Painting by Polish artist Lela Pawlikowski titled "Matka Boska Jagodna" 1939
For many centuries the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church was celebrated on July 2. The feast day commemorates the day that Mary, pregnant with the infant Jesus, visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Elizabeth immediately knows that the child Mary carries is the one who will be sacrificed for the world. Elizabeth cries out “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42-45) This holy day was established in 1263 by St. Bonaventure of the Franciscan Order and then introduced by Pope Boniface in 1389 throughout the Church. As a result of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in 1969, the Feast of the Visitation is now celebrated on May 31, ending May - the Marian month.
In Polish folk tradition July 2nd, the Feast of the Visitation, was also called Matka Boska Jagodna, Our Lady of Berries. The day is associated with a legend in which a pregnant Mary walked many miles along lonely paths in order to visit her cousin Elizabeth. During the long journey, Mary's main food was the berries growing in the forest. Folk tradition dictated that until July 2 picking berries from the forest was to be avoided so as not to take the food from the pregnant Mary, who traveled to visit Elizabeth.
This refraining from picking and eating the berries of the forest, such as raspberries and blueberries, until that date was especially important to the pregnant women of Poland. This small sacrifice (because berries were already present and ripe for plucking by Feast of St. John the Baptist, June 24) was a way of asking Mary for the grace of giving birth to a healthy and strong child. Our Lady of Berries was seen as the guardian of mothers and pregnant women, especially those who had problems with pregnancy, miscarried or had still births. Mary would also provide protection for the still born children in the afterlife.
Our Lady of Berries (Matka Boska Jagodna) depicted in folk art. National Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw.
Our Lady of Berries also became the patron of forest berries and orchard and garden fruit, all beliefs captured by Polish poet Leopold Staff :
Matka Boska Jagodna, Panienka Maryja,
Która owocnym, rodnym drzewom sprzyja,
Chodzi po sadzie kwitnącym i śpiewa
Pocałunkami budząc w wiosnę drzewa.
Nocą wieśniaczki jej śpiew słyszą we śnie,
Wieść, aby jagód nie jadły przedwcześnie,
Każdą jagodę z ust matce odjętą
Da zmarłym dziatkom Panna w jagód święto…Leopold Staff
Our Lady of Berries, Virgin Mary,
Who favors fruitful, fertile trees,
Walks in the flowering orchard and sings
Kissing trees awake in spring.
At night, the peasant women hear her singing in their sleep,
A message that the berries should not be eaten prematurely,
Every blueberry abstained from mother's mouth
The Virgin will give deceased children on the feast of berries ...
The Visitation is the subject of much devotional art. The Visitation of the Virgin to Saint Elizabeth Workshop of Goossen van der Weyden. National Gallery London
St. Anthony of Padua( Św. Antoni Padewski) is the patron saint of innumerable churches, parishes and sanctuaries all over Poland and it is estimated that over 198 towns derive their name from the name of St. Anthony. There is hardly a church in Poland without an altar or a statue of this saint not to mention roadside figures and chapels. The chapel of St. Anthony, carved in salt in Wieliczka, one of the oldest chapels in the mine dating to the 17th century. The first mass said in the chapel for the miners, who also took him on as a patron because they searched for “white gold,” i.e,, salt, was in 1698.
Chapel of St. Anothony in Wieliczka Salt Mine from old postcard. Public domain.
St. Antholny proved to be an excellent preacher and a person with deep theological knowledge. He began to preach the word of God earnestly as an itinerant preacher. He is usually invoked in finding lost or stolen things. “Św. Antoni, dopomóż odszukać koni!” St. Anthony help us find our horse, says the old proverb/prayer that was invoked with lost (or sometimes stolen) horses.
The history of praying to St. Anthony for lost items can be traced back to an incident in Anthony’s own life when he had lost a book of psalms that was very important to him for teaching students in his Franciscan order. A novice who had grown tired of living religious life decided to depart the community and also took Anthony’s psalter with him. Upon realizing his psalter was missing, Anthony prayed it would be found or returned to him. The novice became conrite over his actions and was not only moved to return the psalter to Anthony but returned to the Franciscan Order as well. Shortly after his death people began praying through Anthony to find or recover lost and stolen articles.
