On October 15, 1941 during the German occupation of Poland during World War II, the Germans issued a decree that anyone who provided any form of aid to Jews would receive the death penalty. For Poland, the symbol of Polish martyrdom for helping Jews is the Ulma family of the village of Markowa. At the end of 1942, Józef and Wiktoria, who lived with their six children welcomed to their home eight Jews from the Goldman, Grünfeld and Didner families. Everyone, including the seventh child in Wiktoria's womb, were murdered by the German police on 24 March 1944. That day, March 24th, was chosen as a day for Poland’s Remembrance of Poles who saved Jews.
As of this writing, the web site of Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Martyr's and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem) lists 7,177 Poles as Righteous Among Nations, a number which has increased in recent years. Among the names listed are that of Stefania Podgorska and her sister Helena, two Catholic girls who rescued 13 Jews during the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Before the outbreak of World War II, Stefania Podgorska was 14 years old and living in a village outside the city of Przemyśl. Not caring for farm life, Stefania, with her mother’s approval, went to live with her older sister in Przemyśl and obtained a job at a grocery store owned by a Jewish family by the name of Diamant. She was much loved by the entire family who treated her as if she were a daughter. Originally in the hands of the Soviets, the city of Przemyśl fell to the Germans after Hitler attacked Russia. When the Germans occupied Przemyśl on June 28, 1941, there were about 16,500 Jews in the city and life for the Jews became increasingly impossible with a series of anti-Jewish edicts. On July 16, 1942, a ghetto was established and the Diamant family was forced into the ghetto. At the Diamant’s request, Stefania stayed in their apartment while they were in the ghetto. Stefania remained in contact with the two brothers of the family, Max and Chiam, even though it was a dangerous and risky business.
the When Stefania’s mother and brother were taken to Germany as forced laborers, it left her six year-old sister alone and without care and so Helena came to live with Stefania in Przemyśl. By then Stefania was 16 years old.
In 1942 news began to spread that the ghetto was being liquidated. Stefania decided to help.
Through a series of notes smuggled into the ghetto, Stefania agreed to hide the brothers Max and Chiam if they were able to escape. To prepare to hide them, Stefania and Helena left the city apartment and rented a small two-room cottage with an attic, which was located on the outskirts of the city. Max managed to escape the train taking Jews to the extermination camp at Belzec and found safety with Stefania. Chaim did not manage to escape and his fate was sealed at Belzec, the same place where their parents had been taken in an earlier deportation. Max became determined to get his remaining brother Henryk and his fiancée Danuta out of the ghetto and into the apartment. In time, several more arrived until there were thirteen Jews ranging in age from ten to fifty living in the small attic space. They could not leave or be seen. For a Pole to help a Jewish person was punishable by death – for the Poles helping and for the Jews being helped.
The house did not have electricity or running water. A bucket served as a bathroom and had to be emptied daily into the outhouse. Since she was such a young child, Helena did not come under the radar of the Nazis, the neighbors and others in town. She often emptied the bucket in the outhouse, carried water from the well, or was sent to the open-air markets to buy food because she wouldn’t be noticed or draw much suspicion. She kept watch at the window for anyone approaching the house when the Jews came down from the attic to stretch their legs or for a bite to eat. Stefania left the cottage each day to work in a German run factory employing Poles and used her earnings to buy food for everyone. She also traded clothes and goods for food at a time when food was scarce and had to bought in such a way as to not arose suspicion over the large quantities or the frequency of the purchases. Feeding thirteen people was only one of her daily worries. Discovery was her constant fear.
Things became impossibly dire when the Germans set up a hospital across the road from Stefania’s cottage and started taking over homes and apartments in the area. German nurses moved into one of the two downstairs rooms. Stefania and Helena were relegated to the one remaining room where they and the Jewish residents in the attic lived in constant fear. SS men were frequent visitors of the nurses, staying long into the evenings, eating, drinking and playing music for seven months while overhead 13 starving Jews struggled to ignore the smell of food and remain silent as stones lest they be discovered.
Stefania and Helena hid the 13 Jews for a total of two and a half years until Przemyśl was liberated on July 27, 1944. Because of the bravery of Stefania and Helena, all thirteen Jews they hid survived the Holocaust. They were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1979.
For more reading on these heroic women: The Light in Hidden Places by Sheila Cameron. While listed as a Young Adult book it is certainly of a level that adults can relate to.
Also: Hidden in Silence. Available as DVD Even though this film was made in 1996 it is still worth watching the courage of Stefania Podgorska as she hides thirteen Jewish refugees in her attic during World War ll.
