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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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At the outbreak of war, Mr. Stolowicki [Stołowicki] was living in Paris. When the Germans occupied the city of Warsaw, Mrs. Stolowicka decided to escape with her four-year-old son, Michael, and his nanny, Gertruda Babilinska [Babilińska], a teacher by profession and a native of Gdańsk [Gdańsk] (Danzig). The three made their way to Vilna [Wilno], Lithuania, en route to Paris. When, however, the mother discovered that her husband had died, she suffered a stroke and, realizing that her days were numbered, asked Babilinska to do all she could to take her son to Israel. After Stolowicka died, Babilinska continued looking after Michael. After she informed some priests that the boy was Jewish, they took Michael on as an acolyte in a church in Vilna. Although the Germans were in the habit of conducting impromptu raids on the apartments of the refugees from Warsaw, Babilinska continued to look after Michael and care for his needs. Babilinska, who was fluent in German, worked as an amanuensis, writing petitions to the authorities on behalf of local farmers, for which she received eggs, dairy products which she used to smuggle into the ghetto for her friends. After the war, Babilinska returned with Michael to Gdansk to take leave of her family. Although her family tried to persuade her to stay, she stood by her promise to Michael’s mother and took him to the displaced persons camps in Germany, and a passage was arranged for them on the SS Exodus. Despite assurances by members of the Hagana that they would look after the boy and make sure he reached Israel safely, Babilinska insisted on coming with him, declaring her willingness to throw in her lot with the other clandestine immigrants. Babilinska and Michael endured hardships on the journey to Israel, until the ship was ordered back to Hamburg. Undaunted, Babilinska embarked with Michael on the SS Transylvania, reaching the shores of Israel in 1948. Babilinska settled in Israel, where she raised Michael as her son, and was awarded Israeli citizenship. She passed away in Israel at a ripe old age.

Isaac Kowalski, who was active in the Jewish underground in Wilno, described the attitude of a number of priests, as well as a cross-section of the city’s population. (Isaac Kowalski, A Secret Press in Nazi Europe: The Story of a Jewish United Partisan Organization [New York: Central Guide Publishers, 1969], pp.216–25.) Professors [Aleksander] Januszkiewicz and Michaida [Kornel Michejda] helped their friends who were Jewish doctors.

… [Rev.] Dr Jazas Sztakauskas [Juozas Stakauskas], director of the government archives, together with a Lithuanian teacher Zemaijtis and the Polish [Benedictine] nun Milkulska [Maria Mikulska], hid 12 Jews: Dr. Alexander Libo with wife and daughter, Grigori Jaszunski and wife, Engineer Jacob with wife and daughter, Miss Ester Jafe, Mrs. Bak and her son, the young artist Zalman.

Profesor Aka, Professor Czizowski [Tadeusz Czeżowski], Professor Petruszewicz [Kazimierz Petrusewicz], lawyer Josef Czlecki helped hide some Jewish acquaintances. Merila [Maryla] Abramowicz-Wolska made counterfeit papers for Jews.

At 16 Puhulanka [Pohulanka] Street she hid tens of Jewish people and helped them with food and money. Mrs. Wiktoria Grzmiliewska hid scores of Jews in every apartment and showed friendliness to them. It is in place here to mention Mrs.

Maria Fedeka [Fedecka], who saved a lot of Jews from death, by helping them to run from the ghetto. The above women carried out their mission from pure human motives.70 A great many Aryan domestics showed human feelings for their employers, by helping them with food and in some cases, even hid them. Aryan governesses hid Jewish children, whom they helped to raise. Some help for Jews came from Catholic priests. Markowicz [Rev. Tadeusz Makarewicz, pastor of St. John the Baptist church], a Pole, and Lipniunas [Alfonsas Lipniūnas] had spoken to their people to give back Jewish property. Lipniunas was arrested. Father Krupowicius [Mykolas Krupavičius], who showed sympathy to the Jews was sent away to a German concentration camp, Tilzit [Tilsit].