St. Anthony of Padua is generally depicted in a brown Franciscan habit, having taken vows with the Franciscan order who spread his popularity throughout Poland. He is typically portrayed holding the child Jesus (who was to have appeared to him) in his arms, or a lily (symbol of a pure life devoted to God), or a book (he was canonized as a Doctor of the Church) or all three. His feast day is celebrated today, the 13th of June.
Excerpted from upcoming book: Spirit of Place: The Roadside Shrines of Poland by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab
Photo of St. Anthony shrine by Michał Zalewski located in Zwiartów, Lublin region, eastern Poland.
On this day, Hans Frank, Governor of the General Government of occupied Poland during World War II, writes in his diary:
“…Upon the demands from the Reich it has now been decreed that compulsion may be exercised in view of the fact that sufficient manpower was not voluntarily available for service inside the German Reich. This compulsion means the possibility of arrest of male and female Poles… General Fieldmarshal Goering some time ago pointed out in his long speech the necessity to deport into the Reich a million workers. The supply so far was 160,000. “ (Documentary Evidence 2233-A-PS)
Frank announced that under his program, 1,000,000 workers were to be sent to Germany, and recommended that police surround Polish villages and seize the inhabitants for deportation.
Photo credit: Poland in Photographs 1939-1944 . Collection of the New York Public Library.
The ”compulsion” and “possibility of arrest” took the form of establishing people quotas. The counties and districts of the General Government were mandated to deliver an established a number of Poles who would be transported for work in the Reich. The summons sent to Poles to present themselves for work in the Reich stated: ”In the event that you do not fulfill this obligation, members of your family(parents, wife, siblings, children)will be placed in camps for criminals and will not be released until you present yourself. We also remind you that we have the right to seize your, as well as your family’s movable goods and fixed properties. Beyond that…you can be sent to a penal jail, a heavy labor jail or sent to a concentration camp.” (Seeber)
Polish slave laborer and his family liberated by the 1st U.S. Army near Meggen, Germany. Photo courtesy of the Still Pictures Branch National Archives at College Park, Maryland
In this quest to keep Hitler's war effort running at top speed Hans Frank sent men, women, and then entire families as laborers to Germany. The slave labor program was designed to achieve two purposes. The primary purpose was to satisfy the labor requirements of the Nazi war machine by compelling foreign workers, in effect, to make war against their own countries and its allies. The secondary purpose was to destroy or weaken peoples deemed inferior by the Nazi racialists, or deemed potentially hostile by the Nazi planners of world supremacy.
To quote the American and British Prosecuting Staff before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany, regarding the Nazi foreign labor policy: it consisted of mass deportation and mass enslavement. It was a policy of underfeeding and overworking foreign laborers, of subjecting them to every form of degradation and brutality… It was, in short, a policy which constituted a flagrant violation of the laws of war and the laws of humanity.
Documentary Evidence 2233-A-PS. Trial of the Major War Criminals before International Military Tribunal.
Seeber, Eva. Robotnicy przymusowi w Faszystowksiej Gospodarcze Wojenny p.352-353
Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression Volume 1 Chapter X - The Slave Labor Program, The Illegal Use of Prisoners of War.
Knab, Sophie. Wearing the Letter P: Polish Women as Slave Laborers in Nazi Germany 1939-1945. Hippocrene Books, Inc. 2016
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
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
Candlemas (also spelled Candlemass), celebrated on February 2nd is also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In Polish folk tradition, the other title for this day was Matka Boska Gromnicza, “Our Lady of the Thunder Candle,” appeared around 1471 in Płock and began to be used interchangeably with the Feast of the Purification.
Women from the village of Modlnicy in procession with their gromnicza.
An inseparable element of celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Candlemas in Polish tradition is blessing specially made and decorated candles during the service, called gromnicza, meaning thunder, because the candles were used to try and deter storms and lightening that were generally preceded by thunder. How were these candles made?
