«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
So I went to meet the forester. For the time being, I left my girl there, in Wielkie Solecznik. When I came to the forester, he told me that he could not take such a risk, but that not far from there, I don’t remember how many kilometers, I could find a property named Umiastów with a very good priest and an orphanage. They would receive me there. I came to Umiastów and found no priest living there. He lived in a town named Konwaliszki and had some influence over the orphanage. So, I went to the priest from Konwaliszki [Rev. Aleksander Łukaszewicz] and told him all the truth about me, who I was and who gave me the papers. He took out a book with the addresses of all priests and saw that I was not lying. He wanted to help me. He went to the orphanage in Umiastów and asked the woman-master of the house to take me with the child into the property. … She didn’t want to accept me in the house in any terms. It was Sunday. The priest received me very well with good food on the table. I don’t remember his name, but the other priest, who provided me the papers, was named Olszewski. He used to pray in Ostrobrama [Ostra Brama]. When the priest from Konwaliszki didn’t obtain anything, I sat with him and asked for advice on what to do next. We decided, both of us, that I had to visit Umiastów once again and beg the orphanage master to let us join the house. I went alone. I left the child behind.
After a long discussion, after many ups and downs, she finally allowed me to stay the first few weeks in Konwaliszki. I took my daughter with me; and we stayed there three to four weeks. After that, I couldn’t stay any longer in Konwaliszki. I got a connection with one teacher from the area, who advised me go to Dziewieniszki to find a teacher who was now a village head. His name was Kucharski. “Go to him; show him your documents; and ask him to book you in.” One morning, I went to Dziewieniszki. I didn’t tell him the truth. I showed him the certificate of birth and he asked me about the other documents, but he understood everything. He quoted the sentence of the Polish poet Słowacki: “Shall the living not loose hope.” He took my document, went out to his office and told to his secretary Stieszka: “Take her document from the woman and book her on the list of our village.” To Stieszka came many people from the area; and he turned to Kucharski, the head of the village in these words: “I will not do it! How do you know who the woman is?” The head of the village answered nothing, opened the door in silence and stepped in into his office. The secretary booked me in temporarily in 210 Umiastów. During the time, when I was in the property of Umiastów. I worked as a nurse, but most important, I didn’t have to appear as a Jew. When Christmas came, I knew all the Christmas carols, which I learned years ago in the Polish teacher’s seminary. I joined in the Christmas carols with them. I used to sit with all the children, about 40–50 orphans, on my knees, together with my daughter, making the sign of the Cross, praying all the right prayers, and going to the church from time to time. My daughter was exceptionally religious. She used to sit at night near the bed on her knees and pray all the prayers. One day two young and pretty girls came to visit us, Zosia and Wanda. Zosia told Wanda not to say who she is. But when I looked at Wanda. I recognized her as one of my students from school, a Jewish girl, probably a member of Arkin family. They owned a bonbon factory in Vilna. She was a cousin to them.
Wanda, of course couldn’t tell that she doesn’t know me. Silently, they used to say that a Jewish community grows up here. But from where did the girls come? Kucharski knew all my secrets. The girls worked near Vilna, in a place with an aerodrome; and one day a German said to them: “Dear children, run away from here. They are going to get rid of you. At the end of the war, I will know where to find you.” They were young and pretty girls … Kucharski knew my secret; and he let them stay here for a while. Meanwhile this event happened: a Polish woman, whose two sons were with us in Umiastów, informed [the authorities in Lida], that Kucharski employed Jews and she, the former wife of an officer, can’t get a job there. Finally, came a complaint against Kucharski. They sent a German Commission to find the truth. When the Germans came, the girls hid themselves. I walked around with a kerchief on the head. They didn’t even notice that I am Jewish and went away. After this, the girls couldn’t stay with us one minute longer. The Polish woman who informed Lida was shot as a black market dealer. … In 1943, when they changed our master, a Lithuanian came to replace her. This was a time when some Belarus regions became a part of Lithuania. All the benefits went to the Lithuanians. Then, the Lithuanian government came and sent us a Lithuanian master. The old woman master knew all my secrets. She went to meet the priest who said: “Let her still stay here.” It seems that the priest did for others what he did for me, so they caught him and shot him. … I had a feeling that the earth is burning under my feet; and I wanted to run away from there. But at this time, our master was still a Pole, Wołkowski. He told me: “Everybody knows everything about you here and nobody will hurt you. …” This held me back and thanks to this, I could stand it. Sometimes, we had to hide in the fields and in the woods. I stood it until 1944, before the end of the war. I saw Vilna in flames. I was 65 kilometers from Vilna. It was a terrible fire. We saw a big part of Vilna houses burned out.
