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."
Holy Week in Poland has always been a busy time of refreshing the interior of the house in preparation for Resurrection Sunday. The walls of country cottages were freshly whitewashed, windows cleaned and simple paper curtains hung. One of the items that received special attention during this time was the home altar.
At one time, home altars could be seen in almost every cottage in Poland. In its earliest form it was a small shelf hung in the corner of the room, on the east side of the house between two windows. Below it was a table. It was considered the holy corner, the swięty kąt. It was here that a crucifix was placed as were holy images of the Blessed Virgin Maty and patron saints. The table below it was covered with a white tablecloth and, according to Polish ethnographers, where the woman of the house kept a loaf of bread wrapped in a linen cloth. Bread and salt were kept here. For Christmas, a bowl of kutia, a dish of honey and wheat berries, was placed here. It was also under this shelf, in this corner, that a sheaf of wheat or rye was placed on Christmas Eve and kept until the Feast of Three Kings. It was here that priests and special guests were seated when they visited
Over time, the corner shelf began to disappear. The holy pictures were still hung in the corner but the table became the repository of the crucifix, Blessed Virgin Mary, or special souvenirs brought back from pilgrimages. As a rule, the rosary was hung on the cross, in such a way that it entwined the upper arm of the cross, while the cross from the rosary hung freely in front of the standing cross. A pair of candles flanked the cross or sometimes just one. In spring and summer, bouquets of fresh flowers were placed on either side of the cross. In the winter when they were unavailable, bouquets of flowers were made from the small feathers of domestic poultry.
In the first decades of the 20th century, crepe paper came to the villages through traveling traders and small-town shopkeepers. Polish housewives began using the colorful paper to make flowers to decorate the home altar. It was this work, among all the others, that kept the housewives and their daughters so busy in the days leading up to Holy Week. They dusted holy pictures, washed and starched the tablecloth and made crepe paper flowers so that during Holy week all would be in readiness. Not everyone was able to afford such an altar, so neighbors came together with those who could, to pray and praise God together.
Photo by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab in the Kurpie region of Poland
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.
The drowning of Marzanna is one of the few Old Slavonic rites that is still cultivated in various regions of Poland today. According to folklore Marzanna is a Slavic goddess who symbolized death. A remnant of pagan times, it is still a custom celebrated by Polish children to take joy in the upcoming springtime, the beginning of the rebirth of the earth after the lifelessness of winter. In this ancient custom winter is drowned or burnt and there is rejoicing in new life as shrubs and trees begin to green and flower.
The symbolic getting rid of winter generally takes place on the first calendar day of spring, March 21(this year March 19). The oldest writings about Marzanna in Poland comes in the 15th century when Jan Długosz wrote: “In some Polish villages on the 4th Sunday (Laetare) in Lent, the people place an effigy of Marzanna on long poles and then throw it into the nearest bog.” This year it falls on March 22.
Marzanna is celebrated by making a straw effigy or doll made from sheaves of grain or straw, rags or material in the shape of an old woman. Most often, the doll or effigy is of a size that can be mounted on a stick, which makes it easier to hold up in the air by small hands. Most often, schoolchildren and supervising adults participate in the ritual by making the effigy together and on the appropriate day, sometimes accompanied by the entire village, is taken to a local stream, river or lake and drowned. In other parts of Poland, she is burnt. Very often everyone returned to the village with a green branch as a symbol of spring.(Photo: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe)
This is a photo of a simple type of Marzanna I did with a group of schoolchildren and their parents a few years ago. The structure for the effigy was a wooden spoon, the arms and clothes made with corn husks but almost anything that can readily be glued can be used. The children clamored to draw the face they wanted on the front of the spoon with crayons or colored markers. The parents assisted and encouraged where needed. As we worked together, we talked about what we liked and didn’t like about winter and how did we know the weather was changing and what we liked best about spring. What was their favorite flower? We looked at pictures of snowdrops beginning to bloom under the snow and bears coming out of hibernation. I was able to share some Polish folklore and tradition. The children got to choose colors and glue together their own particular Marzanna (so creative!) and took her home as a sign that winter was over and spring was here.
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)
The custom of the midnight mass on Christmas Eve is so deeply rooted in Poland that even during the occupation of Poland by the Nazi's during World War II, when churches were closed, when priests were being sent to die in the concentration camps of Dachau and Auschwitz and curfews forbade the Polish people to leave their homes in the evening, the pasterka, the midnight mass, prevailed. The Zamość region is one such example.
In the last days of November 1942, the villages and inhabitants of this region were being completely emptied by force by the Germans with the purpose of bringing in German settlers from other parts of Europe. With only the goods that they could carry and held hostage at the point of a gun, the Poles were being sent to transit camps from which they were sent to Germany for forced labor, or shipped to Auschwitz or Majdanek, either to work until dead or sent directly to the gas chamber. It was a time of acute terror and loss of hope with many fleeing and hiding in the forests to avoid the Germans.
In the midst of this chaos, and as Christmas approached, one man named Feliks Petryka, a member of the underground army known as the Batalion Chłopski, took action. To raise the morale of his men and the villagers who were to be evacuated permanently from their homes, he decided to organize a midnight mass. He took into his confidence one of the remaining priests still living in Zamość. The priest, a Reverend Kostrzewa, shared the secret only with the nuns of the Sisters of Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who prepared the liturgical items. The morning of Christmas Eve, the priest was transported from Zamość by horse and wagon by the underground partisans to the home of Marii Turczyn who lived not far from where the mass was to be held.
