Helping the Jews in Poland occupied by the Germans was liable to death penalty. Despite the spectrum of woes to which one could expose oneself and his family, a lot of Poles decided for heroism

Wiktoria Tomal lived with children: Jan, Stanisław and Józefa in Nieciecza village near Żabno. One day, being in a camp, she heard a voice: ‘Tomulku, Tomulku’. It was Rachela with her son Eliasz who was asking for help. The Jews were hungry and had nowhere to go because nobody wanted to give them a shelter. The whole family was placed in the ghetto in Żabno. They were suffering terrible hunger there. The youngest daughter of Rachela died from hunger, her another son and daughter were taken to a camp where they were killed. Eliasz had just escaped from a train which was deporting the Jews from ghetto to the camp. Rachela avoided deportation because that day she ran away from the ghetto to find food. She met with her son on fields in Nieciecza and were looking for help among their Polish acquaintances. Wiktoria, in agreement with her son, agreed to help them. Jan and Eliasz were in friendship just before the occupation. Janek was preparing them a hide in the barn, and brought them food there. Thanks to help of the whole family, Rachela and Eliasz safely survived the hard time of occupation.

To heaven instead of to Yad Vashen

In Słonim, a city situated in the region of Grodno in Belarus now, from 1907, their activity was run by sisters from the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mary the Virgin. When repressions of the Jews living in Słonim and nearby began, the sisters began to bring help. During the Nazis occupation, the superior of the convent was s. Maria Wołowska coming from Lublin, who was engaged in saving Jewish children. She was hiding them on the area of the cloister buildings. She was helped in it by s. Ewa Noiszewska. Her father was a prominent eye doctor. Whereas she graduated from medical studies in Petersburg in 1914, and in 1919 she joined the convent of sisters of the Immaculate Conception. The outbreak of the Second World War took place when s. Ewa lived in Słonin from 1938. At that time she worked as a teacher at secondary school and was also on duty in hospital. It gave her a possibility to help, among the others, she gave medications and prescriptions to the Jews. She employed a doctor Czesława Orlińska, whose husband Abraham Orliński joined partisans, and she was to give them medications - with permission of Ewa.

From 1939 a priest in Żyrowice near Słonin and also a chaplain in the cloister of the sisters of the Immaculate Conception and in the local hospital was Fr. Adam Sztark, a Jesuit. The monk wrote out fictional baptism certificates, called for bringing help to the Jews, and also organized raising money and all kinds of riches which made it possible to bring help.

At the end of June 1942 the Germans began liquidation of the Jewish district. At that time Fr. Sztark was looking for Jewish children who survived miraculously. In this way survived orphans were given under care to sisters of the Immaculate Conception or Polish families. Doing it, he exposed himself to the Germans and in December 1942 his surnames was placed on a list of the sentenced to death for helping the Jews. He was arrested on 17 December 1942 together with s. Maria Wołowska and s. Ewa Noiszewska and other people. They were shot on 19 December 1942 on Górka Pietrowicka near Słonim.

The sisters of the Immaculate Conception were proclaimed the blessed by John Paul II on 12 June 1999 – they are in a group of 108 blessed martyrs of the Second World War. Fr. Sztark was distinguished with a medal of the Righteous Among the World Nations on 15 January 2001. He is one of 122 God’s Servants towards whom a beatification process of the second group of Polish martyrs of the Second World War was begun on 17 September 2003.

Save from forgetting

These and other stories can be found thanks to efforts of people engaged in the works of the Foundation ‘The Righteous for the World’ which us run by Artur Rytel-Andrianik.

– Everything began with the research Project ‘Priests for the Jews’, whose purpose were researches concerning engagement of Polish clergy in help to Jewish people during Holocaust. In December 2012 we began to realize this project. We carried out a suitable query of literature, reaching to church and state archives. One of the effects of our work was proving the thesis that about 75 % Polish bishops had brought help to Jewish people. Moreover, about 1000 priests, as it was estimated, were also engaged in this activity. First of all, they were bringing help by giving food, writing out suitable documents, and also giving shelter or organizing a place of longer or shorter stay. Another task was to carry out scientific studies on engagement of nuns in the project ‘Sisters for the Jews’ - says Artur Rytel-Andrianik, a brother of Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik, with whom he was doing these two research projects.

During realization of the above-mentioned researches the brothers decided to document not only the help brought to the Jews by priests and nuns, but also lay people. At this time Fr. Tadeusz Rydzyk began cooperation with the brothers Rytel-Andrianik, aimed at collecting information on Poles murdered for helping Jewish people to the Commemoration Chapel in Toruń.

As Artur Rytel-Andrianik says, great help was an appeal broadcast on Radio Maryja. Listeners could receive an address via radio, to which they could send corresponding information. Later telephone number was given at which one could phone to give information.

– As a result of our work and critical verification, today Poland has got a documented list of 1059 people who were killed for helping the Jews – says Artur Rytel-Andrianik, the President of the Foundation ‘The Righteous for the world’. – We do not mean members of the Underground who were killed for their activity in conspiracy, but also people who were killed for helping the Jews. This list has not been completed yet. We have already got other documented surnames of people who were killed for saving the Jews.

Besides those who were killed, particular attention and respect should be expressed towards those who risked their life by saving Jewish people. So far we have managed to collect information on about 40 thousand of such people. Workers of the Foundation ‘The Righteous for the world’ not only collect such information but verify it as well.

– For me, personally, these people are saint! – says Artur Rytel-Andrianik and he adds: - Death penalty was not only for hiding the Jews, but also for giving them a mug of water. It was so in Treblinka at the station, four kilometers from the camp. It was difficult to save anybody because everyone got directly from the ramp into the camp. But one day, two Polish boys arrived at the station. They only wanted to give Jews a mug of water. When SS-men grabbed a gun, one of the Poles ran away, and another one was killed on the spot. This fate was experienced by Jan Maletka. This young man paid the highest price for selfless help.

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We can get to know particular stories of saving the Jews on the website pomagali.pl and the account on twitter @pomagali.pl which are run by members of the Foundation ‘The Righteous for the World’. On pomagali.pl memories concerning saving Jewish people are placed on particular places on the map, and in the news section we can get to know people with whom members of the Foundation have met in the recent time in order to register their memories. Their dream is that this map which they create on pomagali.pl could involve as many places as possible where Poles were saving the Jews.


„Niedziela” 10/2017

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl