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
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.
On this day, August 24th, 1942 during the occupation of Poland by the Germans, Hans Frank, governor of the General Government, decided to starve the Polish people in order to provide more food for German troops and the German people. In a Cabinet session with his departmental chiefs in Kraków he ordered the stoppage of food rations for all Poles who were not working for German interests.
Hans Frank: “Before the German people are to experience starvation, the occupied territories and their people shall be exposed to starvation...The general Government has taken on the obligation to send 500,000 tons of bread grains to the fatherland….it must be done cold-bloodedly and without pity…you will essentially find an additional increase of the quota of foodstuffs to be shipped to Germany and new regulations for the feeding of the Jews and of the Polish population.” (1)
All food was seized for German consumption. Farmers in the Polish countryside were subject to compulsory quotas and levies developed by the Germans, resulting in the ruthless confiscation of wheat, cattle, eggs, honey, and poultry from farms throughout the General Government which left millions of Poles facing starvation. The absence of milk subjected an entire generation of Polish children to suffer from vitamin and protein deficiency.
Consumers were divided into broad categories in which each received rations in proportion to alleged needs and importance. All-important food groups were rationed at weekly or monthly amounts. Bread rations were cut drastically.
More from Hans Frank’s diary:
"…more than 3 million persons are non-German normal consumers (Poles), who do not work directly or indirectly in the interests of Germany"...and that these "non-German normal consumers will receive, from 1 January 1943 to 1 March 1943, instead of 4.2 kg of bread per month, 2.8 kg; from 1 March 1943 to 30 July 1943 the total bread ration for the non-German normal consumers will be cancelled." (2)
According to German regulations, each resident had to be satisfied with the amount of food he was entitled to according to the allocation set in the card system. The trouble was, they were starvation rations. Critical shortages of food arose in urban areas with people resorting to every possible means to find food. To try and fill the void, black markets sprung up, but being caught in any activity with black markets was punishable with a fine, months in a penal camp, or their life.
Photo: German soldiers during an inspection in search of illegal food.
Jadwiga Załuska, a nurse in occupied Warsaw, recalls:
"The food situation was getting worse all the time but being rescued by people bringing food to Warsaw illegally...Everyone in Warsaw had some kind of haunt where on a designated day they could obtain some dairy product and meat ...The business was generally conducted by women and their ingenuity was something. They brought in (from the outlying farms) sausage under their clothes, winding pork fat around their waist. The most difficult to bring in was eggs and cream...There were so many women raising their children alone that they would walk kilometers carrying potatoes or eggs, the entire time faced with the possibility of confiscation and a beating...the obtaining of smuggled goods was an impossibility - people didn't have the money and the majority were starving on food coupons. People were making up all kinds of dishes to quiet their stomachs. Sausage was being made from cabbage, pancakes from beans, spice cookies and cakes from carrots...and pumpkin."(3)
The situation for the people of Poland was critical. The few Polish-run charitable organizations allowed by the Germans were overwhelmed. The years 1942 and 1943 brought the greatest reduction in food available to the people of the General Government. Consistently malnourished, the people of Poland became easy prey to a host of diseases including tuberculosis, gastrointestinal and disorders, and communicable diseases. The people of Poland were doomed to suffer and starve right through to the end of the war.
1.Frank diary. Document PS-E-2233 Cabinet session 2 4August 1942 Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression. Volume 4
3.Chapter 5 . Wearing the Letter”P”. Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany 1939-1945
Child Feeding Station: New York Public Library: Poland in Photographs 1939-1944
Germans inspecting for illegal food: Narodowy Archiwum Cyfrowe
Today is the feast day for 108 Catholics from Poland who were killed by Nazis during World War II. The group includes three bishops, 52 priests, 26 men and eight women from religious communities, three seminarians, and nine lay people.
Pictured here is Sister Julia Rodzińska(1899-1945) of the Dominican order, one of the eight religious Polish women beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1999.