In old Poland, when bees were tended in the wild in the forests, the candles were made only from pure beeswax as it was considered the purest of substances, the fruit of the unrelenting labor of thousands of workers of God’s creation. Beeswax candles burned clean and pure, smelling like flowers and honey. Very often the color of the candle could vary anywhere from golden to brown, depending on what type of flowers the bees had been foraging on. The beeswax was collected over the course of the year and even though difficult and time consuming, handmaking the candles was often undertaken by various societies or brotherhoods to burn in church for the glory of God but also to make and sell or to gift family and friends on the feast of Candlemas on February 2nd.
Extracting honey to reach the wax comb in village of Momoty in southeast Poland. Author photo. 1992.
The candles were made using a wooden wheel called in some places a kołowrot (not to be confused with a spinning wheel also called kołowrot) hung on a wooden shaft so that the wheel could move freely. Nails or hooks were evenly hammered across the flat wheel. Depending on the size of the candles to be made, appropriately sized wicks were attached to the nails. In the early years, the wicks made of linen (and later of cotton) by the women on a drop spindle. Some of the candles could be over a yard long requiring 6 or 8 threads twisted together to provide a proper sized wick.
In a room that was not given to sudden drafts or changes in temperature, or the wax would solidify too soon, hot beeswax that had been heated in a copper pitcher to the right temperature was poured ever so slowly along the wick so that the wax ran down it evenly, requiring a very steady hand. Each candle was made from numerous pouring’s along the length of the wick, time and again until a desired width was obtained. When all the candles had been poured, hopefully while each candle was still slightly warm (or, if cooled too much, one technique was to place the candles under a pierzyna, a homemade goosedown comforter, to warm them again) it was rolled between two wooden planks with just the right pressure to level them into a uniform round appearance. Time consuming and labor intensive!
Artisan in Poland utilizing the pouring method to make candles. You can see more photographs of the tradition of pouring wax to make candles here: izbaskarbow.blogspot.com/2016/01/tradycyjny-wyrob-swiec-z-wosku.html
Unlike today, when most taper candles are about 12 inches long, the gromnicza candles were made much longer, some over a yard long, others shorter but long enough to last through a lifetime of being lit during difficult times and moments. A blessed gromnicza had the power to ward off all evil and misfortunes, and believed to protect against storms and lightening and attacks by wolves. It was lit only during special circumstances but also during processions, a serious illness, life crisis, and in the hands of a dying person or at their bedside to ease their death.
It must be noted, too, that at one time the candle played an important role in in the days when purification of a woman delivered of a child was still a custom not just in Poland but among most of the Slavs. Often forgotten is that Candlemas day celebrates the Purification of Mary after the birth of Christ and that tradition lived on in many countries for centuries.
Forty days after the birth of a child, the mother (considered “unclean”) entered church through a side entrance. In her hand she held a lit candle, a gromnicza. The priest sprinkled her with holy water, whereby she could enter the main part of the church, pray cleansing prayers with the priest in front of the altar and, depending on local custom, walk around the altar with her lit candle. Having been purified, she could now rejoin the rest of the congregation at the mass.
Making of gromnicza 2022 at St. Casimir Church, Buffalo, NY . Photo courtesy of Irene Woszczak.
It was customary to tie green twigs of boxwood or juniper or myrtle (myrtus communis) to the candle with a piece of freshly combed flax, but in later years it was replaced with white or blue ribbons, the color most associated with Mary, to whom the day is dedicated. In the Lublin region, a candle was decorated with koraliki, i.e., coral beads. Once decorated, the candle was taken to church, where it was blessed.
When not being used the candles were kept on the front wall of the room behind holy pictures, much like the Easter palms or placed in a candleholder and kept on the family home altar where it was lit on all the Marian holidays, to honor Mary, and on any occasion where her intercession was wanted and needed.