Father Waltkaus [Mykolas Vaitkus] hid the Trupianski child in a Catholic orphanage, and helped save other Jewish children.

… There were occasions when priests met Jewish workers on the street and encouraged them by telling them that they would soon be free.

Our friend, the old Masha, told me one day, when she met me on the way to the ghetto from work, that her Pastor [Rev.

70 On the rescue activities of Professor Tadeusz Czeżowski, Dr. Jan Janowicz, and Maria Fedecka, see the account of Alexander Libo in Wroński and Zwolakowa, Polacy Żydzi 1939–1945, p.320. See also Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, vol. 4: Poland, Part 1, pp.160, 212.

208 Bolesław Sperski] from the “Wszystkich Świętych” [All Saints] church which was located only a few feet from the ghetto gates, advised her during confession that she should help us with everything possible.71 The Jews in the ghetto knew about his human attitude to our suffering people and dug a tunnel from the ghetto to the church. A few escaped on the day of the liquidation of the ghetto through the church to the city and then to the woods.

Eta Lipenholc tells about Leokadia Piechowska and others. …“We were 24 people saved at this place called Tuskulany farm. … The Polish people who kept us for a whole year until the liberation, were Mrs. Stankiewicz and Mrs. Gieda.” Dr. Anthony Panski [Antoni Pański], the Social Democrat, helped the writer Herman Kruk financially. … In his book Balberiszki describes a neighbor, Kozlowska [Kozłowska], who returned golden valuables even after the Balberiszkis had been in the ghetto for quite some time and thus helped them to overcome hunger and need.

Victoria Nazmilewski, Maria Fedecki [Fedecka] … Maria Wolski [Wolska], at one time or other, helped the partisanpoet Szmerke Kaczeginski and other Jews. … Jadzia Dudziec was a practicing Catholic. She was in contact with the Scheinbaum-group and supplied them with small arms. She perished August 13, 1944.

Irena Adamowicz was also a devoted Catholic. She was a very active scout-leader and very friendly with some Chaluzleaders. Irena volunteered to be a courier for the Hechalutz and travelled many times to various ghettos in Poland and Lithuania. … In the last days before Vilna [Wilno] was liberated, Esther Geler, wounded by a bullet, Robotnik and Feiga Itkin, the last survivors of the H.K.P., managed to escape. They came to a Polish woman in the Antokol section of Siostry Milosierdzi [Miłosierdzia–Sisters of Charity] Street, where Mrs. Guriono let them sleep in the basement and gave them food, until the liberation of the city. … It is also worth while commenting those nationals who, although they did not proffer any direct help, yet they made believe they did not see the Jew, disguised as an Aryan, when they met him in the street; they did not run as informers to the authorities … Herman Kruk, the chronicler of the Wilno ghetto, describes the reaction of the largely Polish population of that city to the ghettoization of the Jews in September 1941 and later events. (Herman Kruk, The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania: Chronicles from the Vilna Ghetto and the Camps, 1939–1944 (New Haven and London: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and Yale University Press, 2002), pp.109–110, 112, 280–81.) Today [September 8, 1941], at Ostra Brama [in the chapel located above this ancient gate was the holiest Catholic shrine in Wilno which housed the icon of the revered Madonna of Ostra Brama—Ed.], there was a prayer in honor of the martyrdom of the Jews. People say that Jews are now bringing in full bundles, which they got in the city as gifts from Christians in the street.

In the street, at a Maistas [meat cooperative established by the Soviet authorities], masses of Christians brought packages of meat and distributed them to the Jewish workers marching to the ghetto.

The sympathy of the Christian population, more precisely of the Polish population, is extraordinary.

[September 15th] Christians come to the ghetto. People say that Christian friends and acquaintances often come. Today a priest came to me, looking for his Jewish friends.

[May 6, 1942] From Vilna [Wilno] and the whole area, masses of young men are being taken for work in Germany.