Many village priests in the archdiocese of Wilno, in northeastern Poland, extended help to Jews. A Jewish memorial book identifies the following priests from Brasław and surrounding area: the dean and pastor of Brasław, Rev. Mieczysław Akrejć, died of apoplexy, on June 25, 1942, the day the Jews were being shot by the Germans and some Jews had taken refuge in the parish rectory72; some Catholic priests urged the peasants who confessed to harbouring Jews to give them food and clothing; the local Catholic priest supplied David of Bizne and a young boy with crucifixes to wear round their necks; a priest from Krasław (Krāslava in Latvian, a city on the Polish border) and another priest from Plusy (or the older spelling of Plussy) assisted in finding a safe home for the Barkan family; a priest by the name of Bilcher (from Plusy?) provided medicine to Anna Zelikman and others; a priest named Petro from Belmont; a priest from the village of Prozoroki (given as “Prysaroki”); a priest from the village of Ikaźń (given as “Ikaznia”); the local priest near the village of Urban (Urbanowo near Druja?), who cared for Rachel Gurewicz and her two daughters Hanka and Riwetka. (Ariel Machnes and Rina Klinov, eds., Darkness and Desolation: In Memory of the Communities of Braslaw, Dubene, Jaisi, Jod, Kislowszczizna, Okmienic, Opsa, Plusy, Rimszan, Slobodka, Zamosz, Zaracz [Tel Aviv: Association of Braslaw and Surroundings in Israel and America, and Ghetto Fighters’ House and Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House, 1986], pp.111ff., 124ff., 571–72, 575, 595–96.) Additional examples of assistance by village priests in northeastern Poland are described in northeastern Poland is described in Peter Silverman, David Smuschkowitz, and Peter Smuszkowicz, From Victims to Victors (Concord, Ontario: The Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, 1992), at pages 246–47.
We were taken to the main jail [in Głębokie]. In front of the building a police commander motioned to the guard to take us to the basement. In this two storey building the basement held all those who were condemned to death. … As we descended the steps to the basement two Belorussian guards welcomed us with a severe beating. We were told to sing Russian songs 72 On Rev. Akrejć see Tadeusz Krahel, “Ks. Mieczysław Akrejć—dziekan brasławski,” Czas Miłosierdzia: Białostocki Biuletyn Kościelny, no. 12, December 2001.
211 and dance. Each time we were struck by their rifle butts until both of us collapsed bleeding and unconscious on the cement floor.
When we regained consciousness we were lying on wooden boards covered with straw. Two Roman Catholic priests had dragged us into the room and lifted our bodies onto the boards. They were sitting by us as we awoke. The priests had been arrested by the Germans and condemned to die. One was from Prozaroki [Prozoroki] and the other was from Ikazno [Ikaźń]. They knew from their training how to speak to people near death and they tried to give us moral support. The other prisoners were escaped Russian prisoners of war. They all knew we had only hours to live.
When my mother heard we had been arrested and we were to be shot she ran directly to the Judenrat (Jewish Council).
Her screams and tears caused a great commotion and forced the council to take steps to try and save us. Within hours a large amount of gold coins and jewelry were collected. The Judenrat had a connection with the Gestapo, a Jewish girl named Peske. She was young, extremely good looking and intelligent. She had developed an intimate relationship with the captain of the Gestapo and we found her in his office when we were escorted to see him. The gold had been used to arrange our release. Peske understood that the only way she could save our lives was by claiming she knew us well and that we had worked for the Germans in Glembokie [Głębokie] for a long time. … Several days later we discovered that all the prisoners in the basement had been taken to Barock [Borek forest near Berezwecz] and shot. The actual executions were performed by the local collaborator police under the supervision of the Żandarmeria (Gendarmarie) and German police. The two priests were in that group. … Later, when we met Jewish survivors from the vicinity of Prozaroke [Prozoroki] in the forest, we discovered more about the priest. He had been personally friendly towards Jews. In his Sunday sermons he had urged his congregation to keep their hands clean of the slaughter of Jews and to aid them where possible.
