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Klincz. Debata polsko - żydowska cz.4

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Our Lady from the Warsaw Ghetto
with Fr. Józef Maj


In 2012, we met in the nearby Beth Shemesh, the Sanctuary of Our Lady Queen of Palestine in Deir Rafat, in which you fulfills his ministry convent of the Servants of Mary, assisted by the Sisters of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Bruno from Bethlehem. At that time I had the opportunity to witness of a gift giving to a community of Catholics praying in Hebrew in Haifa, a painting depicting a statue of Our Lady from the Warsaw Ghetto. Why did you decide to give Catholic Jews this image?
Some time ago, Fr. Roman Kamiński, the current priest of Catholic Jews in Haifa, visited his family parish during his first holiday (St. Catherine in Służew) in Warsaw, where there is an original statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate from the Warsaw Ghetto. This figure, about 90 cm high, was probably created in 1902 - in the All Saints' parish located in the Norblin factory. It could have been a gift for the 30th anniversary of the consecration of this church in 1903. When Fr. Kamiński came to me, I told him the story of this figure. After two years, he returned from Haifa and came to me with two Polish Jewish women, Mrs. Stella Zylbersztajn and another older woman. The statue of the Mother of God turned out to be so close to their hearts that they asked me to give them this sculpture so that they could set it up in Haifa. When I refused them because it was a monument connected with the history of Warsaw and Poland, they asked me to take a photo of the statue and give them copies. I decided that photography was insufficient because of its impermanence. So I offered them a painting and in 2012 I took it to Haifa. The author of the painting is Michał Jarosiński, a young Warsaw painter, a parishioner of Saint. Catherine.

What's in the picture?
In a conscious way, I placed a statue of Our Lady from the ghetto on it; an authentic view of the Warsaw ghetto; the church of All Saints, where this statue stood during the existence of the ghetto and the church of St. Catherine, where this figure is now. In Israel, this picture was received with great joy and emotion. At the four meetings in which I participated, I met with cordiality and very much interest. In Poland, however, this matter is not known. This is mainly known to a small group gathered at the parish of St. Catherine.

This figure is related to the fate of the All Saints' parish, which was during WW2 in the Warsaw ghetto. How was the creation of a Catholic parish for Jews in the ghetto?
Regarding church authority, in 1939 he found Warsaw orphaned, because after the death of Cardinal Kakowski nomination was delayed and during the war the capital didn’t have an ordinary. At that time, the transitional power was exercised by Archbishop Antoni Szlagowski. Before the war sometimes whole Jewish families converted to Catholicism, Archbishop Szlagowski, as a suffragan,(at that time the vicar general of the Warsaw bishop was called in this way), thought about creating a parish for Jews Catholics in Warsaw. During the war, when Jews (among whom there were many Catholics), where closed in the ghetto by Germans, this idea returned.
In 1940, within the ghetto, there were three churches: the church of All Saints, the Carmelite church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the church of Saint Augustine. Only the first two churches were still open until the ghetto was liquidated. In the church of St. Augustine, who was established in 1896 in the very center of the Jewish district, didn’t have priestly ministry at that time. Nevertheless, the parish of Saint Augustine, priest Franciszek Garncarek and vicar of Fr. Leon Więckowicz tried to help the Jews who were there, giving, among others, fake certificate of baptism for Jewish children rescued by Irena Sendler. They both suffered a martyr's death for their commitment to saving Jews. Church of St. Augustine was profaned by the Germans because they arranged a stable in it. Despite the Germans' equating the whole ghetto, the church of St. Augustine, however, miraculously survived. Returning, however, to the church of All Saints, it should be mentioned that in connection with its inclusion into the ghetto, many Polish parishioners were forced by the Germans to leave their homes and move to the Aryan side. And it should be remembered that the All Saints parish was before the war the largest Warsaw parish, numbering about 75 thousand faithful. There were also many Jews living within its borders, including those professing Christianity. Before the war, the conversions mainly covered Jewish intelligentsia, i.e. scientists, doctors, lawyers and artists. Some Jewish families have been Christian for generations and often considered themselves not Jews, but as Poles with Jewish origins. All these people, however, were concentrated not in one Warsaw parish, but attended various Catholic churches located in Warsaw and its vicinity. They belonged to the Polish society and the Polish Church. The creation of the Warsaw ghetto by the Germans changed this state of affairs. This led to an unprecedented situation in which almost all Warsaw Catholics of Jewish descent found themselves in one place. It was for them that the head of the Archdiocese of Warsaw, Archbishop Stanisław Gall, decided to create a parish for Jews in the small ghetto, also known as the southern ghetto, by dividing the existing parish into two parts, Aryan and Jewish. The rector of the All Saints' church was the outstanding priest of Warsaw, priest. Marceli Godlewski, honored by the Yad Vashem Institute with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. At the request of priest Godlewski Archbishop Stanisław Gall directed the work to Jewish Catholics in the Warsaw Ghetto, Fr. Antoni Czarnecki. At that time, it was the only church in the world dedicated to Jewish Catholics.

