Rescue activities on behalf of Jews were carried out by priests, nuns and monks in more than one thousand Roman Catholic Church institutions throughout Poland during World War II. The number of priests and religious involved in these activities was many times higher. This effort is all the more remarkable since Poland was the only country under Nazi Germany occupation where any form of assistance to Jews was routinely punishable by death. Several dozen members of the Polish clergy were executed for this reason. It must also be borne in mind that the Polish Catholic clergy were the only Christian clergy who were systematically surveilled, persecuted, murdered and imprisoned by the thousands as a result of Nazi genocidal policies. This selection of accounts of rescue is far from comprehensive, as there are several hundred additional cases yet to be entered. It has been compiled by The Polish Educational Foundation in North America (Toronto) and is posted on the Internet at: http://www.kpk-toronto.org/archives/clergy_recue_kpk.pdf
The Treatment of the Polish Catholic Clergy 6
The Early Years of the German Occupation, 1939–1941 14
Germany Attacks the Soviet Union, June 1941 41
The Holocaust Gets Under Way with Full Fury, 1942–1945 49
Select Bibliography 406
Religious and Monastic Orders of Women Who Rescued Jews 409
Religious and Monastic Orders of Men Who Rescued Jews……...……………………………… 414
Polish Roman Catholic Priests and Nuns Recognized as
“Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s
Holocaust Remembrance Authority 416
Polish Roman Catholic Clergy and Religious Murdered
by the Germans for Assisting Jews 419
Collective Rescue Efforts of Polish Christians……………………………………………………… 432
Recognition and (In)Gratitude 462
An Overview of the German Occupation, 1939–1945 Holocaust historian Philip Friedman was the first to describe the various forms of assistance provided to Jews by the Catholic clergy throughout Poland in his pioneering work on rescue, Their Brothers’ Keepers (New York: Holocaust Library, 1978), at pages 125–26 and 140.
Emanuel Ringelblum notes in his diaries dated December 31, 1940, that priests in all of Warsaw’s churches exhorted their parishioners to bury their prejudice against Jews and beware of the poison of Jew-hatred preached by the common enemy, the Germans. In an entry of June, 1941, Ringelblum tells of a priest in Kampinos [Rev. Stanisław Cieśliński] who called on his flock to aid Jewish inmates of the forced-labor camps in the vicinity. A priest in Grajewo [Rev. Aleksander Pęza] similarly enjoined his parishioners to help Jews.
During the early days of the German occupation, in October, 1939, eleven Jews were seized in Szczebrzeszyn. Aid was sought from the local priest, Cieslicki [Józef Cieślicki]. He promptly formed a committee of Christians to plead with the German authorities. …
Several Jews of Siedlce survived in a bunker in the woods near Miedzyrzec [Międzyrzec Podlaski], thanks to a monk who, having discovered their hiding place by accident, brought them food every day.
In July, 1941, the Germans imposed a staggering fine on the Jews of Zolkiew [Żółkiew]; a Roman Catholic priest contributed a large sum of money to help the Jews.
Andreas [Andrzej] Gdowski, priest of the famous Ostra Brama Church in Vilna, saved the lives of several Jews by concealing them in the house of worship. According to Hermann Adler, a Jewish poet who survived the Vilna ghetto, Father Gdowski, in addition to saving the lives of Jews, also took care of their spiritual needs by setting aside a well-camouflaged room in his church to be used by his “guests” as a synagogue.
In Szczucin, on the Day of Atonement, 1939, the Germans staged a raid on all the synagogues. They harassed and beat worshipers, ridiculed and spat upon them; they tore the garments off young Jewish females and drove them naked through the market place. At noon, the vicar of the local Catholic church appeared in the market place in his sacerdotal vestments and implored the Germans to cease torturing the Jews and permit them to return to their prayers. The SS men, however, were not to be denied their afternoon of fun and frolic; they burned down the synagogues.
A number of priests in the neighborhood of the death camp at Treblinka gave food and shelter to Jews escaping from transports on the way to the camp.
Father [Jan] Urbanowicz of Brzesc-on-Bug [Brześć nad Bugiem] was shot by the Germans in June, 1943, for aiding Jews. For the same crime Canon Roman Archutowski, Rector of the Clerical Academy in Warsaw, was sent to the Majdanek concentration camp, where he died of torture in October, 1943. Similarly, the Deacon [Dean] of Grodno parish [Rev. Albin Jaroszewicz1] and the Prior of the Franciscan Order [Fr. Dionizy or Michał Klimczak] were sent to Lomza [Łomża] in the autumn of 1943, and were shot.
