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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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two Jewish women), see Vladka Meed, On Both Sides of the Wall: Memoirs from the Warsaw Ghetto (New York: Holocaust Library, 1979), pp.192–93. Lala Fishman (née Klara Weintraub) was one a number of women arrested in street sweeps in Kraków who were interrogated by the Germans and made to recite Catholic prayers. See Lala Fishman and Steven Weingartner, Lala’s Story: A Memoir of the Holocaust (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1997), p.188. For additional examples of interrogations conducted by

Germans, sometimes using Polish interpreters, see: Yehuda Nir, The Lost Childhood: A Memoir (San Diego, New York, and London:

Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1989), p.67; Halina Zylberman, Swimming Under Water (Caulfield South, Victoria: Makor Jewish Community Library, 2001), p.56; Bartoszewski and Lewinóna, Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej, 2nd ed., p.276; Małgorzata Melchior, Zagłada a tożsamość: Polscy Żydzi ocaleni na “aryjskich papierach”. Analiza doświadczeń biograficznego (Warsaw: IFiS PAN, 2004), p.236;

Halina Grubowska, Haneczko, musisz przeżyć (Montreal: Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation, 2007), p.45. The next series of accounts pertain to questioning by the regular and criminal police. Jadwiga Krall and her six-year-old daughter, Hanna, were accosted in the spring of 1943 by a blackmailer in the Aryan part of Warsaw. Because they had no money to pay him, he turned them in to the police, who tested their claim that they were Catholics by asking questions about Catholic prayers. “Suddenly the voice of a woman could be heard in the police station demanding to know why the police were accusing her sister of being Jewish. The woman, who eventually succeeded in getting Krall and her daughter out of the police’s hands, was Maria Ostrowska, who had previously provided Krall with the birth certificate

of her sister, who lived outside Warsaw.” See Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, vol. 5:

Poland, Part 2, pp.569–70. Alina Margolis describes her interrogation by the police after being apprehended with her friend Zosia, who was recognized as a Jew. While Margolis was able to recite the prayers asked of her, thanks to having observed her Polish childhood nanny, her friend Zosia could not correctly describe the size of a Communion host. However, both were eventually released through a bribe arranged by a Polish acquaintance. See Alina Margolis-Edelman, Ala z elementarza (London: Aneks, 1994), pp.109–111; Alina MargolisEdelman, Tego, co mówili, nie powtórzę… (Wrocław: Siedmioróg, 1999), pp.112–13; available also in French translation: Je ne répéterai pas, je ne veux pas le répéter (Paris: Autrement Littératures, 1997). For other examples, see Isaiah Trunk, Jewish Responses to Nazi Persecution: Collective and Individual Behavior in Extremis (New York: Stein and Day, 1979), p.152 (Kraków); Elsa Thon, I Wish It Were Fiction: Memories, 1939–1945 (Hamilton, Ontario: Mekler & Deahl, 1997), p.63; Melchior, Zagłada a tożsamość, pp.170, 236;

Christine Winecki, The Girl in the Check Coat: Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland and a New Life in Australia (London and Portland, Oregon: Vallentine Mitchell, 2007), pp.70–71. It appears that examinations of religious knowledge carried out by Polish policemen tended to be perfunctory and rather superficial.

Historian Gunnar Paulsson cites no evidence in support of his claim that “some [Catholic priests] could be found who were prepared to rule on a suspect’s Aryanness, knowing the consequences of a negative ruling.” See Gunnar S. Paulsson, Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940–1945 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002), p.106. In fact, the one memoir that refers to a priest who allegedly “trapped” his Jewish victims, Alina Margolis and her friend Zosia, is based on a hearsay account that is directly contradicted by the memoir of one of the victims herself. Jacob Celemenski spins a rather elaborate tale of two Jewish girls who were caught by a secret agent and taken to a police station, where the police commandant “called a priest, who trapped them with his first question.” See Jacob Celemenski, Elegy For My People: Memoirs of an Underground Courier of the Jewish Labor Bund in Nazi-Occupied Poland, 1939–45 (Melbourne: The Jacob Celemenski Memorial Trust, 2000), pp.180–81. As noted earlier, Alina Margolis-Edelman’s memoir is quite clear that the interrogation was conducted by a policeman, and does not mention any priest. In one case, Jewish interrogators were used at the police station where a Jewish woman from Stanisławów, posing as a Pole, was taken together with her benefactor when they left the train station in Warsaw: “One of them wanted to finish, but the other was determined to destroy me. They examined each of us in minute religious matters, and went over all our documents. They spoke only Yiddish during all of this, and even sang some Yiddish songs. Then they started arguing: the first one wanted to let us go and the other to turn us over to the Germans.” See the account of F.I. in Trunk, Jewish Responses to Nazi Persecution, p.305. In another case, a Jewish boy who was sheltered by the Salesian Fathers in Przemyśl recalled the arrival of Germans who came looking for Jewish children, accompanied by a Jew dressed as a priest. Fortunately, the Jewish children passed the religious test they were administered. See Ewa Kurek, Dzieci żydowskie w klasztorach: Udział żeńskich zgromadzeń zakonnych w akcji ratowania dzieci żydowskich w Polsce a latach 1939–1945 (Lublin: Clio, 2001), p.204.

