‘ANTI-SEMITE’ WOMAN SAVING THE JEWS
Literary works by Zofia Kossak-Szczucka were translated into foreign languages. ‘Without weapons’ – the last part of a story about crusades – gained the first place on the list of ‘literary hits’ in the USA, and the work ‘Crusaders’ was nominated for the Literary Noble Prize.
Not only a writer
Zofia Kossak came from a famous family of artists and was a relative of two other writers (Maria Pawlikowska – Jasnorzewska and Magdalena Samozwaniec), merited for the Polish culture. She was a deeply religious person and a Catholic activist. In 1932 she was awarded with the Literary Prize of the Silesian District. In 1936 she was awarded with the Gold Academic Wawrzyn of the Polish Academy of LIterarture, and in 1937 she was awarded with the Officer’s Cross of the Poland Renewal Order.
During the German occupation, in 1941, she and Fr. Edmund Krauze (from the parish under invocation of the Holy Cross in Warsaw), she founded the Front of Poland Renewal, which was a conspiracy continuation of the Catholic Action and she became its leader. She cooperated with the political-military Catholic organization ‘Union’. She was a co-editor of the conspiracy newspapers ‘Poland alive’ and ‘The Truth’. The group of the Frontier of Poland Renewal was known before the Second World War for its unwilling attitude towards the Jews, but it was just the newspaper ‘The Truth’ which published an announcement in March 1943 about sanction for blackmailing and demanding ransom for hidden Jews. A few weeks later the Polish government on exile introduced death penalty, acknowledging such actions as betrayal of Homeland. Courts of the Conspiracy State gave out verdicts for blackmailers and murderers of Jews, and special bodies of the Home Army executed them.
On 11 August 1942 Zofia Kossak-Szczucka published an unusual dramatic appeal entitled ‘Protest!’ on behalf of the Front. She described a tragic situation of Polish Jews exterminated cruelly by the Germans within the great liquidation action ‘Einsatz reinhardt’ carried out in the Warsaw ghetto then. She stated angrily that western powerful countries – England and the USA did not react to the crime properly. Because of the indifference of the outer world, the nation was being killed. In that situation she – the pre-war ‘patented anti-Semite woman’ stated that somebody who avoids helping the Jews, or is maybe looking at this crime approvingly, did not deserve the name of Pole or the name of a Catholic. ‘Protest!’ was published in 5 thousand copies and advertised on posters in Warsaw.
Zofia Kossak-Szczucka put her words into practice. Together with a group of cooperators, from the Front of Poland Renewal, she raised money, organized places of keeping and ‘purchase’ of new documents for hiding Jews, helped them find work. Jews hidden were at the writer’s home, and in flats of her cooperators. The Front of Poland Renewal placed Jewish children in orphanages run by nuns. This help comprised about 180 people in the beginning. Kossak-Szczucka thought that it was a water drop in the sea of needs, and she made pressure on the Delegacy of the Government for Poland, so that the Polish government would give a more constitutional character to the way of helping Jews and supported those actions financially.
In September 1943 a delegate of the Government for Country appointed the Temporary Committee to Aid Jews named Konrad Żegota led by Zofia Kossak-Szczucka and Wanda Krahelska-Filipowicz, with participation of a few people from the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia. This December the committee was changed into the Council to Aid Jews ‘Żegota’, constructed on a very wide political basis – from the National Radical Camp to Polish Socialist Party – and with participation of Jewish groups. The Polish government on exile granted it the status of the governmental organization. It was the only organization as such which had the status of an official governmental institution on the area of whole occupied Europe. It is worth reminding that helping Jews on the area of occupied Poland was punished by the Germans severely. Whole families were punished for hiding Jews.
On 27 September 1943 Zofia Kossak-Szczucka was arrested by Gestapo because of a denunciation by hr. Henryk Plater-Zyberka. On 5 October 1943 she was transported to KL Auschwitz-Birkenau. After a few months she was taken to Warsaw, imprisoned on Pawiak and sentenced to death under the verdict of the German court. Her friends from the Polish underground group managed to gain her liberation at the end of July 1944 in return for an enormous bribe. The writer took part in the Warsaw uprising.