According to Polish sources, Rev. Władysław Maćkowiak was the pastor of Ikaźń and his vicar was Rev.
Stanisław Pyrtek. They were arrested in December 1941 for their ardent preaching and illegally teaching religion to children, and detained in the jail in Brasław. They were transferred to the jail in Głębokie, together with Rev.
Mieczysław Bohatkiewicz, who was arrested in the border town of Dryssa in January 1942. All three of these priests were taken by German gendarmes and Belorussian policemen on March 4, 1942 to Borek forest near Berezwecz, outside Głębokie, where they were executed. (Zieliński, Życie religijne w Polsce pod okupacją 1939–1945, pp.38–39, 58; Walerian M.
Moroz and Andrzej Datko, eds., Męczennicy za wiarę 1939–1945:
Duchowni i świeccy z ziem polskich, którzy prześladowani przez nazizm hitlerowski dali Chrystusowi ofiarą życia świadectwo miłości [Marki-Struga: Michalineum, 1996], pp.9–18; and Tadeusz Krahel, “Nasi Męczennicy,” Czas Miłosierdzia: Białostocki Biuletyn Kościelny, May 1999 and his “Błogosławieni Męczennicy z Berezwecza,” March 2001.) The pastor of Prozoroki at the time was Rev. Czesław Matusiewicz,
who continued to work in this area for the duration of the war. (Tadeusz Krahel, Doświadczeni zniewoleniem:
Duchowni archidiecezji wileńskiej represjonowani w latach okupacji sowieckiej (1939–1945) [Białystok:
Polskie Towarzystwo Historyczne–Oddział w Białymstoku, 2005], pp.84–85.) The following account refers to assistance provided to Jews by priests in Duniłowicze and Wołkołata, as related by Joseph Riwash in Resistance and Revenge, 1939–1945 (Montreal: n.p., 1981), at page 144.
I know of heroism also among the village priests in White Russia [prewar Eastern Poland] during the years of Nazi occupation. The parish priests of Dunilowicze [Duniłowicze] and Wolkolaty [Wołkołata] were feeding and sheltering Jews along with escaped Russian prisoners of war in their parsonages. When the Gestapo found out that the priest of Wolkolaty [Rev. Romuald Dronicz] was hiding Jews, they sent a local policeman to arrest him. The policeman, however, felt uneasy about arresting a man of God.
“I can’t arrest you, Father”, he said to the priest. “Why don’t you ask your guests to leave your parsonage and then go underground yourself”? The priest, for his part, did not want to endanger the policeman’s life and insisted that the policeman carry out his orders. When this valiant priest arrived at Gestapo head-quarters, he was shot at once.
In fact, Rev. Romuald Dronicz was arrested by the Gestapo in June 1942, imprisoned in Głębokie, and executed together with other Polish priests in Berezwecz on July 4, 1942. (Tadeusz Krahel, “Ks. Romuald Dronicz,” Czas Miłosierdzia: Białostocki Biuletyn Kościelny, July 2000.) During the liquidation of the ghetto in Łyntupy by Lithuanian police, Irene Mauber Skibinski, then a young girl of 212 about six, and her mother escaped and took shelter with Rev. Józef Pakalnis, the local parish priest, who hid them in the cellar of his rectory. They remained there for about ten days before moving on. They survived the occupation with the help of a number of Polish peasant families. (Irene Mauber Skibinski, “Through the Eyes of a Child—My Childhood in Lyntupy,” in Shimon Kanc, ed., Svinzian Region: Memorial Book of 23 Jewish Communities, Internet: http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/svencionys/Svencionys.html, translation of Sefer zikaron le-esrim ve-shalosh kehilot she-nehrevu be-ezor Svitsian [Tel Aviv: Former Residents of Svintzian in Isael and the U.S., 1965], column 1446.) My mother crawled through the window and fell on the ice. She lost her shoes on the way. She pulled me out and we ran.