some 200 sick and elderly Jews who could not get to the site were murdered in their lodgings. A week later a number of the Judenrat’s senior figures, including the chairman, Lichtman, were arrested, tortured, and murdered.
One day, a party of Jewish thieves made an attempt on the life of a Russian [Belorussian] clergyman in the town and tried to rob him of the property which the Jews of Lida entrusted to him. The attempt did not succeed and some of the attackers were arrested. The wives of the thieves appealed to the Judenrat for assistance in obtaining the release of their husbands.
The Judenrat could not take upon themselves their request and turned them down. Upon the thieves being informed of this fact, they decided to revenge themselves upon the Judenrat.
They then approached the Nazi authorities offering them cooperation in finding out the Jews of Vilno [Wilno] who had infiltrated into Lida.
The Nazis chose a day in March 1942 for the betrayal of the Jews from Vilno. … all the Jews were driven from their homes and … were led to a square opposite the new post office. There they were lined up in the snow and cold and forced to enter a narrow passage so that the thieves could point them out. Fifty Jews were arrested and shot shortly thereafter in the courtyard of the prison. … All the children whose parents had left them at home due to the intense cold, and all the aged, the sick, and the dying who did not go out to the identification parade, were found lying in their own blood … In this manner, on that day, over 200 souls were murdered.
A week after the betrayal by the Jewish thieves, the heads of the Judenrat were arrested … These people were tortured and met a violent death.
Scores of Jews jumped from trains headed to the Treblinka death camp and some managed to escape from the camp itself. These destitute fugitives received extensive assistance from Polish villagers.69 Often they knocked 69 Examples of assistance received from farmers and railway workers by escapees from Treblinka or, more frequently, from trains headed there, are plentiful, despite the frequent manhunts carried out by the Germans looking for Jews and the death penalty facing those Poles who extended any form of assistance to Jews. Short-term help was particularly frequent. Wacław Iglicki (then Szul Steinhendler) from Żelechów, who jumped out of a train headed for Treblinka near Łuków or Siedlce, stated: “People used to really help out. I have to say that objectively: when it came to bread or something else, they shared. But finding a place to sleep was a problem. People were afraid. They wouldn’t really agree to have us over for a night, or for a longer stay. That was understandable, because if you consider that in every village, in every community, there was a sign saying that for hiding, for any help given to a Jew, there was the death penalty, it’s hard to be surprised that people didn’t want to have Jews over and so on. They could tell by my clothes that I was a Jew. Because I looked poor, obviously. Ragged, dirty. Wandered around, as they say, aimlessly, didn’t know where to go. … Because of that, many knew immediately
they were dealing with a person of Jewish origin.” See the testimony of Waclaw Iglicki, September 2005, Internet:
http://www.centropa.org under “Biographies.” In his account dated May 1994 (reproduced in this compilation), Joseph S. Kutrzeba writes: “During the first days of September 1942, at the age of 14, I jumped out of a moving train destined for Treblinka, through an opening (window) of a cattle car loaded to capacity with Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. Wandering over fields, forests and villages, at first in the vicinity of Wołomin, and later of Zambrów, I found myself, in late November, in the area of Hodyszewo (near Łomża). Throughout my wandering, the peasants for the most part were amenable to put me up for the night and to feed me—some either suspecting my origins or pressing me to admit it.” Ruth Altbeker Cyprus, who jumped from a train headed for Treblinka, recalls various instances of assistance from railway guards, villagers, passers-by, passengers, and even a gang of robbers. See Ruth Altbeker Cyprys, A Jump for Life: A Jump For Life: A Survivor’s Journal from Nazi-Occupied Poland (New York: Continuum, 1997), pp.97, 102–110. A Jew who escaped from the Treblinka death camp recalled the help he received from peasants: “I was free. I walked to a village. … I knocked to ask for bread. The peasants looked at me in silence. ‘Bread, bread.’ They saw my red hands, torn jacket, worn-out slippers, and handed me some hard, gray crusts. A peasant woman, huddled in shawls, gave me a bowl of hot milk and a bag. We didn’t talk: my body had turned red and blue from the blows and the cold, and my clothes, everything proclaimed Jew! But they gave me bread. Thank you Polish peasants. I slept in a stable near the animals, taking a little warm milk from the cow in the morning. My bag filled with bread.” See Martin Gray, with Max Gallo, For Those I Loved (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown, 1972), p.178. A.L. Bombe, an escapee from Treblinka, was helped by several peasants in the area: “Lying in the field, we saw a peasant in a wagon go by. We called him over and told him that we had escaped from Treblinka and, perhaps, it would be possible if he could take us into his barn. … In the end, we convinced him and he showed us his barn in the distance and we went inside. But he doesn’t know of anything. And if they would ask, we should say that we sneaked in. That is what we did. We were there the entire day. At night, the head of the village came and told us that he would lead us out of the village and show us the way to go. He indeed took us to the main road, and we traveled all night until the morning. In the morning, we came to a village. We saw, in front of a house, that a woman opens the door. We went over to the house and the woman told us to come in. We were there for a week.
The second week, we were at the friend of the peasant in the same village. I remember this peasant’s name: Piotr Supel. … This was in the village Zagradniki [Ogrodniki] near Ostrovek Vengravski [Ostrówek Węgrowski]. The peasant traveled with us to Warsaw.” See A.L.
Bombe, “My Escape from Treblinka,” Czentochov: A New Supplement to the Book “Czenstochover Yidn”, Internet:
http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Czestochowa/Czestochowa.html, translation of S.D. Singer, ed., Tshenstokhover: Naye tsugobmaterial tsum bukh “Tshenstokhover Yidn” (New York: United Relief Committee in New York, 1958), pp.57ff. The brothers Leibel and Efraim Tchapowicz, who jumped from the Treblinka-bound train during the liquidation Aktion in Kałuszyn, were hidden for a few months
A number of priests in the neighborhood of the death camp at Treblinka gave food and shelter to Jews escaping from transports on the way to the camp.
The following account was recorded in Grynberg, Drohobycz, Drohobycz and Other Stories, at pages 151–52.