«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
Religious organizations founded by Brother Albert worked in this same spirit. The Albertine Sisters never turned away anyone who needed help from their orphanages. In the years before the outbreak of the war in 1939, the nurseries run by this order contained many Jewish children who were cared for with the same love as the other children. When in 1942 the terror against the Jews increased sharply, many Jewish children found shelter in the order’s orphanages. Jews were to be found in 29 institutions operated by this order. In all 95 Jews were taken in, of whom 50 survived in hiding. Twelve were apprehended and killed; the fate of 35 people is not known. These statistics are based on the testimony of 50 Sisters who are still alive. However, many Sisters who were involved in the running of the order’s orphanages have died and thus many facts will never surface.
The following are summaries of statements obtained from the Albertine Sisters. Many of the names of persons who received assistance have been forgotten over time. In some cases people were never asked their names because it was safer not to know. Many of those helped never provided their real names; often they used false identification.
I. Kraków—Shelter at 47 Krakowska Street
1. An unknown person brought two Jewish children to the shelter. One child was ten, the other eleven years old. It turned out that one of these “girls” was actually a boy dressed as a girl. Because the children went to chapel regularly and prayed, they did not arouse any suspicion. Despite numerous searches conducted by the Germans, these two children 252 survived and were later taken, probably to Sweden.95
2. A girl named Marysia, the daughter of a Jewish doctor from Kraków, was occasionally paid a visit by her grandmother. This child did not want to go to chapel and stated openly that she was Jewish and did not need to pray.
Some women working at the orphanage reported her to the Gestapo. Most likely she did not survive.
3. Mrs. Barska and her grown daughter—their names had been changed—were sheltered in the shelter for a period of time. During a search by the Germans they were warned by Sister Urbana and escaped through a fence. Their fate is not known.
4. Elżbieta Sękowska was betrayed to the Germans. Sister Urbana therefore placed her in a room with the chronically ill, where no one walked around. She stayed there for two months not once leaving the room. She was cared for by the Sisters during this time. After the war she left for Palestine. She lives with her married daughters and is in good health. She was very grateful to the Sisters and to this day writes and sends food packages. Her last letter is dated December 14, 1960. In that letter she sends her holiday greetings, wishing “Blessings from the Child Jesus”. She writes that she lives comfortably under a beautiful sun with her daughters and grandchildren who love and respect her. Her oldest daughter’s only regret is that she cannot make her young once more. Her address is c/o Leonora Awiezer, Kirjat-Sefer 4, Tel Aviv, Israel.
5. Together with these people there was a young girl named Zosia Kerocka. No one knew if she was Jewish or not because she never admitted it to anyone. Several times she was almost taken to the ghetto but each time she stated steadfastly that they should shoot her outside in the courtyard because she would not go with them. Sister Urbana protected her saying that she was sure that she was not Jewish. Zosia was very bright and hardworking. She went to school and received her high-school diploma. She is presently a teacher in Warsaw and has occasional contact with the Sisters to whom she has remained very grateful.
These statements were made by Sister Urbana and Sister Seweryna. Sister Urbana stated that there may have been other Jews but she does not remember the particulars.
II. Kraków—Nursery at 10 Koletek Street The director of this institution was Sister Hermana. During the height of the terror against the Jews more children were left at the nursery. The children were identified as Jewish because they had Semitic physical features and the boys were often circumcised.
1. One evening, at about nine o’clock, a man and a woman brought a year-old child in a white astrakhan coat to the nursery. They said that as they were crossing the Vistula River in a boat, they had heard a splash and noticed something white floating in the water. They moved alongside of it and pulled a child out of the water. The boy was completely soaked through, blue in colour and unconscious. Sister Fidelisa spent about four hours with him until he regained consciousness.
The boy had pneumonia. He eventually recovered and was healthy. He was named Józio. When the German terror abated, Jews came and took Jewish children away to their own institutions. Józio was also taken. Some time later a Jewish man from Warsaw came to the nursery looking for his son. From the description that he gave, it was evident that Józio was his son. The father said that he had given the child over to a woman to be sheltered but the woman had disappeared and he had lost track of the child. He probably located his son at the Jewish institution where he had been taken.
2. The [Blue] police brought a lost four-year-old boy to the nursery. The child was bright and knew the Hail Mary but would not tell his name. He answered all questions about his name by saying that his last name is Wróblewski and sometimes he added that he must be Wróblewski because otherwise the Germans would kill him. We called him Tomuś. No one was allowed to undress or bathe him except the Sisters. He was, of course, circumcised and had typical Semitic features. He was terrified of the Germans. When the Germans came to search, the Sisters would lock him up in a room and tell him to sit quietly. He understood and would not move. When the nursery changed locations to Rymanów, he accompanied the other children. After the war he was taken with others by a Jewish organization.
3. In Rymanów, there was a three-year-old circumcised boy. At the time the nursery doctor was a woman who was afraid of the authorities. Once she asked whether there were any Jewish children in the nursery. She was told by Sister Hermana in a very firm manner that she didn’t need to know and that she would not provide that information. Furthermore, all the children were legally admitted. That is why, when the Jewish children were ill, the Sister Superior did not let the doctor examine them, for fear she would turn them in to the Germans. She cared for them herself and, thank God, none of them died.
4. Krzyś was officially accepted into the nursery as a Jew, the illegitimate child of a Jewish woman named Eisenberg. He was brought up in the nursery from infancy and was well behaved. He said his prayers with the other children. When a 95
See Grynberg, Księga sprawiedliwych, pp.370–71; Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, vol. 5:
Poland, Part 2, p.542. See also the memoir of one of these two children: Anita Lobel, No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War (New York:
Greenwillow Books, 1998), portions of which are reproduced earlier.