Yesterday one of those groups was led through Szawelska Street and a lot of Jews saw them. In the street, guarded by Lithuanians, they stormily sang the national battle song [actually, the Polish national anthem—Ed.], “Poland Is Not Yet

Lost,” and as they approached the Jewish ghetto, they shouted slogans:

“Long live the Jews!…” A mood I only want to note here.

Raizel Medlinski (later Nachimowitz), a widowed school teacher, and her daughter Batia (born in 1938), managed to escape from the Wilno ghetto and survived the war in the countryside with the help of a number of Poles including two priest, Rev. Hieronim Olszewski, the vicar of St. Teresa’s Church (the adjoining ancient city gate known as of Ostra Brama housed a revered icon of the Mother of God), and Rev. Aleksander Łukaszewicz, pastor 71 In her memoir Poza gettem i obozem (Warsaw: Volumen, 1993), pp.17–18, 83–84, Pola Wawer, a young Jewish doctor from Wilno, mentions the assistance of Rev. Julian Jankowski (a vicar at All Saints church), who procured for her a birth and baptismal certificate in the name of Zofia Januszkiewicz from the parish in Podbrodzie.

209 of Konwaliszki. (Testimony of Shoshana Nachimowitz (Medlinski), Yad Vashem archives, no. O.3/3956.) We were in the ghetto on the Gaon Street, near the main gate. Real troubles began. There was no food to eat, but I was always a vigorous woman. I got a connection with Polish people, who sent me packages from the lofts tied to a rope. … I thought all the time about how to escape from the ghetto. … Another day, when I lay with my daughter, a Polish man appeared. This was probably the doorkeeper of the building. They sent him to check and to report if Jews were left in the building. I told him that I was a teacher; and I worked not far from there. He understood our situation and had pity on us.

He went away; I didn't even notice when. He came back with some bread and milk. He told me that if I want to survive, I have to come to the same place and he will take us to a wide road. I learned that they used to put a ladder to the loft; and the corridor led to a tailor shop, where Jewish tailors worked for the Germans.

I went back to the ghetto early in the morning. I found my mother-in-law in the ghetto. She was an old woman; I couldn’t escape together with her. I already thought of leaving the ghetto. Sunday, before the action, before the liquidation of the second ghetto, I went to the loft, keeping my daughter by hand, I knocked. The doorkeeper came and took us through the ladder to a wide street. I didn’t have an exact plan but I wanted to go to Lipówka. I knew some people there. It was a suburb of Vilna [Wilno]. I knew a Polish woman there, who worked in my house. They received us in a friendly way. We spent a few weeks there, with my daughter, but the neighbors began to look and understand that Grisha is hiding a Jewish woman with a child. I had a feeling that we had stayed there long enough and had to leave the place. One nice day, early in the morning, I took my girl and went to the town. I knew that our ghetto was already liquidated. Nobody survived. I didn’t know what to do. … My plan was to leave my daughter in an orphanage and escape Vilna. I went to Rase [Rossa Street]. A cloister [of the Sisters of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary] was there, full of priests. A priest was coming toward me. I saw him for the first time in my life. I asked him who was in charge of the orphanage. … I spoke to him Polish and I told him that I am a teacher and he was a teacher too. He pitied us and took us to his room. I cry out there all the bitterness of my heart. He already planned how to save me. He told me to come back in a few days. When I came back, he asked me what I want to be called. He probably kept stamps, so I got a birth certificate for me and my daughter. When I got the documents, I went back to Lipówka, to my Pole. People from the neighborhood used to visit him. One of them took my daughter and me to Wielkie Soleczniki [a town distant 45 km from Wilno]. We came to the governor [reeve?]. He already had the information from my Pole, that I am not entirely “kosher” in spite of speaking not bad the Polish language and having Catholic papers. One must run the risk a little. We learned that the Goy didn’t want to take a risk. He was afraid to lose his head. He often declared that he can’t keep me any more. He told me that not far from him, just a few kilometers away, is a big forest. In the forest lived a forester, a very good man. He would be able to hide me for some time.

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