«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
benefactors, is related in Ellen Land-Weber, To Save a Life: Stories of Holocaust Rescue (Urbana and Chicago:
University of Illinois Pres, 2000), at pages 197–52.
[Barbara Szymańska Makuch:] Our apartment in Tarnobrzeg was very small—only one room and a kitchen. Since this was my first teaching job, the pay was quite low, and from that my mother [Janina Szymańska] and I had to squeeze the rent money. But we managed. It was enough.
It was late in the afternoon, one day in 1942, when a woman named Rachel Litowicz and her child [Rebecca] came to our door, saying she came because somebody had told her I was a good person. I had never seen her before. She had nowhere else to go—she was desperate. She wanted me to take her child. I knew that in Sandomierz that day the Germans were “cleaning” the town. A very bad raid had been going on all day. I had seen them shoot Jews right in the streets.
We all felt very scared. By law, the penalty was death if you offered so much as one glass of water to a Jewish person.
The Germans killed us exactly the same as they killed the Jews. My mother and I knew that, but how could we refuse this woman’s plea? We didn’t even talk it over, we just invited her inside.
We talked with her for a few hours, and then she left the child with us and returned to her husband in Sandomierz, where he was working in a camp the Germans had set up for people who could still do useful work. I didn’t set eyes on Rachel again until after the war. I learned that she went to Auschwitz, but I knew she was very strong. Twice she escaped from the gas chambers.
So seven-year-old Rebecca stayed with us: we called her Marysia. I slept in the kitchen, and my mother slept with her in the other room. In the beginning everything was okay because she was blond, with a pale complexion and freckles, and slightly curly hair, which I would straighten by making her little braids. We told people she was my niece. At home her family spoke Yiddish, although fortunately Marysia had linguistic talent and could speak Polish quite well. But like all children in this situation, she was shy and frightened. Her mother had said to her, “I’m leaving you now. After today, Basha [Basia, a diminutive for Barbara] will be your mother.” How can a little child understand this? She grew close to my mother because my mother was staying at home while I was away every day at work. Right from the beginning my mother became her “aunt.” … The news that we were helping a Jew traveled fast among the many people needing help. … It wasn’t long before the neighbors started to talk. Marysia came to us at the end of July 1942, and Olga [Dr. Olga Lilien from Lwów] and Stefan [a Jewish boy] soon after. At first everything was okay. But when Stefan or Olga needed something, they would come to our house, and people began to notice.
Marysia was my “niece,” but I thought to myself, how will I explain what kind of a niece she is when the Germans start searching for Jews in hiding? What would I do? They would ask, who is she? Why is she staying with you? Where are her other relatives? Where is she from? In fact, after she had been with us for a few months the neighbors were already asking each other these questions. I became frightened about what might happen to us if we remained in Tarnobrzeg.
My mother and I decided it would be best for me to take Marysia to a bigger city where nobody would know us. I would give up my job and we would go to Lvov [Lwów] to live with my sister Halina. My mother, who was not so adventurous, would go back to Sandomierz to live with my youngest sister and my aunt. So, late in September Marysia and I left. … Our journey was extremely dangerous. The train was in poor condition, short of coal, and it was always stopping, making long delays for supplies or because of damaged bridges. Lvov is not so far from Tarnobrzeg; normally the train took only eight hours, but this time it was two days. All through the trip I was very, very frightened, even though I thought I was probably not the only one with a Jewish child. I prayed. What else could I do? In the night Germans marched through the train with their dogs, looking at the children and the other people. Once, while we waited for another train to pass, I saw them take people—families with children—off the train, taking them behind a building, and then I heard shots. It was very frightening. At any moment it could happen to me, or Marysia—at any moment. … We arrived in Lvov and made our way to my sister’s apartment only to discover that this too was a dangerous place.
239 Unknown to me, Halina [Szymańska] and my future brother-in-law, Slawek [Sławek, i.e., Sławomir Ogrodziński], belonged to an underground resistance group. It was a committee that organized the Lvov branch of Zegota, a Warsaw group that was bringing money to Polish Jews in hiding. I soon joined them, so from that point on I was helping not just one or two, but a great many others.