Generally, Jews who passed as Poles, even from assimilated milieux, mastered only a few basic prayers and their knowledge of Catholic rituals was often spotty and superficial. For example, Jewish survivors admit not knowing that priests rubbed ashes on foreheads on Ash Wednesday, that unlike Easter Christmas fell on a fixed date (December 25th), and that on Good Friday Polish Catholics visited specially erected symbolic tombs of Jesus in churches and not cemeteries. Nor did they know how to conduct themselves at mass, for example, taking the communion host with one’s hand as opposed in the mouth. See Melchior, Zagłada a tożsamość, p.147; Yehuda Nir, The Lost Childhood: A Memoir (San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1989), p.217; Janina Brandwajn-Ziemian, Młodość w cieniu śmierci (Łódź: Oficyna Bibliofilów, 1995), pp.87–88; Meed, On Both Sides of the Wall, p.172; Taitz, Holocaust Survivors, vol. 2, p.396. Some Jews came to realize that their guise as Christian Poles was not as foolproof as they had believed, but this had not caused them to be betrayed. One Jew who called on farmhouses in the Urzędów area, pretending to be a Christian, recalled: “I would cross myself, bless Jesus Christ, and ask for something to eat. I had made up a story in case questions were asked. Most farmers were not talkative. Viewed suspiciously, sometimes I would be given soup or bread and asked to leave quickly: sometimes I was just told to go. Later it dawned on me that I was crossing myself incorrectly, touching my chin rather than the chest.” See David Makow, Dangerous Luck: Memories of a Hunted Life (New York: Shengold Publishers, 2000), p.28. When a local police commander sent a suspected Jewish teenager who was passing as Christian to the pastor of Krzesk near Łosice, the priest did not betray her despite the fact that she was unable to answer basic questions about the Christian faith. See Stella Zylbersztajn, A gdyby to było Wasze dziecko? (Łosice: Łosickie Stowarzyszenie Rozwoju Equus, 2005), p.52.

221 I was summoned to the chancellery [in Izabelin]. … Afterwards, [the German officer] read the letters. I adhered to my original lies. He asked me to wait while he went outside.

A short time passed by. A priest and two nuns then entered. I was certain at that point that I was to be questioned. The priest, who was about thirty-five years of age, of medium height and who had mild, kind eyes, took my hand and asked me whether I was a Roman Catholic, while winking to me that I should say yes. I answered calmly, “Yes.” “In that case, come with us,” he told me. “You will rest and recover at our place.” Could it be true? Was it possible? I thought to myself. A wagon could not be found, so two Poles were called. They crossed their hands and I was seated on them. This way, there [sic] were able to carry me. The priest, both nuns and children walked behind me. And so, in this way, I was led into the church in the procession.

They had prepared a sofa for me in the older nun’s room. My eyes were transfixed by the ideal cleanliness and warmth of the room.

I would write much more about these people, but I did not know whether I would succeed. One thing, however, that I can say is that I never saw anywhere such extraordinary genuine, good and friendly people.

I shall refer to it as paradise, because I really thought that I was truly in paradise. Although a complete stranger, I felt good and free amongst them. I knew that these people would not disappoint me. Every one of them looked to me like an angel. … The oldest nun, who was about sixty-eight years old, was a true embodiment of righteousness and goodness. She immediately gave me a bowl of cream of wheat soup. When I ate, she prepared for me a clean bed, her own clean and fresh underwear, a pan with warm water and a towl [sic].