At the time of her arrest by the Gestapo in July 1943, Sister Julia was head of an orphanage in Wilno and against all the rules of the German occupation of Poland, secretly taught Polish language, history and religion to the children of the orphanage
She was charged with political conspiracy and contact with underground partisans, jailed and tortured, and then sent by cattle car to Stutthof concentration camp where she was given the number 40992. From that time on she was brutally treated and suffered starvation along with the other women of Barrack 30.
She shared her food, her clothing and rendered what care she could to those suffering from the typhus epidemics that were raging through the camp. Sr. Julia would not abandon the sickest among them even though the piles of dead bodies surrounded the barrack kept growing. At a time of tremendous physical and psychological trauma, of beatings and unbearable workloads, Sr. Julia constantly called on her faith to keep her strong and inspired her fellow prisoners.
Her life ended on February 20, 1945 at Stutthof, infected with typhus while serving the dying Jewish prisoners. Surviving witnesses stated: "In the conditions of degradation, she was able to direct us to other values, spiritual values ... For us she was a saint, she gave her life for others.” Her naked body was thrown on a pile of dead corpses that surrounded the barracks. At a time when a blanket or a piece of cloth meant the difference between warmth and life and the very possibility of freezing to death, someone covered her lifeless, naked body with a piece of cloth, out of honor and respect.
Requiescat in pace.
On May 3, the Catholic Church in Poland celebrates the liturgical feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Poland. She has held the title since the time of King Jan (John) Casimir II Waza (reigned 1648 – 1668) during one of Poland’s darkest hours.
It was the time of the “Deluge” in Polish history (in Polish: potop szwedzki), when Swedish armies invaded the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the country was almost totally conquered by the foreign invaders. The king was in exile. It was thought that all was lost but one of the places that still resisted the Swedes was the holy monastery at Jasna Góra- the most sacred place in Poland containing the icon of the Black Madonna, known as Our Lady of Częstochowa.
The news that all was not lost galvanized the country into greater resistance against the Swedes. A new army was formed in support of the exiled king. John II Casimir managed to reach Lwów - one of only two major cities of the Commonwealth not seized by any of Poland's enemies (Gdansk was the other) and marshalled his forces.
On 1 April 1656, during a Mass in the Latin Cathedral (also known as Archcathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) in Lwów (today Lviv, western Ukraine), John II Casimir entrusted the Commonwealth to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom he announced as The Queen of the Polish Crown and of his countries. In a painting depicted by Jan Matejko in 1893, the royal vow is depicted by a scarlet banner with a white eagle. Dressed in a black, the king kneels before an altar accompanied by his queen Maria Ludwika. Witnessing the event was Stefan Czarniecki, the master of warfare, holding a saber, kneeling at the foot of the stairs.
An excerpt from his oath - known as The Lwów Oath (Polish: Śluby Lwowskie):
I choose you today as my Patroness and Queen.
Great Mother of God, Most Holy Virgin. I, Jan Kazimierz, for the love of Your Son, King of kings and my Lord and Your merciful King, having fallen at Your Most Holy feet, I choose You today as my Patroness and Queen of my countries. I place both myself and my Kingdom of Poland, the Duchy of Lithuania, Ruthenia, Prussia, Mazovia, Samogitia, Livonia, Smolensk, Czernichów and the army of both nations and all my peoples, to your special protection and defense, I humbly offer my sorrowful Kingdom against the enemies of the Roman Church.
Because of your extraordinary favors I am compelled, together with my people, to a new and passionate desire to dedicate ourselves to Your service, I vow, therefore, that I, as well as senators and my people… will worship you in all the lands of my Kingdom and I will spread my devotion to You….
The Commonwealth forces finally drove back the Swedes in 1657 and the Russians in 1661.
In later years, when King Jan Sobieski (reigned 1674-1696) began his fight against the Turks at Vienna in 1693, he also entrusted his kingdom to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and saved Europe from Muslim domination. Through national triumphs and tragedies, amidst the demands of enemies and hostile governments, the Blessed Virgin Mary has held the people of Poland steadfast in their common goal as a country and they have emerged whole. "To your protection we flee o Holy mother of God" (Pod twoja obrona uciekamy, święta Boża Rodziecielko) has been the prayer of Poles for centuries and continues unwavering to this very day.