Photo credit of Stefania and Helena Podgorska: Jewsih Foundation for the Righteous
Fridays during Lent: The Stations of the Cross and a legend from the Kurpie Region
From the earliest days of Christianity, pilgrims have journeyed to Jerusalem to walk in the footsteps once taken by Jesus Christ on the road to Calvary. Indeed, it was pilgrims who originally performed the stations (although it wasn’t called that back then) when they visited Jerusalem and prayed at the sites of Jesus’ Passion. It took centuries for it to evolve into what Christians today call the Way of the Cross or the Stations of the Cross, the devotion which commemorates the Passion and death of Jesus Christ
The yellow line depicts the route that is believed by many to follow the path that Jesus walked, carrying his cross, on the way to His crucifixion.Photo credit: https://santeos.pl/droga-krzyzowa-jak-to-sie-zaczelo/
After Constantine the I issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD which allowed Christianity to be a freely practiced religion, the holy city of Jerusalem became a mecca, a sacred place of pilgrimage for European Christians. But by the 7th century , the flow of pilgrims was effectively cut off with the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, a control which would not be threatened until the beginning of the Crusades whose goal was to restore the holy city of Jerusalem to Christian control.
One of the illustrious pilgrims who devoted much effort to enable Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy Land was Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) who traveled to Egypt with the Fifth Crusade and walked into a Muslim camp to meet the Sultan Melek-el-Kamel. As a result he, as well as his friars, were granted safe conduct to visit the holy places. In 1217, St. Francis founded the Custody of the Holy Land to guard and promote the devotion to holy sites.
The Holy Land changed hands many times between Christian crusaders and Muslims over the centuries with evictions and expulsions on both sides. In the 13th century the Franciscan order was allowed back into Jerusalem. Their earlier efforts to guard and protect the holy sites was later recognized when the Franciscans were officially proclaimed guardians of the shrines of the Holy Land by Pope Clement VI in 1342. The Franciscans accompanied pilgrims as they visited the sites and told the story of Jesus’ death with time for reflection and prayer at each site. Through their efforts, the Passion of Christ as a spiritual devotion, truly began to flourish.
William Wey, an English pilgrim, who visited the Holy Land in 1458 and again in 1462, is credited with the term “stations” and interestingly enough, his description of the way a pilgrim followed the steps of Christ was in reverse from what is done today. Instead of beginning at Pilates house, the steps moved from Mount Calvary to Pilate’s house.
In the 16th century, the path that Jesus would have taken, forced by the Roman soldiers on the way to his crucifixion, was officially titled the Via Dolorosa (Sorrowful Way), or simply the Way of the Cross or Stations of the Cross. (Wikipedia photo)
In 1686, Pope Innocent XI, realizing that few people could travel to the Holy Land due to Muslim oppression (again), granted the Franciscans the right to erect stations in all of their churches. In later years Pope Clement XII permitted stations to be erected in all churches and fixed the number at 14 (the number varied over the centuries). In 1742, Pope Benedict XIV exhorted all priests to enrich their churches with the Way of the Cross, which had to include 14 crosses and to be accompanied with pictures or images of each particular station. In Catholic churches (it is also practiced by the Lutheran and Anglican faiths), The Way of the Cross is depicted in paintings or sculptures placed most often on the side walls of the church.
Polish army walking the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem 1944. Photo: polona.pl
The Franciscans began to introduce the Way of the Cross, called Droga Krzyżowa, to their churches. In Poland, the oldest surviving Polish text, titled Sposób nabożeństwa droga krzyżowa nazywanego, “The Manner of Devotion called the Way of the Cross,” was published in Wrocław in 1731. When one counts the number of churches and calvaries (outdoor reproductions of the Via Dolorosa) and crossesthat dot the landscape of Poland, The Way of the Cross has withstood the test of centuries and remains a very spiritual devotion among the faithful, especially during Lent and most significantly on Fridays during the Lenten season.
A Legend from Kurpie Region
The Puszcza Zielona, the Green Kurpie Region, in the northeast corner of Poland was a place of erection of numerous crosses throughout the centuries. On a church wall in Nowogród there was at one time a painting (lost during a remodeling in 1904) depicting Christ and a Kurp (the name given to a person from the Kurpie region) carrying a cross to Golgota. Adam Chętnik, an untiring scholar of the region, documented that the painting was connected to a popular legend:
The Lord Jesus left Pilate and began the road to death carrying His cross to the hill of Golgota. He was tortured, beaten, dripping with blood and sweat and stumbled with the heavy load on the uneven road. The Jews who walked along were in no hurry to help. A Kurp passing by saw this and felt terrible sorrow for the person with the crown of thorns. He pushed his way through the throng and took the cross on his left shoulder which immediately eased the Lord Jesus. And Jesus looked over, smiled, blessed him and as the Kurp was leaving, said to him: For that, that you have a good heart, may you and your countrymen never be without wood - for your own needs and for crosses. And there grew the enormous forests of Puszcza Zielona, and the Kurps found themselves rich in wood and everyone who could, wherever they could, erected crosses.
A blessed Lenten season.
Chętnik, Adam. "Krzyże i Kapliczki Kurpiowskie." Polska Sztuka Ludowa. 1977
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.