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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 ...»

-- [ Page 88 ] --

Klepacka took the two girls into her one-room apartment in Cracow, where they were soon joined by other refugees.

Klepacka often put up Jews on a temporary basis until they found more permanent accommodation on the Aryan side of the city. Half a year later, Taubenfeld and Gross were transferred to a convent belonging to the Felicjanki [Felician] Sisters under assumed identities. In late 1942, after Taubenfeld’s mother perished, a relative undertook to pay the convent fees. After he too perished, the children were returned by the nuns to Klepacka, who continued to look after them like her own daughters. In due course, after Zegota [Żegota], at Klepacka’s request, agreed to pay the convent fees, Taubenfeld and Gross were sent back to the convent, where they stayed until January 1945, when the area was liberated.

241 [3] In 1943, Mirla Kajler managed to escape from the Warsaw ghetto with her four-year-old daughter, Felicia. When Kajler realized that she had no chance of surviving with her daughter, she went to a Catholic convent in Wawer, an eastern suburb of Warsaw, and approached the mother superior, Sister Zygmunta, the former Johanna Reiter, begging her to admit her daughter to the home for abandoned children run by the sisters of the convent. When Sister Zygmunta found out that the girl was Jewish, she looked after her devotedly, protected her, and watched out for her safety during the periodic interrogations conducted by the Germans in an attempt to discover Jewish children hiding there. … After the war, Felicia was returned to her mother and the two moved to France … [4] Before the war, Fraidla Skladkowska owned a leather-processing factory in Warsaw. After the occupation of Warsaw, Zenon Szenfeld helped the Skladkowskis by offering to hide their assets and valuables for them. When the Skladkowskis were interned in the ghetto, Zenon and his wife, Marianna, smuggled in food parcels to them. In July 1942, they helped the Skladkowskis and their daughter, Aliza, as well as Skladkowska’s brother, Jakub Pinczewski, escape to the Aryan side of the city, where they provided them with forged papers and financial aid. After putting them up for a short while, the Szenfelds arranged for the refugees to stay with Maria Szmidt, Marianna’s mother. After the authorities were alerted by an informer, however, the Skladkowskis moved in with Czeslaw [Czesław] and Maria Car, where they hid until May 1943, while the Szenfelds continued to look out for their safety. Again the danger of discovery forced them to move, this time to the home of Janina Szymanska [Szymańska]. Thanks to the Aryan papers in her possession, Fraidla found work in a factory, while her daughter, who fell ill, was transferred to the nearby Wawer convent. In due course, her husband and brother moved in with Anna Szwerkowska and Irena Rudkowska, her sister, in Anin, near Warsaw, where they remained until September 1944, when the area was liberated. After the war, the survivors emigrated to the United States.

Halina Robinson was born in 1928 as Lina Zandberg. At the beginning of the war her family was deported from Kalisz to Warsaw. She escaped from the Warsaw ghetto in September 1942, by jumping over the ghetto wall.

With the help of Leokadia Komarncika, a Polish Christian, she was able to smuggle her aunt and grandmother out of the ghetto through the sewers. (Leokadia Komarnicka was later executed by the Germans when she was caught helping another Jew.) For the next two years, young Halina was in hiding, in thirteen different locations and with four sets of false documents. She believes that more than 100 courageous non-Jews were involved in arranging her transport, accommodation, and false documents. Among them were Józefa and Zygmunt Truchanowicz and Maria Jiruska, who had worked as a headmistress before the war. Then going as Halina Górska, she was among eleven Jewsh children sheltered by the Felician Sisters in their convent in the Warsaw suburb of Wawer. The Jewish children were placed under the care of Sister Kalasanta. She describes this episode in her memoir A Cork on the Waves: Reflections of a Turbulent Life (Sydney: Sydney Jewish Museum, 2005; Sydney: Park Street Press, 2006). A summary account regarding Wanda Jiruska and her daughters, Stefania Weronika and Maria Antonina, in Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, at page 325, suggests that the children’s homes run by the Catholic Church to which Wanda Jiruska referred Jewish children as orphans were not aware of their charges’ Jewish origin. That was certainly not the case with regard to the Felician Sisters in Wawer.