This was not a good place for Marysia, so a few days later we found a safer place for her nearby in the Felician convent, where there were already thirty-five Jewish children in hiding. The Germans allowed convents to look after orphans—not Jews, but orphans. The nuns took in every orphan that needed help, which happened, of course, to be mostly Jewish children, and so Marysia survived the war in their care. When the war ended she found her mother, who survived Auschwitz. Her father died in Bergen-Belsen.
I became a Zegota courier, traveling often to Warsaw to bring back money from the Polish government-in-exile in London. The Warsaw group had an underground press for printing counterfeit documents and false identity papers for Jews, and I brought these back to Lvov, too. Another job we had was contact with Janowicka [Janowska], the big work camp for Jews in Lvov. On one visit we would deliver false papers to certain people, and then on the next, help them prepare to escape from the camp. If we learned that someone needed special medicine, we delivered it right to that person, not to the Germans. Sometimes we delivered money either to someone in the camp or perhaps to someone in hiding. Many people were hiding and they had to have money to give the person buying food for them. I did all these things. … Every few days I went to visit Marysia, but one day I did not arrive. I had been making frequent trips to Warsaw for Zegota, because I knew the city so well. This time on the return trip, approximately half way back to Lvov, Germans came into the compartment and made a search, looking at baggage, papers, everything. They found all the Zegota papers in my bag on the overhead rack. There was no way to hide them. Not knowing whose bag it was, they arrested all twelve people in the compartment, and took us to the Lublin jail. [Barbara Szymańska was eventually sent to the concentration camp in Ravensbrück. She survived two years of imprisonment and torture without betraying anyone.] (See also the account of the rescue of Malka, the ten-year-old daughter of Sara Glass (later Pasht), a fugitive from the Sandomierz ghetto in October 1942, who was also taken by Barbara Szymańska Makuch to the Felician Sisters’ convent in Lwów. Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 5: Poland, Part 2, at pages 802–803.) [Halina Szymańska Ogrodzińska:] During the months I was working [as a technician] in Dr. [Henryk] Meisel’s laboratory I was going very often to their home to give Polish literature lessons to their daughter, Felka. Each time, Dr.
Meisel’s mother, the old lady, would make scrambled eggs or an omelet, always urging me to “eat, eat, eat,” which I did because I was still a teenager and always hungry. At this time Dr. Meisel was beginning to realize that the situation for the Jews had become quite intolerable, and he had to do something about his large family. He saw it would be impossible to save everyone. With the help of some friends he arranged to send Mrs. Meisel’s sister, Nina, to Warsaw, and she survived.
Felka went to the orphanage run by the nuns of the Felician convent. Then Dr. Meisel had a long discussion with the old lady. They decided that because she was so old, the best solution would be for her to take poison. Being a doctor he could give her something good that would cause no pain. They never spoke about this with the rest of the family, and one day she was dead—like that. I was still very young, but Dr. Meisel liked to talk to me, and he badly needed to speak with someone.
He told me he had a very heavy heart, but I already knew that.
One day the authorities asked Dr. Ayre to eliminate all the Jews working for him, no exceptions. Ayre explained to them that the work of these people was important for the German army, but it was of no use; Dr. Meisel and his wife had to go to Auschwitz. The Germans had some sort of laboratory arrangement in the concentration camp, a little bit similar to the Weigl Institute, with worse eating and living conditions certainly, but the Meisels could still work on their research there.
In general, I think that family came through the war rather well. Today Felka is a doctor and her Polish husband is a doctor too. … Basha was in Tarnobrzeg with Mama where she didn’t have the opportunity to work for the underground. She was very happy there. In Lvov, in this Poland of terrorists, it was an altogether different world; the atmosphere was very unpleasant. When the situation in Lvov became very difficult we told Olga [Dr. Olga Lilien] to go to Basha and Mama in Tarnobrzeg. Not long after, Basha came to Lvov with the little girl, Marysia.
When she arrived, Basha had never heard of Zegota, but we needed people, and Slawek immediately took her in. She wasn’t especially political; she joined us for private reasons, for family reasons. Certainly I was more political than she was.