With the passage of time, the craft of beekeeping declined as did the traditional makers of the candles. Candles began to be manufactured from stearine and paraffin, which were cheaper and even brighter to the eye when lit. But do they smell like honey and wild flowers from the meadow?
Today, Thursday, January 27, 2022 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day designated by the United Nations General Assembly to mark the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to honor those that died there and but also to recognize others who were victims of Nazism. Today let us remember the murder of Poland’s youngest and most vulnerable citizens-its infants and children.
In the Nuremberg Trials after the war the Nazi criminals were charged with crimes against humanity in that the defendants…”ill treated civilians, imprisoned them without legal process, tortured and murdered them.” Among the charges lodged against the criminals were the crimes against Polish women who were made to work in Germany as forced laborers and the Polish children they gave birth to during that time.
The rules of war are clear in the Geneva Conventions that limit the barbarity of war: You do not torture people. You do not attack civilians. You limit as much as you can the impact of your warfare on women and children and other civilians – rules that the Germans ignored. Polish children, born in Germany during the war not only failed to receive protective status but were willfully, with the full knowledge and consent of the German administration, subject to malnourishment, dehydration and neglect leading to their deaths in catastrophic numbers.
The forced labor plan was such that the only thing that mattered for the German administration was that each worker work at full capacity no matter the cost to the individual.
On July 1943 Ernest Kaltenbrunner, Commander in chief of SIPO and SD issued a directive to all commanders in chief of SIPO and SD regarding the treatment of pregnant foreign women workers and children born in the Reich who were designated as not being racially valuable:
1. After giving birth, the foreign working woman has to resume work as soon as possible.
2. The birth should be confined to the portion of a German hospital that was designated for foreigners only. Separation from German women has to be guaranteed.
3. The children born foreign workers were to be placed in „special infant institutions“ of the most simple kind called "foreign child care facilities"
Not racially valuable
Historian Eva Seeber writes that the lofty or high sounding names given to the centers were to inspire confidence in the new mothers and keep the public ignorant of the reality—that it was a purposeful plan to starve infants to death and to liquidate Polish children.
All over Germany, "homes" for the babies of Polish forced laborers were established. As was discovered by Allied forces at the end of the war, infants and young children were, in truth, accommodated in sheds and huts unfit for habitation by anyone, let alone a newborns and infants. Placing children in these centers was mandatory and the mothers were given limited access to their children. Visitation was often limited to Sunday afternoons, twice a month or sometimes mothers were not allowed to see their child at all. The rules were enforced by local police and the Gestapo. There was lack of caring by nurses and doctors, the absence of even the most basic hygienic measures, and most importantly, the starvation of the infants.
Evidence compiled by American and British military forces after the war clearly show that from the time of their establishment, the infant homes for foreign children were houses of death for hundreds, perhaps thousands of Polish and Russian infants.
Just one example: The Velpke Children's Home
On March 20th, 1946, the British Military Tribunal in Occupied Germany began the trial of Heinrich Gerike and seven other German officials : Georg Hessling, Werner Noth, Hermann Muller, Gustav Claus, Dr. Richard Demmerich, Fritz Flint and Frau Valentina Bilien in the city of Brunswick, Germany for being involved in the killing of Polish and Russian children born on German territory. It was decided at this trial that at the Velpke Children’s Home, between May-December 1944, 84 out of 100 children brought to the home died of malnutrition and willful neglect.
Velpke was a town located in the district of Helmstedt in the northwest region of Germany. In the spring of 1944, Polish women who were working on the farms in the region delivered their babies in the town of Brunswick.
Based on the rulings that required the establishment of "nursing homes for children of Polish and Eastern laborers," Heinrich Gerike, Kreisleiter of Helmstedt and member of the Nazi party, was instructed by higher authorities in Hanover to erect a home where children could be kept after birth. The mothers were required to immediately return to work on the farms. Even infants who were already born and thriving with their mothers on the farms had to be taken to the home so that the mother’s attention was not divided between her work responsibilities and the needs of her child. It was not a voluntary choice made by the women. They were forced to give up their children.