What did the pastoral work look like in the ghetto?
The church could only be opened for one Mass daily, both on weekdays and on Sundays. However, you could enter the church only under German control and guardianship. The Germans often allowed the priest to open the temple just before the Mass itself. They quickly ordered to close. It was very humiliating for priests working there. Many Jews who entered the temple by the German guard had removed inside of the armbands with the Star of David, to feel at least for a moment like the rest of the Polish society, to which they still belonged, despite being closed in the ghetto. Ks. Czarnecki founded a choir for them at the church, which performed such songs as “Boże coś Polskę”, among other things. The patriotic and pro-Polish attitude was not limited to Catholics only. It is worth mentioning that on July 1, 1942, the President of the Judenrat in the Warsaw ghetto, Adam Czerniaków, convened a meeting in which several hundred people took part. During the break - as described in the autobiographical book „The story of one life”, an outstanding Pole with Jewish roots, prof. Ludwik Hirszfeld - "there was piano music, a bunch of Chopin's preludes interspersed with chords of “Poland Is Not Yet Lost”. Jews were forbidden to play non-Jewish musicians; the fact of playing Chopin at the official meeting had its own meaning. (...) At this last official meeting of the community, Poland was still not lost. For this song and artist, and the president, and most of those present could go to the concentration camp. "However, as Professor Hirszfeld emphasizes:"( ...) I can assure you that I didn’t read any fear in the eyes of those present, on the contrary, this song was an expression of hope and gratitude". It is worth adding that a portrait of Marshal Józef Piłsudski hung on the wall of Adam Czerniakow's office.
Returning, however, to the activities of priests in the ghetto, it should be emphasized that in addition to issuing (in cooperation with Caritas) starving Jewish children about one hundred meals a day and smuggling drugs and food by priests, and organizing the escape of Jewish children, they primarily engaged in catechization and pastoral work, which took place in the courtyard at the presbytery, whose central element was the figure of the Mother of God, in front of which three benches were placed. The Jews who came there called this figure "Our Mother from the ghetto." Father Czarnecki once told me about the specificity of Jewish Catholics. They were huge individualists, perfectly familiar with the Old Testament, and often wanted to read to them the messianic prophet of the Old Testament, Isaiah. At the same time, they were a little Protestant approach to the Church and to Mary because they had a problem with a strict understanding of the hierarchical structure of the Church and treated the Mother of God very directly way. More historically than mystically, for example., Czarnecki, for example, have many difficulties to explaining them the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Anyway, catechization, confession, and the first individual holy communions took place before her figure. There were also confessions of faith. Many Jews also received baptism before this figure. Jewish youth who didn’t finish the eighteenth year of life In order to be baptized, should to have the consent of her parents. And from what I know, priest Czarnecki also refused several times to baptize people from the Jewish community in the ghetto several times.