Photos: Wikipedia and Wikiwand.
Painting by Jan Matejko can be seen at the National Museum in Wrocław.
September 23, 1939 marks the first transport of Polish women to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany during World War II. On this day, let us honor the memory of the 40,000 Polish women, young girls and children who were prisoners of the Ravensbrück concentration camp.
It is an established fact that they comprised the single largest numbers of prisoners at Ravensbruck. Sixteen thousand Polish women alone were sent to the camp after the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Thousands died of starvation, succumbed to worked beyond their endurance and sent to the gas chambers. Two hundred of the women were shot. Seventy-four underwent illegal and unethical medical experiments. Eight thousand lived to see liberation.
In her account of life in Ravensbrück, Halina Charaszewska-Brückman mentions that although it was strictly forbidden, whenever it was possible, the women held group prayer services. “Every day, when the lights were out, we prayed together in our rooms. One of the prayers constantly recited by all Polish female prisoners was the litany I composed during my work in the factory, during the period of the greatest persecution and stress.” The following is an excerpt of that litany:
Holy Lord, Holy [and]Mighty, Holy [and]
Immortal - have mercy on us
From [pestilential] air, hunger, fire and war - protect us Lord
From sudden, unexpected death, lameness
and hostile intrigue - deliver us Lord
To survive slavery with honor – assist us Lord
Support the weak and frail of body and soul,
heal the sick – we ask of you Lord
Unity, courage and sober thought be our
strength – teach us Lord
Enlighten the heart and mind of our enemies – we ask of you Lord
From the winds of war, camps and jails – extricate us Lord
Inspire our conscience with fairness and justice – we ask of you Lord
May the blood of innocents
never stain our hands – fulfill this Lord
But in righteous grievances, support us
give us strength and courage – we ask of you Lord
From fratricidal war and domestic feuds – protect us Lord
Through your holy mercy, peace and freedom – return to us Lord
To the land of our fathers, beneath our family roof or the
open sky, with our families – connect us Lord
For new creative work in health and the strength to stand – allow us Lord
People of good will walking the path of truth and love – bless Almighty God
Sinners who have recognized their faults – be loving Lord
For the souls killed in action and died for the holy cause
of an independent Fatherland – shine upon them dear God
And if you decree us a swift death, grant us a useful death – we beg of you Lord
But Almighty God in the unity of the Holy Trinity
pass your judgements –
That we may leave this frightening dark labyrinth of slavery and step into the light of true freedom....
Cześć ich pamięci. Let us honor their memory
Author translation. From the book by Zbigniew Stanuch. Ravensbrück. Historia nie do zapomnienia. Perspektywa-polska. Szczecin 2020 Digital pdf version can be found at:
On April 20th, 1941, during the occupation of Poland, the German authorities ruined all the roadside crosses in Sieradz and the surrounding region on the occasion of Hitler’s birthday.
The photo on the left depicts the cross lying on the ground surrounded by people and a woman in plaid bowing down to kiss the fallen cross.
From the first moment of the occupation of Poland in 1939, the leaders of the Third Reich and the National Socialist Party began a ruthless campaign to eradicate the Polish nation. The Roman Catholic Church was suppressed throughout Poland because of its previous history in leading nationalist forces to fight for Poland’s independence. Churches were closed and converted to warehouses. Religious services forbidden. Catholic clergy were killed or imprisoned. Convent properties and lands were requisitioned, the nuns shipped to Germany for forced labor. Those nuns who managed to avoid deportation kept secret chronicles of their day to day, year to year struggle to survive and to keep the faith.
In her Chronicle of the Occupation of the Convent of the Ursulines in Sieradz 1939-1945 (Kronika Okupacyjna Klasztoru Sióstr Urszulanek w Sieradzu), Sister Paulina Jaskulanka writes:
"Early this morning Sister Emma Dropiewska returning from night shift at the hospital noticed that the cross in front of our church was knocked down and leaning on the fence near the bell tower! She ran into the back yard knowing that the sisters working in the gardens are up early, even on Sunday and told Sister Pankracja Łukasiak what happened. Immediately, with Sisters Michała Krakowiak and Sisters Emmanuela and Walercia Marsz, they ran to the front of the church and with much difficulty lifted the heavy cross and brought it inside the convent to the cloister.