Baruch Milch, who escaped from ghetto in the town Tłuste, in the southeastern province of Tarnopol, along with his brother-in-law, found shelter among Poles in the village of Czerwonogród, and encountered helpful nuns and priests along the way. (Gilbert, The Righteous, pp.51–52.) A second family, by the name of Zielinski [Zieliński], who had not known Milch or his brother-in-law before the war, took them in, and kept them in hiding for nine months. In spite of the danger to their own lives, the Zielinskis gave the two grieving men both ‘moral support and love’, in addition to taking care of all their daily needs. Later, they found a hiding place for the two men in a convent near Tluste, run by three Sisters of Mercy [Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul] and their Mother Superior. Baruch Milch later recalled: ‘These heroic women ran the religious services of the parish, conducted the choir, played the organ and managed the kindergarten. Later in the summer they opened a secret shelter for foundlings. Among these tiny outcasts were about six or eight Jewish children left by desperate parents roaming the fields and forests, or just found abandoned at the monastery’s threshold.’ On one occasion the three nuns found in their backyard a four-year-old boy, speaking only Yiddish. ‘They gathered him into their midst. As long as the murderers were unaware of what was going on behind the walls the self-sacrificing women shared their scanty provisions, fed their charges, cared for them and took them to the church.’

–  –  –





I remember how we were driven by night in a horse-drawn wagon to the cloister and how Father bade us farewell.

Pointing to the sky, he said, “We shall meet there.” He then paid for our stay94 with money he kept hidden in a bottle, and he left. From that moment I never saw him again.

In the cloister, I used the name Marta Regusz. I worked in the fields. Whenever Germans showed up in the cloister, I would die of fright (after all, my brother was circumcised!). After placing us in the cloister, Father went into hiding in Horodenka, where he was shot at the beginning of 1943. … I don’t know where Mother perished. … My brother perished during a raid on the cloister by the followers of Bandera [Ukrainian nationalist partisans who attacked Poles]. He was

then nine years old. Here is how, at the time, I described the events of this horrible day:

“It was the second of February 1945, at eleven o’clock. … There were three of us young girls and my beloved brother … I woke up with a start during the night and heard terrible shooting around the cloister. … I got up and walked up to the window. … All of us girls were already dressed when Sister Władysława walked in and said we were surrounded by Bandera’s followers. We were terrified.

“Right away, we went over to the bedrooms of the Sisters, and there, by the window, we stood for three hours, watching the terrible tortures of people who were fleeing in panic from the flames. The inhuman barbarians ran around furiously with flares in their hands and set fires to one hut after another, and whenever they saw someone, if they could, they grabbed him alive, and if not, then they would shoot him on the spot. They captured one family in our village and all that was later found of the children were fragments of burned-up bones, and the father’s skin had been ripped off from his stomach all the way to his head. We, the girls, stood all the time by the window, waiting for what would happen next. We felt that our own lives, too, were hanging by a thread. … “Soon, our suppositions came to pass. At three o’clock in the morning, we heard terrible knocking on the front gate, which seemed to foretell our approaching end. Sister Władysława called us into the chapel and began to pray and prepare us for death. We knelt in front of the altar for perhaps ten minutes. … “I had no regrets about dying, because until then I had not experienced contentment on earth. … In the last moment, when the glass of the windows in the lower corridor started falling onto the floor with a loud crash, Sister Superior hid us under the altar.” During the Ukrainian attack on Czerwonogród some 60 Poles lost their lives, including the pastor Rev. Szczepan Jurasz and two nuns. The Jewish girls hidden by the nuns survived. Baruch Milch details the assistance he received from the Catholic clergy in that same area in his memoir Can Heaven Be Void? (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2003), at pages 164, 227, 254–56.

Slowly, we started to sneak our way into the village we had been seeking, Czerwonogrod [Czerwonogród], a village that was inhabited largely by Poles. Former patients of mine from the old days lived in every other house. The Polish village priest [Rev. Szczepan Jurasz] had been very helpful to Jews in the past, and there was a convent where the nuns were hiding some Jewish children....