In the spring of 1944, Gerike, along with other local officials named above, chose two corrugated iron sheds with a corrugated iron roof on an unpaved road near a quarry. One room contained cots, described during the proceedings as "wooden boxes" ordered up from a carpenter, along three sides of the room that could accommodate 25 children. Each child was to have one bed, one mattress (straw), one blanket and diaper. There were 60 diapers altogether. The room had "an enormous stove in the middle of the barracks and there was tropical heat in half an hour. There was no even temperature in the room." It also had two tables. One table held a register book with the names of the children, their dates of birth, as well as their dates of death and cause of death. There was a kitchen, sleeping quarters for the staff, a washroom containing one copper washtub and two baby baths. Other rooms were empty and used as a place to put the dead children. The huts were without running water. All water had to be carried in by the staff. It was without rudimentary tools for measuring infant weight. There were feeding bottles but no one seemed to know if there was a sufficient number. It lacked any means of isolation in the event of contagious diseases. It lacked a telephone for possible emergencies or contact with medical personnel. It looked like a stable.
The barracks were dirty. There was no hygiene in the place. The children were lying there without diapers. There was not enough linen. The baby's teats (pacifiers) were dirty... I don't think they ever had the same rations as German children and once I saw sour milk... " Gerike never spoke to the doctors, never checked with those responsible for running the home, and admitted that he "never went to the home myself." When the death rate began climbing Heinrich Gerike made remarks that it didn't really matter, that "there was no need to get excited about it because they were only enemies. "
The records showed 84 deaths at the home but ninety graves were found in the vicinity of the home. The most frequently cited causes of death were diarrhea and general body weakness.
And that was only one nursery.
According to the U.S. Army Command list, 365 Polish and Russian children died at another “special infant care facility” at Wolfsburg-Ruehen
Special barracks were built to house infants and children born to Polish and Russian women. The “special infant care facility” at Wolfsburg-Ruehen was behind barbed wire. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Another so-called maternity hospital and infant home for Polish and Eastern women who worked in the city and county of Brunswick. The so-called hospital and home consisted of two wooden barracks located at Broitzemerstrasse 200. One of the barracks was in ruins. The second barrack, 42.80 x 12.14 meters in length, consisted of only three scantily furnished rooms which was meant to house the expectant mothers, newborns and older children. Based on records of the local health insurance office in Brunswick, it was established that between May 10, 1943 to July 1944, 253 babies were born alive in the home. Of these 253 children: 174 died.
Mass graves of children at Brunswick. Photo taken by the British Military Tribunal. National Archives. Public Records Office . London.
The above-mentioned “children's homes” are the most well-known, receiving attention after the war by Polish, English and American military tribunals. How many such establishments existed? If, as German historians say, that every district throughout Germany had its infant homes for foreign children, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent Polish children that needlessly died as a result of Nazi policy.
On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us honor their memory.
Cześć ich pamięci.
Public Records Office. London. National Archives WO309/585. Exhibit No. 520
Biuletyn Głównej Komisji badania Zbrodni Niemieckich w Polsce No. 5 1949
Law Reports of Trials of War Criminals UNNWCC Volume VII Trial of Heinrich Gerike and seven others.
Proceedings of a Military court for the Trial of War Criminals held in Helmsteadt, Germany Ruehen Case. London: National Archives. Public Records Office File WO235/159
For further reading: Wearing the Letter P. Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany 1939-1945. Hippocrene Books, Inc. The Polish translation title is: Naznaczone Literą P. Wydawnictwo Literacki.
“Kulig. A sleigh ride. This much-loved entertainment of Poles occurred on the 20th of January, 1695 in Warsaw. It was described by Ludwig Klermont, secretary to Oueen Marie Casimire d’ Arquien, wife of King Jan III(*Sobieski).
Drawing of unknown date illustrating sleigh in shape of a swan.
"A group of well-known individuals gathered at the palace of Daniłowicz which later was to become the Załuski Library."
*The library was reconstructed from the Daniłowicz Palace, adding an astronomical observatory. At the time (late 1700's), it was considered to be Poland's first public library. Destroyed during World War II, it was reconstructed once again.