Another entry for that day by Sister Ludwika Miedźwiecka at the convent:
"On this night the crosses and roadside shrines in town, in the surrounding countryside and in the cemeteries, the crosses were broken, the monuments shot at -in this way the Hitlerites celebrated the birthday of the Führer, the sacrilegious acts offered as a gift."
National Day of Remembrance of Poles Rescuing Jews under German Occupation-Sister Bogumiła (Zofia) Makowska
March 24th is recognized by Poland as the National Day of Remembrance of Poles Rescuing Jews under German Occupation
Testimony of Tamy Lavee** on February 12, 1988 in Haifa, Isreal.
"…All I remember from my childhood is that in the convent there were these very long corridors. I remember the nuns who were good and always smiling. I also remember that one day some people came to the convent to take me. It happened that it was the Szymankski’s who adopted me …then came two men to take me away. Mrs. Szymanski didn’t want to let me go and cried and when they told her she could get another child she said that a child is not a glove that is removed from the hand and given away. In spite of it they took me away and then I learned I was a Jewish child."
Testimony of Sister Bogumiła Makowska, FMM July 16,1985
"During the war I was a formation tutor (at the orphange) in Zamość. In the 1940’s, a two or three-year-old child was left at our convent on Żdanowski Street. She was nicely dressed and around her neck she had a small bag with a note: Wanda, baptized.
Sometime toward the end of the 70’s I received a telephone call from Israel asking if there was in the convent index a record of a foundling by the name of Wanda. I replied that, for sure, such a girl child was left with us and in the archive there is still the piece of paper that had hung around her neck when she was left on our doorstep. According to the notes in the archives, shortly after Wanda was left with us, a woman came to work for us peeling potatoes and took an interest in the child and the sisters suspected she was the mother. However, Wanda was taken by a family from Izbica for raising. [After the war] in 1947 a Jewish man claimed that she was his granddaughter. A sister went with him to Izbica and he took Wanda away from her adoptive family. The matter ended up in the courts. In the later notes is a comment that Wanda was taken to the Jewish center in Łodź.
After a while I received a letter from Israel in which the author wrote: “It is me, I’m the Wanda but my name is now Tamara. I was adopted by a Jewish woman but I want to know my history and I’m asking your help. It was difficult for me with my mother. That I wasn’t her daughter I learned only after I married and gave birth to my children…where did I come from, what is my background and who were my parents."
[A nun from the convent recalls that she ran into the woman who had peeled potatoes at the convent during the war at the bus stop and that the woman was going to Skierbieszów]
Sister Bogumiła continues:
"I wrote to the priest in Skierbieszów to announce from the pulpit that I’m seeking the woman who during the war left a child by the name of Wanda with the sisters. After a while, Maria Pawelec came to see me and told me Wanda’s story."
I’m not her mother. I met Wanda’s mother at the market. She was selling something. I was selling something. We got friendly and she told me her situation. She came from Bydgoscz. The Germans killed her husband in Włocławek and she and her son were fleeing east. Wanda was just on the way. She was pregnant. She gave birth to her on the train. That was 1939. She arrived in Zamość and tried to make a living buying and selling. At this moment I don’t remember her last name.
There was an incident when the Germans caught her children and took them to the children’s camp in Zamość. She managed in some way to get them back but then she was afraid because it was apparent that she was Jewish and these were Jewish children. She asked me to take Wanda in the hope that at least she would survive. She decided to stay with her son. After a while they were taken to Izbica and shot. I stayed with Wanda in Zamość and took care of her. One day the Germans came to see me asking who is this child. I told them it was my niece and Wanda, when questioned, confirmed that I was her aunt. But from that time on I was afraid for the child and for myself. I came to the conclusion that I had no choice but to leave Wanda with the sisters. I opened the gate to the convent front yard, gave the child a push and in that way, no one knew who or what…a foundling. Wanting to know what was happening with the child I came to the sisters offering to peel potatoes.