In any case, the process of converting Jews to Catholicism was largely done in the figure of the "Mother of God from the ghetto", which has grown with the awareness of Father Czarnecki and these people. It should also be mentioned that in the two-story presbytery of the church, in front of which this statue stood, many Jews found shelter, including the family of Prof. Ludwik Hirszfeld, Zamenhof, engineer Rudolf Hermelin, advocate Polakiewicz, engineer Feliks Drutowski, Zygmunt Pfau, dr Federowski, as well as the Grynberg family, Dr. Gelbard and Jew Jarochowski, accompanied by his wife, a native German and their six children. This place was also visited by dr Janusz Korczak, who ran the Orphan House in Sienna Street. I would like to  quote description of the parish of All Saints from the book of Professor Ludwik Hirszfeld, because he best reflects the image of those times:
"At first, we lived with friends at Grzybowska Street. Not only the constant noise of the street, but the amazing scenes seen from the windows made the stay there a torment. We didn’t have a moment of rest, and our daughter became increasingly depressed. And here I had relative happiness, in August 1941, we received our own flat at the presbytery of the All Saints' Church on Grzybowski Square. In contrast to the church in Leszno, where only the priests lived in the parish house, all the rooms and apartments in this parish house, except for the flat of the priest, Godlewski, were given to the parishioners. From Twarda Street and Grzybowski Square, from the abyss of hell, disgusting odors, screaming people - one entered the church courtyard, which resembled the courtyards of Italian monasteries. Narrow passage, side wall of the church, in the courtyard of the beautiful, high acacia. On the right side behind the church were the ruins of a fantastically huge demolished house. Between the church and this house, a piece of land was uprooted and vegetables were planted. That's how life was born on the ruins. In the moonlight it looked like Pompeii, destroyed not by lava but by human hatred. The windows of our apartment overlooked a small but lovely church garden. A strange charm has these church gardens surrounded by walls. We had the feeling that we were in the corner of the reverie, silence and kindness that has been preserved in hell. And the priest of this corner was prelate Godlewski.
Prelate Godlewski. When I say this name, I am overcome with emotion. Passion and love in one soul. Once an anti-Semite, a priest who fought in writing and word. But when fate touched him with this bottom of poverty, he rejected his attitude and devoted all the heat of his priestly heart to the Jews. When his beautiful, gray head appeared, resembling the face of Piotr Skarga from the painting of Matejko, the heads bowed in love and humility before him. We all loved him, children and the elderly, and we took him out for a moment of conversation. And he didn’t skimp. He taught the catechism children, he was the head of the Caritas district, and he ordered the distribution of soup, regardless of whether, a Christian or a Jew. He often came to us to comfort.
Not only we did value him. I would like to convey to posterity what the president of the Czerniaków commune thought about him. At the meeting with Associate Professor Zweibaum, we gathered on the occasion of the anniversary of the courses. And there the president told how the prelate cried in his office when they talked about Jewish miseries, and how he tried to help and alleviate this miseries. He said how much this priest, former anti-Semite, showed his heart to the Jews.
Father Antoni Czarnecki was an assistant and deputy of prelate Godlewski. He was a young priest, he didn’t have this passionate attitude to life as a prelate, but he possessed the sweetness and kindness of a priest. He was liked and respected by everyone. And his nice and kind way of being soothing.
It was strange life. I have never had such close contact with the Church as during my stay in the Jewish quarter. For a year, every day in the morning and evening, I absorbed the mood of church silence. I lived close to people who were engaged in the mission of goodness. On Sunday all Christians, not only Catholics, went to Mass. Everyone attended, doctors, lawyers, and those for whom baptism was an expression of faith, and those for whom he was a national symbol, and those who at the time were baptizing for business. But everyone felt the need to gather at least once a week in the church for a worship. I noticed a lot of not only believers, but practitioners; even the Mass that took place every day found the faithful. The penetrating coldness of the partially ruined church didn’t deter on winter. The church worship for people enclosed between the walls was a unique experience.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will. And the square Grzybowski, Pańska, Twarda disappears, the crowd feverish and miserable. We are overcome by the chill and mood of the temple. The crowd is absorbed in prayer. We can no longer see people fighting and hating, we are in a group of people focused. we are connected by the feeling of a higher community.