"At 3pm in the afternoon, the trumpeters sounded the signal and the entire entourage set off: 24 Tartar horses in service to Prince Jakuba (the oldest son of the king) pulling 10 sleighs each with 4 horses abreast; on each a different set of musicians; Jews with hammered dulcimers; Ukrainians with torbans; more trumpets, fife’s and janissaries(*an elite guard of soldiers) from the various manor houses.
An example of a hammered dulcimer, a folk instrument called cymbały in Polish.
"They were followed by sleighs covered with Persian carpets, leopard skins, sables and other expensive furs. Each sleigh was pulled by a pair of horses decorated with feathers, tufts, ribbons and tassels; on each sleigh there were individuals of both genders and riding along the sleighs were young lords from the manors mounted on horses. There were 107 of these ensembles and hard to say which had superiority because all of them had fine horses, expensive furs and servants dressed in Hungarian livery.
At the end there were sleighs in the shape of Pegasus; sitting on it were 8 young men who recited verses that were written long ago by Ustrycki(*Andrzej Wincenty Usztrycki, Polish poet and preacher) and Chrościński(*Wojciech Stanisław Chrościński, Polish poet who also wrote in Latin).
The entourage ended with a branch of drabantów (*a type of Polish honor guard who carried halberds – an axe mounted on a long pole, topped with a spike, essentially a battle axe )
All the guests arrived first to Sapieźynki’s, then to the Princess Radziwiłła; followed by Potocki’s to the young Lubomirski prince; to the Castellan(a member of the Polish Senate) of Lublin and to Ujazdów (no mention of who lived there). Wherever they arrived, the host would give them the keys to the cellar and the hostess the key to the pantry so the guests could help themselves to whatever they wanted. Music kept playing, there was dancing and then they moved on. The last destination and get-together occurred at Wilanów(*the royal palace) where the King and Queen greeted their guests warmly; everyone was entertained, even the accompanying servants, until late into the night. The entire entourage returned home by torch lights, of which there were 800.”
King Sobieski's Palace at Wilanów.
It is said that some of the families mentioned above were richer than the king himself, in possession of incredible wealth and equipped with their own armies, let alone an honor guard. But, oh my, to have clapped eyes on those sleighs! Here is another illustration with the sleigh in the shape of a deer/stag.
The winter entertainment of the wealthy elite was still prevalent in the 1800's as caught on canvas by painters Juliuz and Jerzy Kossack within their lifetime.
Painting by Juliusz Kossak 1887 with sleigh in the shape of a bear.
By the end of the 18th century, the sleigh rides of court nobility disappeared. The custom of more simple sleigh rides through the snowy countryside persisted among the lower social groups for a long time. Here is a fun video that depicts the sleigh ride as enjoyed by the artistocracy as well as more simple folk by modern and historical painters.
Text of sleigh ride from book Gry i Zabawy (Games and Entertainment) by Łukasz Gołęmbiowski
Photos from Wikipedia
Illustrations from www.cultureave.com
It’s not an exaggeration to say there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Polish Christmas carols.
Collected over the centuries, the oldest known text of a Polish church hymn regarding the birth of Christ dates back to 1424 and was a handwritten translation from the Czech by a man named Szczekany of Prague, and begins with the words Zdrów bądz, królo anielski (Be well, King of Angels). In 1522, five Christmas songs written in Polish appear in a book titled Żywot Pana Jezu Krysta(The life of Jesus Christ) printed by Jan Haller and Hieronim Wietora in Kraków. One of the oldest Polish Christmas carols from the 16th century and still sung today is Aniol pasterzom mowil (The Angel Told the Shepherds). The author is unknown. The most well-known that survived from the 17th century is
W żłobie leży (In a manger). The words are credited to the famous preacher Piotr Skarga (1536-1612).