“Do not cry, my child,” she said to me. “You will wash up, have a good sleep in a clean bed and you will surely recover in a short time.” My gratitude was boundless. I immediately took out my last fifty dollars and wanted to give it to the nun for the church or for another cause that she would find necessary.

“No, my child,” she said. “You are young and sick. This money will surely come in handy for you at some time in the future.” Her kindness moved me to tears. I kissed her hand tenderly. She wanted to help me wash myself, but I declined. I was ashamed to show her my extremely lean body. … I had no strength to wash my head. The nun did this the next morning. … There I lay, washed and clean in a spotless bed. I thought about all that had happened to me and what was now taking place. Every few minutes, another nun would come in to ask whether I was all right and whether I needed anything. … At seven o’clock the next morning, the priest came in and asked me my name.

“I have to inform the Polish Philanthropic Association about you in order to obtain medicine and better nutrition for you, because we, unfortunately lack it here,” he explained. I naturally gave him my Aryan name.

He walked over eleven kilometers to obtain the necessary items for me. The directress of the institution came with him and brought along injections, milk and other products.

As I have already described, this priest embodied a type of complete gentleness and goodness. His mild look, warm and hearty words affected me like warm sunshine.

Several times a day, he would come into the room, move over a chair to my bed, sit down and make an effort to engage me into conversation on various


themes, in order that I should forget my sorrows. Under the influence of these saintly people, the beastly faces of the brutal Germans began to fade slowly from before my eyes. It seemed to me that I was being re-born.

… [After the entry of the Russian troops in mid January 1945], [a]n old woman from a nearby room came in, fell toward me in tears, and revealed that she was Jewish believing that I, too, was Jewish. Before that time, she would also often come in to where I was, conduct long conversations and inquire about the Jews of Warsaw. I therefore had a basis to believe that she was Jewish, but because I was not completely certain, I used to respond evasively.

Some time later, I learned that almost all of the women who were there were Jewish. The only one from among these who often came in to console me was the above-mentioned woman, who was named Wanda Rogatska [Rogacka] from Warsaw.

All of the others kept away from my bed, in order not to become suspect. … Now we had to leave this place [i.e., after the liberation], first because we could not be a burden on these good people and second because we had to regain our identity. … Regrettably, I had to remain there another six whole weeks. I simply could not walk around. My sister finally located a room in Otwozk [Otwock].

The kindhearted priest rented a carriage for us. The nun wrapped me in a blanket with true motherly concern and seated me in the carriage. With tears of gratitude and heartfelt blessings from the priest and the nun, we left that blessed house and all of its wonderful inhabitants.

–  –  –

[1] Helena Barcikowska lived with her two sons in the village of Wisniowiec [Wiśniowiec] in the Tarnopol district [actually, near Krzemieniec in Volhynia]. Following the Nazi invasion of the area in 1941, she found employment as an agricultural worker in the fields of a German-administered estate, where she became acquainted with two Jewish brothers from Warsaw, Adam and Michal [Michał] Gajlo [Gajło]. In 1942, when the Jews of the village were incarcerated in a ghetto, Helena decided to take the brothers into her home. Only Adam was able to take advantage of the offer, however, as Michal was bedridden. As a devout Catholic, Helena regarded the saving of human life as both a duty and a privilege. The danger of the undertaking was not lost on her, since the German and Ukrainian police were constantly searching for Jewish fugitives. The house was raided twice, and it was only owing to Helena’s astuteness that her activities remained undiscovered. Adam Gajlo remained in hiding until October 1943. Helena requested no payment for sheltering him and, despite her dire financial situation, divided her meager earnings as a seamstress between her Jewish charge and her sons Tadeusz, aged 14, and Jozef [Józef], aged 13. The latter were actively involved in caring for Adam. They built a hideout for him beneath the house, brought him food, and kept the hiding place clean. At the end of 1943, Helena obtained a forged birth certificate for Adam [from a local Catholic priest75] and, fearing the intrigues of her Ukrainian neighbors, fled westward with her children before the approaching Russian front. Adam escaped together with them, but afterwards their paths separated. Under his new name, Krzysztof Boleslaw [Bolesław] Sawicki—which he also retained after the war—he moved to Lancut [Łańcut], where he remained until the liberation.

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