Agnus Dei - the personification of goodness and soothing contact with the infinitely good Being. You don’t need to be ashamed of your ugliness. In any case, the soul stops being ugly at the moment. Some coldness of stellar trails. Our suffering, enemy and terrible disgust thinks of a man who is not him, they dissolve like in a fog. The infinite space is real, and through it flows the worlds and everything guided by the law of eternal reason and goodness.
"What is it, my son?" "What do I love these horrible people for?". For nothing. Love is a state of mind. It's in everyone, though it's muffled. It is an instinct, like the hunger of life, like the joy of being. It is a delight, like the drunkenness of the starry silence and the delight of the dancing stars. You don’t have small things, because everything is an exponent of the Spirit. "Sounds heavenly music, and in this harmony, the soul bows down and sobs in humility, and the world embraces in awe, and sinks into oblivion. There are no more people and ugly things, because everything it is only a response from Great Harmony.
End of the worship and return to earth. But with a soul refreshed in cool and life-giving spas.
Sermon. An intellectualized audience does not give in to the emotion of telling about Christ when he was a Child.
And it does not work on her, that she can get to her son through the mother, because with such a request memories of mundane matters are connected. But she was shrug when it was about Poland. Beautifully and courageously spoke prelate Godlewski. That Homeland is like Mother. Sometimes she will hurt, sometimes she is unjust in remembrance, but forgives her, because the mother only wants the good of her children. And that love for this Mother-Motherland is a power that creates a bond of the nation. Greater than the community of origin. Homeland is gained by mutual love. Suffering makes sense because it leads to higher goals.
That is what Godlewski said more or less, and his words comforted the souls of the despised.
A lot of people baptized in the neighborhood - and older, and young, sometimes whole families. My pupils and students were among them. Sometimes I was asked to be godfather. What motives could these people have? They didn’t have any benefits, the change of faith didn’t change their legal position in any way. No, they were attracted by the charm of the religion of love. Religion professed by the nation to which they felt attached. Religion in which there is no, or at least there should be no place for hatred. How these Jews are tired of the atmosphere of general dislike. For what? My listener stands in front of me during the baptism. Semitic nose, mouth thick, but in my eyes I see a deep desire for human sympathy, which I want to reciprocate with the fullness of a heart-filled one. Strong people, priests of the new religion who are walking on social peaks, will come. And they will take this little Jewess's hand, protect her from hatred and let her be good. Because Christianity came to power, because unhappy and despised people were granted the right to equality and dignity of humanity. Equality before God. So maybe ... and before man. For it is painfully to live with the undeserved mark of Cain. And this stigma can, not only maybe, but it should take away by the religion of love.
Such thoughts probably animated the young girl who was baptizing.
That's how I spend Sunday mornings. Sometimes I walked outside the walls, because as the chairman of the Health Council I had a pass. This was not a proof of the special favor of the invaders, because such passes were above one hundred to facilitate administration in the commune. I couldn’t overcome myself to walk around Warsaw with my armband. Immediately after leaving the ghetto, I entered the gate and took off the armband. I risked prison; I was ready for it. Streets outside the walls looked like from another world. Clean, neat, there was no crowd, they were rather serious and despondent, but not pressed into a tumultuous crowd. Masses of Germans who changed the Polish character of the city. In the Jewish quarter, they were celebrated from a distance, the crowd took off their hats. It made an amazing impression of idolatry when such a god passed without answering to bows. They ignore them here. There are thousands of beggars and dead bodies. In this district, Warsaw was the impression of a neat provincial city in which the army was stationed. I meet friends and acquaintances, greet me with affection. I see, however, that they don’t get into our experiences. They have their worries and pains. There is Auschwitz, Pawiak, and there is probably no family affected in one form or another. But, nevertheless, one feels that someone will survive and ensure that Poland will remain. There, the specter of death blows everyone, parents look at their children and make reproach that they gave birth to them. To death and disgrace. There, young people work enthusiastically in the district. For it is the only oblivion for them. Here there are official courses - less visited, but next to them wonderful secret sets, which, as I see, will be a bright card of the occupation and will create a new elite. Some of the young people devote themselves to trading and smuggling, and what worries me, liked the job. I think that with the trade inherited from Jews, I wouldn’t have bought the wrong sides of this activity. In the neighborhood, the crime is open: they kill on the street, and even when they want to kill a Pole, they do it in the Jewish quarter. I don’t know why, did they think that they would believe that they killed Jews? Here they kill in the prison walls and camps. There underground life relatively small; Jews feel the terror of their position as an elementary catastrophe, which can’t be counteracted by any human strength, at best one can hide somewhere and individually avoid annihilation. Here, there is a growing storm in human souls, a storm of protest and revenge. There is no leader who would focus and getting to fight. Here they say Sikorski's name with reverence. And yet I think: if the war lasts, the same fate awaits Poles, because in the gradation of the Führer's hatred, Poles stand right behind the Jews. And these announcements Hitler, which dictates hatred, are fulfilled.