253 directive came from the authorities to take all Jewish children to the ghetto, the Mother Superior asked the Director of Social Services for permission to hold on to the child. The child, however, had Jewish identification papers. After protracted and strenuous efforts by the Mother Superior, the director decided to destroy the child’s documents and from that time the child was entered as Krzyś NN (last name unknown). When the boy was seven years old he went to the nursery run by the Sisters Servants of Mary in Prądnik Czerwony. It was impossible to baptize him at this time because it would have been dangerous. The Sisters Servants of Mary did not know he was Jewish. New identification was made for him with the last name of Zaleski and Krzyś became a student of the organ. When he was 18 years old he needed a birth certificate.
He went to the Sisters Servants of Mary and they in turn sent him back to us. When he was informed that he was never baptized, he decided to be baptized by Father Miś. He is today the organist in Łętowice near Tarnów.
5. A woman from Mostowa Street brought a year-old baby as a foundling. He was named Staś. The child was very sickly and needed care and attention. As a three-year old, Staś went to a foster family who became very attached to him and put in much effort to help him with regard to his health. After some time his older brother and other relatives showed up. The Mother Superior had to admit that this child was indeed their relative. A tragedy ensued. Staś’s new family did not want to give him up. The Jewish family took this family to court. After much unpleasantness, the child was taken by his relatives even though he did not want to leave his new family.
6. A certain woman came to the nursery and asked how to save a child from the ghetto. She was told to bring him to the nursery. She did just that. The father of the child came out of an underground sewer and handed over a year-old boy. This woman brought the child to the nursery. As the guardian of this child, she sometimes came to visit him and brought money for his upkeep. The child became sick. Because the parents were worried about the child or did not believe the woman, they wanted to see the child in order to be convinced that he was still alive. The father wanted to come see the child disguised as a workman. The Mother Superior decided against this because it might arouse the suspicion of the lay personnel of the nursery. The father decided to take the child back the same way he had brought him out. The child was two years old. In the rush he was taken to the ghetto in nursery clothes with the name of the institution, St. Joseph’s Orphanage for Children, and an image of St. Joseph. When the Jews were driven from the ghetto, this child accompanied his parents and two relatives to a station where the Germans told everyone to get out and leave their belongings to one side. Little Ignaś ran out with his arms outstretched in the direction of the German commander. His parents were paralyzed with fear when a German asked to whom the child belonged. Shaking from fear the father stepped forward and said the child was his. “How many are there of you?”, he was asked. “Four”, was the reply. “To the side.” All four Jews with the child went to stand on the side, filled with fright. They were sure they would be shot because of this child’s actions.
Instead, all the other Jews were sent to their deaths, but they were left alone at an empty station with their belongings. The Germans had let them go. Maybe they were moved by the act of this little boy, but the fact is that a miracle had happened.
The entire family eventually reached Westphalia and survived the war. In 1947 they came back and visited the nursery in Kraków and spoke to the Mother Superior. They were very grateful and said that the shirt with the emblem of St. Joseph had saved their lives. They made a donation that was generous at that time —a bolt of linen.
7. Wojtek was a nice little boy who did not like to play with the other children. He later said that his father had told him not to pray to holy paintings and not to cross himself. He was transferred to a different location.
All together at the nursery there survived ten children who were handed over to a Jewish organization after the war. Of those children who were brought in during the war, not one was taken to the ghetto. However, the children who were brought in before the war with Jewish identification, could not be prevented from being taken there and cried when they were taken away. They probably did not survive. There were eight of these children.
III. Częstochowa—Overnight Shelter at 14 Wesoła Street When Jews were being shipped out of the ghetto, a woman about 32 years old came to us. She was a bright, thin, blonde with blue eyes and of average height. She had two children: Ludwik, a seven-year old, and Adusia, a three-year old. The children were bright and looked pleasant. At first they were held out to be the cousins of Sister Hugona and they were given a separate room on the second floor. They attended chapel regularly with the other children. The boy was a good observer who learned quickly how to conduct himself in chapel. Their mother was said to have been the owner of a small factory in Częstochowa. After a period of time we were able to obtain for her a Polish identity card with the name Janina Świtała. The two children were registered under her name. This woman later began catechism lessons with Father [Tadeusz] Wiśniewski from our parish—St. Sigismund. Together with her children, behind closed doors, she was baptized.
She spoke German fluently and did not have Semitic features. She moved around freely and sometimes even travelled to
earn an income. She smoked cigarettes. One time a Sister asked little Adusia what her name was. The little girl answered:
Horowitz. The little boy turned red and started instructing his sister in a whisper: “Adusia, that was before. Your name is Świtała now.” One of the women on staff went to the Gestapo and betrayed the Jewish women who were sheltered in our institution. It 254 was at that time Mrs. Świtała moved out to a private apartment with her brother, who was also hiding in Częstochowa.
While there, a German agent called the boy over and after confirming that he was Jewish, had all three of them shot in the Jewish cemetery in Częstochowa. The brother survived.
An older woman, about 50 years old, with an identity card with the name Zofia Kowalczyk, came from Radomsko. She was a small, thin, serious woman with regular features. She had blue eyes and greying dark-blond hair. She said that she had hidden in an attic with her two grown sons. The Germans had taken her sons but she had escaped through the fence wearing only one shoe. Because she had money, she was able to bribe a policeman who had stopped her along the way.
She spent some time with us after arriving in Częstochowa. After the betrayal, which will be described in detail, she left our house. We do not know her fate. She might have survived.