When assessing the Church's attitude towards Jews, it is often forgotten that the priests were one of the most persecuted groups by the Germans. In the years 1939-1945, the Germans murdered almost three thousand Polish priests and monks. In some dioceses even every second priest was murdered. Still, some people hear the grudges against the passivity and silence of members of the Polish Church, who were punished with the same punishment for helping Jews as other Poles - the death penalty. In the other direction, however, such claims don’t occur at all. The Poles have no pretensions to the most important Polish rabbis for keeping silent when the communists persecuted murdered Poles under the Soviet occupation. Nobody even comes to mind, because it is known that religious Jews were also exposed to persecution and had no influence on the actions of communists. Unfortunately, the Jewish side often lacks empathy towards Poles and the understanding of the situation in which the Polish Church was located during the war.
One lady told me that for two years they were hiding twelve Jews. As the Soviets came, one of those Jews began to complain about the Poles who helped him, saying that they were wrong, because sometimes they were starving. The Russian soldier then looked at him and said: "Oh durak, you are happy that you are alive!". How can you complain about the conditions, if the Poles, under the threat of the death penalty for hiding Jews, saved their lives?! It doesn’t fit in the head, but unfortunately there were such cases.
Ks. prof. Chrostowski claims that on the one hand the "church history of Jews" is written, and on the other hand the "Jewish history of the Church", the second of which is the prevailing narrative. Unfortunately, the Jewish side is often uninterested, and even rejects the facts that tell lies to its narrative. Professor Alan Dershowitz from Harvard University, for example, demanded from the Catholic Church the condemnation of cardinals August Hlond and Stefan Wyszyński, considering them to be "the worst racist sinners of modern history". He apparently didn’t get to know the reminiscences of Cardinal Hlond, in which he mentions that in In 1940-1944, he saved in France "many Jews, Polish, German, French, before deportation to death camps" by facilitating their trip to America, placing them in safe homes or by obtaining appropriate documents for them. Apparently also Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński helped Jews during the Holocaust. Is it true?
First of all, these accusations are completely absurd! After the WW2, the communists wanted to break Cardinal Wyszynski, but he didn’t give it to them. If they didn’t know what to do with him, they closed him. While we were doing the query in Yad Vashem, we found a relationship in which one Jewess said: "This young priest who later became the Polish Primate in his youth called for helping those who run away from the fire." Of course, it was about the Warsaw Ghetto. This young priest was Stefan Wyszynski. Later Father Wyszynski escaped with the nuns from Laski to Żułów near Lublin, because he was being pursued by the Gestapo. There sisters had their home. At that time, Father of Jadwiga Karwowska was working with these sisters. She came to us after the roll call she heard on Radio Maryja. It was she who told us that the Jews were hiding there: father and their two children. They worked during the day, and at night Father Wyszyński, who was thirty years old at the time, wore a ladder with Jadwiga Karwowska's father, after which Jews they were going to the attic of the house where they were sleeping. Later the ladder was taking up so that there was no sign and everything was repeated in the morning, only in the other way. And now Cardinal Wyszynski is accused of anti-Semitism.
Surely you hear a lot of unusual and interesting stories every day. Which one of them fell into the your memory most and touched you the most?
There are many stories that have remained in my memory. More than once I wanted to cry, as I listened to the accounts of children of Poles murdered by the Germans for helping Jews. For example, Władysław Borkowski was shot near Siedlce. The story told us his son, Jan. The Jews were hiding in the forest not far from their villages and benefiting from the help of its inhabitants. At one point, the Russian, a deserter, joined them. He also used Polish help. They had a dugout in the woods. In addition to the Russian, the Jews lived there: a father with two children. At some point, the Germans discovered the dugout. Because they knew that it was impossible to survive in the forest without anyone's help, they asked them who was helping them. They ill-treated and tortured the Jew, but he didn’t tell them anything. The Jew even asked the Russian to keep silent as well. However, he didn’t listen to him and told the Germans that he would show Poles who were helping them and helping him. He knew that if he would say or not, he would die anyway. Jews were killed on the spot by the Germans, and with the Russian they went to the village. There, he showed them with his finger, saying, "Here, here, here." They murdered all the hosts indicated by him, and finally shot him. The son of one of the Poles murdered at that time mentioned that they had taken Dad 150 meters from the house. The man always wore a rosary in his pocket. When they led him like that, at some point he stopped and turned towards the family. He took the rosary out of his pocket and made a sign of the cross in the air, blessing his loved ones and entrusting them to God., After that, he was shot by a German immediately. They murdered him in the field like a dog. Only for helping his neighbor. I have contact with many children whose parents were murdered for helping Jews, including Mr. Garbuliński, Mr. OWaca, Mrs Kopij née Kmiecik. There are a lot of these orphans from people who gave their lives for Jews.