But visiting friends in my Warsaw, as if coming from another country becomes mentally unbearable for me.
I return to the district on Sunday evening. In front of the guard, I have to discreetly put on the armband in some gate. I have the impression that I put on a collar. A German soldier checks my documents. I have to stand with my head uncovered and think then that I have gray hair. They're browsing through my briefcase. In the briefcase I sometimes have some candy from my daughter's friends. I enter this abyss, the hubbub, stench and peculiar smell of beggars blow me away. I am going back along the dark ulica Twarda, Grzybowski Square, I am immersed in the atmosphere of the monastery's silence in our presbytery and I enter a room where my wife and daughter are expecting me. They not allowed to go to that side. They are condemned to this camp without rest and respite. I have a sick child after all." This fragment from the book of prof. Ludwik Hirszfeld is extremely important because it seems to perfectly reflect what Catholics Jews could think and feel then.

Is it possible to estimate how many residents of the Warsaw Ghetto embraced Christianity and whether these were genuine conversions?
The church often gave Jews who had applied for baptism records to help them hide from the Germans on the Aryan side. So it is difficult for me to say how many of these people have really converted, and how many have adopted Christianity, thinking that it will help them survive. However, I think that the process of Jews' conversion is best illustrated by numbers. Baptized Jews - who mostly considered themselves Poles with Jewish roots - found themselves in the Warsaw ghetto because of betrayal. For the counts of their names were created for the president of the Main Welfare Council of Count Adam Ronikier, someone gave them to the Germans. There are many indications that one of the employees of the Warsaw branch of RGO - Stefan Idzikowski was behind this having a Jewish origin. According to German, very meticulous statistics based on Ronikier's list, in January 1940 there were 1540 Catholics and 221 people confessing other Christian denominations in the ghetto. It is assumed, however, that it was about 2,000 people together. When the Prelate Czarnecki left, in the ghetto was supposed to live at least two or three times as many Catholics of Jewish nationality. Father Czarnecki, however, claims that during his service in the ghetto, he could baptize up to 7,000 Jews. How many real conversions could there be? According to priest Czarnecki during the last Holy Mass in the ghetto on July 26, 1942, the All Saints' church - at that time one of the largest temples in Warsaw - was filled to the brim. The plunger was huge, and in the church it can easily be up to 5,000 people. Father Czarnecki read the Gospel according to Saint Luke, destined for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost, in which Jesus preaches his prophecy: "And when he drew near, he saw the city, and wept over him, saying, If you also knew in this day what is for peace. But now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days will come for you, that your enemies will put down a shaft around you and surround you, and squeeze you from everywhere. And they will make you ground, and your children will exterminate in your walls, and they will not leave a stone on your stone, because you have not seen the time of your visit. " As he drew near and came in sight of the city he shed tears over it and said, 'If you too had only recognised on this day the way to peace! But in fact it is hidden from your eyes! Yes, a time is coming when your enemies will raise fortifications all round you, when they will encircle you and hem you in on every side; they will dash you and the children inside your walls to the ground; they will leave not one stone standing on another within you, because you did not recognise the moment of your visitation." Prelate Czarnecki also told me that the longer he worked in the ghetto, the more he became convinced of the authenticity of Jewish conversion from Judaism to Catholicism. He saw their living faith in Jesus and their identification with his suffering.