Alone, Lusia [Geller], escaping a Ukrainian gang of murderers] went on to the local priest, who lived on the other side of the town [of Tłuste]. At midnight, she knocked on the window. The priest’s sister, a good-natured spinster, overcame her fear, opened the window and called the priest, who allowed Lusia to climb in.

After Lusia told them what had happened, the priest and his sister fed her and tucked her in a warm bed, where she fell deeply asleep. The next morning, she asked the priest’s sister to visit the labor camp and speak with the German commandant, Patti. She met with Mr. Konigsberg, the camp foreman, and pleaded with him to save Manya [Nirnberg, Lusia’s adopted sister]. Konigsberg’s assistant was roped in, and the assistant, being on good terms with the Ukrainian police, managed to extricate the girl from the police and transfer her to the camp. Manya, barefoot, chalk-white, dressed in nothing but a nightgown and a thin blouse, related how the Ukrainian police had laughed at her when she said she wanted to die. They stood her up against a wall in the courtyard and several policemen lined up opposite her with pistols 94 It was not unusual for people who could afford to do so to make payments or gifts to religious institutions to offset the cost of caring for their children. During the war convents and orphanages were overcrowded with charges and in dire financial straits. It is unlikely that in this case the amount paid over by the father was sufficient to maintain his children for the entire period of their stay at the convent.

243 and fired, deliberately missing. A German came over and told them to leave her alone. “One doesn’t shoot at those who want to die but only at those who want to live,” he explained.

The priest’s sister informed Lusia that Manya was alive and well. Lusia burst into tears and begged to be sent, along with Manya, to the Lisowce camp, where she would find her mother and sisters. There was typhus in the camp at the time, and Mrs. Geller, fearing that the two girls would succumb to the disease, bribed the camp manager, a Pole named Korczak, to quarter Lusia and Manya with a Polish family. She treated Manya like her fourth daughter. He complied willingly … The Polish family was honest, devoutly Catholic, and hoped that the girls would convert after the war. Korczak watched over the girls and met their needs. … [On March 26, 1944:] To be on the safe side, we [Baruch Milch and other Jews hidden by the Zieliński family] stopped on the way to Tłuste for a few days with the Polish priest who knew where we had been hiding. While there, we visited the convent and found a few Jewish children whom the nuns had concealed. … Surreptitiously, I [Baruch Milch] began planning to leave Zaleszczyki in the company of some Polish families. With help from the local Polish priest, I obtained papers in the name of Dr. Jan Zielinski, the real name of the Zielinskis’ son who disappeared in the Soviet Union during the war. My “adopted son,” Zalman Sperber, got papers in the name of Jozio Zielinski. … Even though the Soviets and the new Polish government had agreed in writing that Jews and Poles with Polish citizenship could return to Poland, I could not get permission to leave the USSR because of my profession and rank.

Therefore, I scheduled the exodus of the expanded Zielinski family for a week in which I was to attend a symposium in Czortków, whence the transports to Poland set out. Some Poles in the transport knew what I had in mind, because I had done much for them and we got along very well. Even the Polish railwaymen knew.

It was a widely known fact among the Polish population that thousands of Jews were passing as Poles. In Warsaw alone there were more than 20,000 Jews living on the Aryn side. Discretion was the order of the day, especially in Catholic institutions. Probing questions were not asked; the less one knew the better. The following account attests to the quiet assistance extended to the family of Adam Starkopf by a number of Poles, including nuns and priests. (Adam Starkopf, There Is Always Time To Die [New York: Holocaust Library, 1981], pp.201–211.) In January 1944, however, I was forced to part from both my wife [Pela] and child [Jasia] because Pela had to go to the hospital. Her abdominal pains had returned and it was clear to me that she needed more competent care than she could receive at the clinic in Lochow [Łochów]. One of the men in the lumberyard told me about Professor Czyzewicz [Czyżewicz], who was chief of surgery at the Szpital Dzieciatka [Dzieciątka] Jezus—the Hospital of the Holy Infant Jesus—in Warsaw. I had heard of this doctor even before the war, and I knew that he was an outstanding surgeon. I did not know his human qualities, but I feared that if Pela continued to go without proper treatment, we might one day find ourselves faced with a life and death emergency. And so I decided to take the chance and have Pela examined by Prof.

Czyzewicz in Warsaw.



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