Slawek arranged for Marysia to go to the orphanage run by the Felician convent, where she would be safer, the same place where Dr. Meisel’s daughter Felka was staying.
I visited Marysia in the convent several times. I couldn’t tell her anything about her mother or father. She would ask me 240 for news of Basha. She was a sad girl, never smiling, but she liked it very much when I came to visit. I don’t have an especially clear memory of her now because I visited so many friends in the same situation at that time. There were a great many small things that needed to be done for these people and sometimes it was very difficult. Those in the convent were in a good situation and didn’t need our help, so we only saw her occasionally, but we knew her life was safe.
[Rachel Litowicz:] When I returned [after the liberation], the Szymanskas told me that [my daughter] Rebecca [now Marysia] was in a convent in Lvov. This was not so easy because Lvov was now part of Russia, but fortunately I found out that they had moved the convent back to Poland. When I went to get her she was wearing a cross, but she understood, poor girl. Rebecca said she used to get down from her bed to pray she would be with mama and father, that we would be alive.
The priests and nuns were not so bad since they knowingly took in Jewish children. They were kind to me—well, most of them—and they treated my daughter very well. She studied, and was very good in school, very intelligent. They loved her.
The Szymański family’s fear of being found out or betrayed in Tarnobrzeg fortunately proved to be groundless.
The case of Doctor Olga Lilien, a Holocaust survivor from Lwów with a very marked Jewish appearance who lived with a Polish family in Tarnobrzeg, tested the solidarity of the Polish villagers. A German came looking for a fugitive and summoned the villagers to a meeting to question them about his whereabouts. Dr. Lilien recalled
Everyone was telling the German they didn’t know where the man was, when suddenly he looked at me and said, “Oh, but this is a Jewess.” The head of the village said, “Oh, no, she cooks at the school. She is a very good cook.” Nobody said, “Oh, well, she is Jewish. Take her.” He let me go.
The population of the village was about two thousand. They all knew there was something “wrong” with me. Any one of them could have sold me to the Germans for two hundred deutsche marks, but out of two thousand people nobody did it.
Everybody in the village protected me. I had very good relations with them.
Indeed, Dr. Lilien remained in Tarnobrzeg after the war where she continued to work as a pediatrician caring for the children of the villagers who had sheltered her. She died there in August 1996, at the age of 92.
The Felician Sisters sheltered Jews in other localities too. The following testimonials concern Wawer, a suburb of Warsaw, the nearby settlement of Glinki, and Kraków. Sister Zygmunta (Johanna Reiter), the mother superior of the convent in Wawer, was recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volumes 4 and 5: Poland, Part 1, pp.174, 350; Part 2, pp.666, 784.)  When their Warsaw apartment was confiscated during the occupation, Stefania Dlutowska [Dłutowska] and her daughter, Maria-Krystyna, were forced to move to the nearby village of Radosc [Radość]. From early 1943, six Jews— Jerzy Leinkram and his young daughter, Ruth; his grandmother, Blums Goldman; his nephew, Michal [Michał] Flohr; his uncle, Julian Leinkram; and his cousin, Marta Lencka—all found shelter in the cellar of the Dlutowskis’ new home, where Stefania and her daughter took good care of them. When the Dlutkowskis were no longer able to support such a large number of people, Dlutowska transferred Ruth under an assumed name to a children’s institution run by the Felicjanki [Felician] nuns in the village of Glinki, near Warsaw, and Flohr to a relative of Dlutowska’s who agreed to take him in. … Dlutowska and her daughter received no payment for their acts of courage …  During the occupation, Lidka Taubenfeld (born 1932) moved with her family from the town of Radom to Przemysl [Przemyśl], where her father passed away. Although Taubenfeld and her cousin, Lena Gross, had been provided with Aryan papers by their parents after Lena’s parents perished, Lidka’s mother realized the importance of finding them a safe shelter. In a chance encounter with Maria Klepacka, the latter agreed to hide the two girls in her apartment and teach them the basic tenets of Catholicism to prepare them for admission to a convent orphanage, where they would be safe.