How were Jewish Catholics treated by other Jews?
Very bad. Not infrequently, there was verbal aggression, but sometimes also physical aggression, especially from the Jewish police who cooperated with the Germans. Because of their good education, Jewish Catholics were strongly represented in the Judenrat authorities, although the Jewish teaching associations operating in the Warsaw ghetto refused, for example, to take the baptized Jews into their ranks. Other Jews, however, not only envied them, but also considered them traitors who abandoned the faith of their fathers only to survive. Meanwhile, many Jewish Catholics who have been in the ghetto have been Christians for many generations.Many conversions in the ghetto were caused by real conversions, not by cold calculations. Nevertheless, because of the reluctance to the baptized Jews, attacks and blows took place. Once a group of orthodox Jews even attacked the faithful leaving the church. The Jews of Catholics were therefore twice persecuted. The Germans wanted to kill them, because they were Jews, and the Jews themselves rejected them because they were Christians. In his memoirs, Czarnecki retained the reprehensible behavior of the president of the Warsaw Judenrat Adam Czerniakow against the Catholic Jewish population. As Fr. Czarnecki: "I received the most for the church, when the ghetto was liquidated and deported to Treblinka. They knew that they were going to death, and Czerniaków with whom I had very cold contacts, for the first transports to Treblinka appointed Catholics. That gave me the most food for thought. On the plus side, the Jewish thinking about Poland has changed in the ghetto". With regard to the deportation of Catholics to Treblinka, it is difficult for me to verify where priest Czarnecki had such information and whether Czerniaków really designated Catholics for the first transports, but it is certainly a matter over which historians should lean over.

Were all Jewish Catholics killed or were some of them avoided? If so, what happened to them later?

When the Soviet Army entered Poland, only about 40-50 Jewish Catholics remained alive and somehow managed to avoid the Holocaust in Treblinka. Some stayed in Poland and some left for the United States, the USSR and Israel. However, two main groups can be distinguished. As I was told by Łukian, Bishop of Blagoveschensk and Tyndynsk, the first group of Jewish Catholics settled in Blagoveschensk, a city near the border with China, near the Jewish Autonomous District established by Stalin. In Blagoveschensk exactly-which name comes from the word " błagowieszczenie ", meaning "Annunciation of Mary" -the Jews from the ghetto were to set up a church or a Catholic community. Father Czarnecki, in turn, told me that thanks to the help of the Russians, a second group of Jewish Catholics left Poland for Israel. The prelate didn’t know the exact number of these people, but he said that there were a dozen or so of them. The Russians asked them where they want to settle in Israel. They replied that it was all there for them to be together. Then they were embedded in Haifa. This was supposed to give rise to the community that have been found in Haifa by Fr Daniel Rufeisen and was taken care by him. It was supposed to be the fruit of the Warsaw Ghetto. Some say, however, that the creation of Catholic communities by Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto in the USSR and Israel was just a legend. It is definitely worth investigating at the source. In any case, there is no doubt that the Jews who survived the war supported the reconstruction of the All Saints' Church after the war.The priest Czarnecki, was also aware of this matter from the ecclesiastical side. Until the Warsaw ghetto there were individual conversions of Jews who functioned in the Catholic community, but among people of a different kind than their nationality. The ghetto, paradoxically, created for the first time since the separation in the years 120-150 BC official Judaism from Christianity and the Synagogue from the Church - and thus after about one thousand eight hundred years - the possibility of Christian Jews functioning in their own community, both from the ecclesiastical and national sides. In this way, the Jewish community was recreated within the framework of the Catholic Church.

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