Wacław Bielawski gave in 1987 the names of 872 people murdered by the Germans for helping Jews and 1,400 people whose personal details couldn’t be determined. How many Poles have been identified so far who were murdered by the Germans only for helping Jews?
At this moment, seventy years after the end of the WW2, we were able to establish a list of 1059 Poles who were killed only for helping Jews
What were the motivations of these people?
The main motive of their actions was faith in God and education in Christian values. When I ask their families, how they had the strength to do something like that, since they knew very well that helping Jews threatened to execute them and their families, they would then answer me that they had the power to make it from above. It was impossible otherwise. In Brańsk, for example, the Germans discovered the hideout of Jews. One of them escaped and ran many kilometers in the snow in February until he reached another village. He ran with frozen legs and the Polish peasants gave him treatment. They warmed them up, so he wouldn’t lose his legs. They took strength from above, or they wouldn’t be able to do it.
How many priests were murdered by the Germans for helping Jews?
We know from preliminary research that more than 30 Polish priests have been murdered for helping the Jews. At the moment, we know for sure about 13 of them that they were killed because of this. Their names are already on the list of those murdered in the Torun temple. We study the rest all the time.
Do you have one hundred percent certainty that they died only for helping the Jews?
Yes. We check all priests thoroughly before we recognize that they died for helping Jews. We only publish the names of these priests, for whom there is no doubt in this regard. Of course, you probably can’t avoid the mistake, but we try to act as carefully as possible. During the query, it often turned out that some of the priests who were previously recognized as murdered for helping the Jews died for another reason. This was the case of Fr. Anicet Koplinski, who was allegedly killed for helping Jews. He really helped Jews and turned onions to the ghetto, but he died for another reason. I got to the witness's account who told me that Father Koplinski was murdered for distributing illegal leaflets. The Germans stopped the car with these leaflets and poured vodka into the throat of the driver, and he gave Fr. Koplinski.
Could you give any examples of help to the Jews for which the priests suffered death?
Of course. Priest Jan Wolski and priest, vicar Władysław Grobelny, were murdered for displaying fictitious birth certificates to Jews, organizing help for them and supporting Poles who saved Jews. The Germans arrested them and placed them next to Kobrin's rabbis at the head of the Jewish column. Then they rushed the whole column to the place of execution, where they all shot.
Priest Jan Gielarowski hid Jews at his presbytery in Michałówka, which is about 50 kilometers away from Markowa. He was arrested for this and sent to Auschwitz. He died of exhaustion in 1943.
Vicars from the parish in Brańsk, priest Henryk Opiatowski was also involved in helping Jews. He was murdered for it by the Germans.
Father Zygmunt Surdacki was arrested in March 1941 in his own apartment in Lublin for help provided to people of Jewish descent. He was interrogated in the prison at the Lublin Castle, but he didn’t give any information to the Germans. He was sent to Auschwitz. Bishop of Sandomierz Jan Lorek and vicar general of the diocese of Lublin, Fr. Józef Kruczyński applied for his release - without success. On April 30, 1941, Fr. Zygmunt Surdacki died in the camp.
Father Edward Tabaczkowski, parish priest at Tłumacz, during the occupation, issued false records and concealed a Jew in the presbytery. In August 1942, he was arrested for this reason and put in a Gestapo prison in Stanisławów. He was tortured there. He died on October 20, 1942.