In 1942, during the massive German raids on the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, the three remaining rabbis received an offer of asylum from members of the Catholic clergy. The rabbis graciously declined the proffered chance of escape and perished with their congregations. …
Several priests in Vilna [Wilno] delivered sermons admonishing their parishioners to refrain from taking Jewish property or shedding blood; eventually those clerics disappeared.
A priest who baptized a seventeen-year-old Jewish girl and aided her in other ways was tried in public, flogged by the Gestapo, and sentenced to forced labor for life. Historian Władysław Bartoszewski, a prominent member of Żegota, the wartime Council for Aid to Jews, provides the following overview in his book The Blood Shed Unites Us: Pages from the History of Help to the Jews in Occupied Poland (Warsaw: Interpress Publishers, 1970), at pages 189–94.
There was hardly a monastic congregation in Poland during the occupation that did not come in contact with the problem of help to the hiding Jews, chiefly to women and children—despite strong pressure from the Gestapo and constant surveillance of the monasteries, and the forced resettlement of congregations, arrests and deportations to concentration camps, thus rendering underground work more difficult. Some orders carried on work on a particularly large scale: the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary who concealed several hundred Jewish children in their homes throughout Poland; the figure of Mother [Matylda] Getter, Provincial Superior of that Congregation, has already gone down in history. The Ursuline Sisters [of the Roman Union] played a similar role in Warsaw, Lublin, Cracow [Kraków] and Cracow Voivodship, Lvov [Lwów], Stanisławów and Kołomyja; the nuns of the Order of the Immaculate Conception did the same in their convents; the Discalced Carmelites gave shelter to the especially endangered leaders of Jewish underground organizations. In their home at 27 Wolska Street in Warsaw, situated near the ghetto walls, help was given to refugees in various forms; this was one of the places where false documents were delivered to Jews; there, too, liaison men of the Jewish underground on the “Aryan” side—Arie Wilner, Tuwie Szejngut, and others—had their secret premises. In 1942 and 1943, the seventeen sisters lived under permanent danger of [death] but never declined their cooperation even in the most hazardous undertakings. The Benedictine Samaritan Order of the Holy Cross concealed children and adults at Pruszków, Henryków and Samaria [Niegów] in the voivodship of Warsaw2; Sisters of the Order of the Resurrection [of Our Lord Jesus Christ] hid Jews in all their convents throughout Poland; the Franciscan Sisters [Servants of the Cross] in Laski near Warsaw many a time gave refuge and help to a great number of these persecuted when all other efforts had failed; the Sacré-Coeur Congregation took care of Jews in Lvov [Lwów] at the time of most intensified Nazi terror there. …
Equally splendid was the record of many orders of monks, and in particular the St Vincent [de Paul] Congregation of Missionary Fathers, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, the Salesian Society, the Catholic Apostleship Association, the Congregation of Marist Fathers, the Franciscans, the Capuchins and the Dominicans.
Well known is the protective role played towards the Jews by Archbishop Romuald Jałbrzykowski, at the time metropolitan bishop in Vilna [Wilno], and by Dr Ignacy Świrski, professor of moral theology at Stefan Batory University in Vilna, after the war Ordinary of Siedlce Diocese (died in 1968); it was of their will and with their knowledge that a great many refugees from the ghettos were hiding in ecclesiastical institutions and convents. Also well known are the activities of the distinguished writer and preacher, the late Father Jacek Woroniecki of the Dominican Order. In Warsaw, an especially beneficent role was played among others by Father Władysław Korniłowicz,3 Father Jan Zieja,4 Father Zygmunt Trószyński, and in the ghetto itself, up to 1942, by Father Marceli Godlewski, rector of the Roman Catholic parish of All Saints, by Father Antoni Czarnecki and Father Tadeusz Nowotko. In Cracow [Kraków], broad social work was displayed—with the knowledge and of the will of the Archbishop-Metropolitan Adam Sapieha, by Father Ferdynand Machay, well-known civic leader, writer and preacher. It was also to the priests throughout the country that the dangerous task fell ex officio to issue to people in hiding birth and baptism certificates necessary for the obtaining of “Aryan” documents.5A number of priests, like Father Julian Chróścicki [Chruścicki] from Warsaw, paid for it with deportation to a concentration camp. …
In all their efforts aimed at helping Jews, the clergy and the convents collaborated as a rule with Catholic laymen in their region. Thus, for example, rectors would place some of those hiding in the homes of their parishioners, and convents often kept in contact with lay institutions of Polish social welfare; the personnel of the latter included a great many persons dedicated to the idea of bringing help.