In the 18th and 19th centuries carols emerged from the pens of some of Poland's greatest writers and literary figures, as well as monks, priests, small town schoolteachers, organists and many unknown writers. Among these unknown writers and authors is the creator of the carol that for many individuals, officially opens the Christmas season and is titled Wśród Nocnej Ciszy (In the Night's Stillness)
It is the carol that opens the midnight Christmas Eve mass, called the Pasterka, the Shepherd’s Mass, in honor of the shepherds called to the stable that night.
“In the night’s stillness, voices unfurl
Wake shepherds, the Lord is being born.
As quickly as you can, hurry to Bethlehem
To greet the Lord.”
Postcard published in Warsaw sometime between 1905-1939. It is titled from the lyrics: Wstańce, pasterze, Bóg się wam rodzi...(Wake shepherds, the Lord is being born). Attributed to artist H. Czechowicz
That this carol, and so many others, have survived over the centuries is credited to numerous individuals but the most notable among them was Reverend Michal Marcin Mioduszewski, professor of canon law at the seminary in Kraków. Reverend Mioduszewski was not just a collector of religious songs that were being sung in his time but actively researched old manuscripts during his life time. As a collector and publisher of religious songs, he compiled the biggest collection of Polish Christmas carols for church services in his Pastoralki and Kolędy (Pastorals and Carols) published in 1843. Wśród Nocnej Ciszy first appeared in an Appendix to this collection when it was published again in 1853.
Face page and carol from 1908 edition of Mioduszewski's Pastoralki and Kolędy.
The carol appears in that edition as the song for the Introit of the Christmas Eve mass as it does in this 1908 edition. The purpose of the Introit (from Latin: introitus, "entrance") is to open the celebration, to turn thoughts toward the mystery of the celebration and accompany the procession, if there was to be one. In some churches in Poland, while this entrance carol was being sung, a statue of the Infant Jesus was brought to the manger erected within the church and placed there as a symbolic reminder that Christ is being born “in the night’s stillness.”
For 168 years(!), the faithful in the churches of Poland and Polonia scattered throughout the world, continue to rise from their seats at the opening notes of "Wśród Nocnej Ciszy" at the midnight mass (or first mass of the evening) to welcome, once again, the birth of Christ. It was given to us by an unknown individual from the 18th century, someone whose name remains in obscurity, who will never receive recognition for the joy it brings to the heart year after year - a true Christmas gift handed down through the centuries.
Here is a very old recording of it from 1929 along with b&w images of Poland celebrating Christmas Eve in those years. www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcBqowFY9NY
Wishing you every joy of this holiday season: peace, love and good health. May the new year bring each of you every blessing, and every hope and dream fulfilled.
From the time of the 13th century, the people of Poland began the Advent season with a special early morning mass called roraty. It is a special early morning mass, said before daybreak and devoted specifically to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The name for this mass comes from the Introit, the opening antifon or Latin chant, Rorate Coeli, said at the beginning of the mass. It was the prayer of the prophet Isaiah (45:8) begging the Lord for the arrival of a Savior:
"Let the heavens drop dew from above
and the clouds rain down justice
May the earth open and generate a Savior:
Reveal to us, Lord, Your mercy,
and give your salvation to us:
come, Lord, and do not delay."
In many parts of Poland, an ancient wooden horn called a ligawka, was likened to the archangel's trumpet, to remind the people of Christ’s second coming and the Judgement Day. It often
announced the beginning of advent and called the people to attend this early morning mass.
Ligawka. Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw
The mass is said before dawn, in the dark, as a symbol that the world was in darkness until the arrival of Jesus as Light of the World. A special feature of the mass is the lighting of a special candle decorated with a white or blue ribbon, the colors associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Gwiazda Zaranna, the Morning Star. Traditionally the liturgy began in the dark, the faithful often coming with their own candles or lanterns to light their way.
In this day and age, when many do not have access to churches that still offer this mass, the faithful can still have their own rorata, their own candle that is lit each morning before dawn. It can be their own time of thoughtfulness, reflection and quiet prayer during the Advent season while listening to "Rorate coeli" the Latin chant that opens the mass.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f06qdhO_sEY
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.