There are many more stories about priests helping the Jews. Confessor of St. Faustyna Kowalska, blessed priest Michał Sopoćko, he was sentenced to be shot for help to the Jews. He must have been hiding under a false name for over two years. Blessed Father Michał Piaszczyński invited before the war to the seminary of rabbis from Łomża. While in Sachsenhausen, he shared a meal with Mr. Kot, a lawyer of Jewish descent, before his death. Mr. Kot answered him at that time with tears in his eyes: "You, Catholics, believe that in your churches is a living Christ in your bread. I believe that there is a living Christ in this bread who told you to share it with me".
You have to remember that we are always at work. It hasn’t yet been completed. We have many trips to Poland to obtain further information. We operate in many fields. For example, I am in the historical commission of the monument dedicated to the Poles who save Jews, who is to stand on Grzybowski Square in Warsaw.
After the war, the Jews who were saved by my aunt and uncle, kept in contact with them and sent them orange for the holidays. They were joined by extremely cordial and even friendly relations. In turn, Jews saved by my friend's grandmother, just after the war, pretended on the street that they didn’t know her at all. Obtaining from them by the Jewish Historical Institute a statement for Yad Vashem was to be a path through torment. Their ingratitude surprised even the employee of JHI, who was busy collecting similar statements every day. How do relations with the Jews saved by them last?
As you have shown in these two examples, there is no rule that would define these relationships. It is so that contact lasts all the time. However, it also happens that contact breaks off. Often, the rescued don’t want to return to these memories and try to live as if they wouldn’t have existed in their life at that time. It also happens that those saved, just before their death, feel the need to come here to Poland, and meet with people who once saved them.
Once, one lady told me that her uncle was the mayor in the south of Poland. Because of their function, Germans often came to him. Those Germans weren’t so terrible. They showed pictures of their families and talked to the mayor, who spoke excellent German. This mayor was so agile that he kept two more Jews in the farm buildings. On the one hand, he hosted Germans, and on the other hand, he kept Jews. He treated these German soldiers like normal people, not like murderers. At the end of the war, before they fled, they even came to him to say goodbye. Then the Jews came out of hiding and they also went away. These Jews later invited him to Israel. After some time, they also wrote Germany to him. They thanked him for treating them "humanly" and invited them to Bavaria. Good returns.
The history of saving Jews by the director of the Zoological Garden in Warsaw, Jan Żabiński and his wife Antonina is famous. The story of rescuing Jews by Polish firefighters from the "Skała" organization and the story of Irena Gut, a Polish Catholic who, for saving Jews, decided to become a lover of a German officer, is also unusual. Have you met with equally remarkable cases of help?
One of such cases is the story of Mr. Diehl, a Pole of German descent, whose summer house was located 2 kilometers from Treblinka. During the war, Mr. Diehl worked in Warsaw as an engineer. Once someone brought a Jewess from Warsaw to a holiday home. Together with his wife, they took care of her. One time, when he wasn’t at home, the Germans brought her to the camp in Treblinka. As Diehl learned about it, he got on his horse and went straight to the camp. He would scold and scold the German soldiers and take the girl back to him. Apparently, a German soldier then said to this woman: "You are the only one who left this camp through the entrance gate." They suspected she was a Jew, but they had respect for this man and that's why they let him take a woman.
You can also be surprised when someone says: "My mother saved Zydówka, because she gave her a referral, she faked a photo for documents that allowed her to go to work in Germany." You might think, "What are you saying?" And for Jew it was one of the best ways to survive the war.
That's how Leopold Tyrmand survived the war.
This way of surviving the war also involves other examples of helping Jews. A lady from Lublin once told me that they were sent to work in Germany a Jewish boy. Before he went, he had to go to the medical office. He was examined by a Polish doctor who noticed that he was circumcised. She told him to dress quickly and let him go. She didn’t release it. She risked so much. If the Germans later discovered that he was a Jew, it would immediately come to light that she hid this information.
February 25, 2016