[Sister Bogumiła sent all this information to Tamy Lavee and a correspondence began. Tamy Lavee visited Poland to thank her and the congregation for saving her life]
According to YadVashem: The nun, Zofia-Bogumiła Makowska, who knew the child was Jewish, never revealed her true identity to anyone, and looked after her until the end of the war.
On September 21, 1993, through the efforts of Tamar Lavi, Yad Vashem recognized the Sisters of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and Zofia-Bogumiła Makowska as Righteous Among the Nations.
The link can be found here https://righteous.yadvashem.org/?searchType=all&language=en&itemId=4044030&ind=27
More stories of rescue in Poland can be found on the website of the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews at https://sprawiedliwi.org.pl/en/stories-of-rescue/list/A?role=90
*Please note that there are inconsistencies as to the spelling of the name. This spelling from Yad Vashem.
**From the book: Medytacje Nad Życiem a Świetle Doświadczeń II Wojny Światowej[Meditation on Life in Light of World War II Experiences] by S. Irena Murawska FMM 2019
Sincerest thanks to the Sisters of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary for permission to use photo of S. Makowska.
Today, January 27, 2020 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 to recognize others who were victims of Nazism.
Auschwitz was the death place for millions of people of all nationalities. There was hardly a country in Europe that did not see its people imprisoned there by the Germans during World War II. According to the Auschwitz Birkenau web site, the greatest numbers that died there were Jews and Poles, murdered in cold-blooded, inhumane ways utilizing gas chambers, execution and injections. Among them were the non-Jewish Polish men, women and children of the Zamość region in southeast Poland. In her book, The Extermination at KL Auschwitz of Poles Evicted from the Zamość Region in the years 1942-1943, published by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, author Helen Kubica offers readers official documents, camp photographs, and transport lists carefully researched at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum about the Poles from this region that perished in Auschwitz.
The tragedy inflicted upon the Zamość region of Poland during the German occupation was tied to the Third Reich’s policy of Germanization of the eastern territories of Poland. In order to free the region of all Poles and bring in German settlers, entire villages were emptied, sent to temporary transit camps where they were segregated according to their usefulness to the Reich: forced labor, Germanization, or sent to the concentration camps of Majdanek and Auschwitz.
The first transport of Polish evictees from the Zamość camp was sent to KL Auschwitz on December 10, 1942. A brief excerpt regarding the fate of pregnant women and their infants: Those women from the Zamość transport who were visibly pregnant or who gave birth shortly after arriving at the camp, were killed together with their children by a nurse who gave them phenol injections…Maria Marciniewicz of Zamość(Prisoner No.26978)…gave birth to a daughter in Auschwitz. Both she and her daughter were killed on the 7th of January 1943. In the hospital barrack at Auschwitz, Zofia Węcławik of (the village of)Skierbieszów(Prisoner No.27089) and her fellow prisoners witnessed a visiting SS doctor take her newly born child and throw it into a burning stove. She, too, was dead soon afterwards.”
The second transport from the Zamość camp at Auschwitz on December 16th, 1942:…. of the 48 women and girls, 30 died in the camp by April 1943
The third transport: …. of the 301 women and girls in the third transport, at least 231 died at Auschwitz… as for the fate of the 282 men and boys from this transport, only the fate of 146 has been determined and 124 of those are known to have died at Auschwitz.
The author offered an excerpt from a poem by Polish poet Franciszek Fenikowski titled Żałoba (Requiem) as the motto for her book:
Z pokolenia niech głos nasz idzie w pokolenie:
O pamięć, nie o zemstę proszą nasze cienie!
Los nasz dla Was przestrogą ma być - nie legendą.
Jeśli ludzie zamilkną – głazy wołać będą!
Let our voice sound from generation to generation:
For remembrance, not vengeance, our shadows plea
Let our fate caution you- and not a legend be
And if people fall silent - the boulders will call out!
Let our voice sound in their memory.
Cześć ich pamięci.
The book is an English translation of the original Zaglada s KL Auschwitz Polakow Wysiedlonych z Zamojszczyzny w Latach 1942-1943. Panstwowe Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau (2004)
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.