Difficult post-war years
After the uprising she moved to Częstochowa and changed her surname. She had reasons to be afraid of the Soviet NKWD because of her criticism of the Bolshevik revolution 1917 and her known negative attitude to the Country of Councils. However, she could not be passive.
She got engaged in aiming at renewing the Catholic Weekly ‘Sunday’ (‘Niedziela’). In the first post-war issues of ‘Niedziela’ she published fragments of her novel ‘From abyss’, being a collection of her memories from her imprisonment in the concentration camp Auschwitz II Birkenau.
Agents of communist ‘security’ managed to define her identity and the place of her stay. She was called for the headquarters of the Public Security Ministry. The office supervisor on behalf of Polish Workers’ Party Jakub Berman warned Zofia Kossak-Szczucka against custody threatening her and advised her to go immediately with the mission of Polish Red Cross to London and stayed on emigration there. Probably he did it to the request of his relative (maybe his brother) Adolf Berman, a member of ‘Żegota’. In 1951 the authorities of the Polish People’s Republic imposed censorship onto the literary works of the writer and ordered immediate withdrawal of them from libraries.
Kossak-Szczucka returned the country in 1957 and settled down in Górki Wielkie, in the so-called gardener’s house, because the manor was burned in fire in 1945. The Catholic weekly ‘Sunday’ (‘Niedziela’) was ‘suspended’ again by the authorities of Polish People’s Republic this time. Attempts of the Polish Episcopal Conference, catholic groups and personal attempts of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka had not brought any results – until spring 1981. However, the writer did not live till that moment.
In 1964 she was one of signatories of the ‘Letter 34’ addressed to the authorities of the Polish People’s Republic in defence of the freedom of speech.
She died on 9 April 1968. Short time before her death she said that working in conspiracy and her stay in the German death camp, which she survived thanks to prayer, love and compassion to people, were a gift and her greatest victory in her life.
Great till the end
The Medal of the Institute Yad Vash ‘A just one among World Nations’ was granted to her only after 1982, as a result of attempts for it made by her cooperators for decades – especially her secretary in the years 1942-43 Władysław Bartoszewski and Jews saved thanks to her activity. An obstacle was a long-lasting alleged anti-Semitism of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka. The text of the ‘Protest!’ was analyzed very critically – as ‘it included clear strong anti-Semite accents’ – by leftist and Jewish groups. Such evaluations turned out to be more important than a call for saving Jews implemented in practice – even for exposing one’s life. The writer was awarded with the Great Cross of Merits of the Chivalrous and Hospital Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem.
She did not receive any award after the Second World War. She did not accept the National Award of the First Degree, awarded in June 1966 by the authorities of the Polish People’s Republic, for her prominent achievements in the area of a historical novel’. The award was not only an honourable distinction, but was also connected with a high bonus which would allow her to build a family manor. In response to a letter informing her about granting the prestigious distinction, Kossak-Szczucka wrote: ‘I cannot accept the award from the national authorities (…) having a hostile attitude to the issues which are holy to me’. The award was granted ‘by accident’ during ‘arresting’ the Copy of the Image of Our Lady of Częstochowa making its pilgrimage in Poland within the Great Novena. The millennium celebrations were disturbed by events ‘profaning the cult to Our Lady, hurting hearts of Polish believers painfully’ – Kossak-Szczucka wrote and declared: ‘I am a Catholic writer to the honour of the Queen of Poland’. The attempt of granting her the award was considered by her as misunderstanding. And her books, once withdrawn from bookshops and libraries by Stalin’s authorities, got back onto the index.
Time to get to know her
It is difficult to understand that today Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, a Polish heroine, a Catholic, who documented the depth of her faith with her life, an excellent writer, is nearly absent in our public life. Here are her rare signs: in the Park of the Saved in Łódź there are, among the others, two monuments – a monument of Poles saving Jews and a monument of ‘Żegota’. On both of them there is the surname of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka. In Częstochowa there is a street of her name (a side street of the Alley of Blessed Mary the Virgin, near the Metropolitan Curia). Streets named Zofia Kossak-Szczucka are also, among the others, in Katowice, Bielsko-Biała, Wrocław and Warsaw, and in Cieszyn there is a street named Kossak-Szatkowska.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 7/2018 (18 II 2018)