Referring to himself simply as “the priest,” the Reverend Kostrzewa gave the following account:
"At 11PM we started for the forest; we went in the dark, in the mud. From a distance we could hear the barking of German dogs...the forest was filled with people; one could hear murmurings, sometimes the sobs of the women. There were men, women, children and teens, who the most numerous. At the edge of the forest, the soldiers stood guard so that the Germans would not catch us unaware. In the middle of a clearing, under the fir trees, a small altar was erected. A table, a portable altar, a tablecloth, a cross and two candles. In the introductory rite to the mass the priest compared the expulsion of the parishioners from their homes to that of the fate of the Christ Child who was born without a home. The sermon was brief, both because of the sobs of those listening and the priest’s tremendous emotion. During the mass they sang carols and at the end sang "Boże coś Polskę." In his concluding words, the priest encouraged the faithful to hope and to persevere. He assured them that the enemy would be defeated and there would come a time when the parishioners would return to their home and to his parish."
Besides the underground partisans, there were almost 500 faithful who attended this Midnight Mass, this Pasterka, from the villages of Łabuniek, Mocówki, and Wielki Łabuniek. The Sisters of Franciscan Missionaries of Mary spent the entire night before the Blessed Sacrament praying for the safety of all those participating in the midnight mass. In the morning the priest was returned by horse and wagon back to Zamość. That midnight mass was an unforgettable experience for those who participated.
It was a bright light in the darkness of the German occupation.
Google image. Painting by Wojciech Betley 1915
This is a photo of Czesława Kwoka, a Polish Catholic girl who was murdered in Auschwitz by phenol injection. She was one of the children of Zamość. This is a small tribute to her and what happened to her and many other Polish children and families during World War II.
In the winter of 1942, the Germans, who had been occupying Poland since 1939, began expelling Polish Catholic families in the Zamość region in southeastern Poland from their homes to make way for new German settlers. The region was to be free of all Poles. The families were taken to a transit camp in the city of Zamość where they lived in unspeakable conditions and died from exposure, disease and starvation. Those who were deemed capable were sent to work as forced laborers to Germany. Children who met certain racial characteristics were forcibly separated from their families and sent to Germany to become Germans, losing their Polish identity forever. Some elderly and children were sent to live among strangers in the General Government, many dying along the way in freezing cattle cars. Many were also sent to the concentration camps of Majdanek and Auschwitz.
From the collection of German documents gathered by Poland after the war we read the following:
Report on the transport of 644 Poles to the work camp in Auschwitz on December 10, 1942.
The transport was dispatched from Zamość on December 10th at 1600 hours. The arrival in Auschwitz took place December 12 at 2300 hours. From among the 644 Poles, three escaped on route during the stop near the distribution station in Kraków with the help of Polish railway workers who opened the locked door of the wagon. The escape was made possible by the darkness and occurred at a time when the guards were at the other end of the train. An immediate search produced no results. Another 11 people — the number accounted for in Zamość during the loading was accurate — apparently jumped out the top window of the freight car. It would be directed that in the future the unsealed top window be secured with barbed wire.
Admittance to Auschwitz took place on December 13, 1942; the list of names was not read.
The transport arrived as planned with the exception of the 14 individuals who skipped out and (the transport) was definitely late.
In the matter of capability to work SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Haumeir made it clear that arrivals to the camp should be Poles capable of work in order to avoid unnecessary overloading of the camp as well as modes of transportation. A certain number of individuals, idiots, cripples and sick people must be in the quickest manner be removed from the camp by liquidation to prevent overload. (Document #80 Zamojszczyzna-Sonderlaboratorium ss. Zbior Documentow Polskich i Niemieckich w okresu okupacji Hitlerowski Tom 1)
The men were sent to Birkenau (section B 1b) and the women to B 1a) Over the next few days they underwent selection, were registered and tattooed. During the selection, the older, disabled and younger men and boys were separated out. It is known that in January 1943 some of the boys from Zamość were included in the group of young prisoners who underwent pseudo-medical experiments. They were injected with typhus germs, and most of them died. In February and in March 1943 two groups of boys from the Zamość region were murdered through cardiac phenol injections.
All the women were quarantined, during which mothers and daughters were separated. Women who were visibly pregnant were also isolated from the others. Birthing mothers and their children faced a particularly tragic fate in the camp. Until June 1943 the infants were killed with phenol injections. After quarantine, women were placed in work commandos.
Also murdered through phenol injection, one of the most efficient killing methods devised by the Germans, was Czesława Kwoka.(Google image)
Cześć ich pamięci. Honor their memory.
If you are interested in reading more about what happened in the Zamość region of Poland during WWII click here www.polamjournal.com/Library/Sophie_Knab_Index/sophie_knab_index.html and click on Zamość under German Occupation 1939-1945
Over the centuries, the Feast of St. Andrew, celebrated on the night of the 29th through the 30th of November, stole the limelight from that of another saint. In Polish customs and tradition, it was a night of magic and fortune telling observed by young marriageable girls to divine who their future husbands might be. This custom, called andrzjeki, was once the province of just young girls but over time included young men and became what amounted to be a party with lots of teasing and merriment. Completely forgotten was St. Catherine of Alexandria, the third century virgin and martyr, who from the time of the Middle Ages, was the patron saint of young men and pious bachelors and patroness of a successful marriage in Polish tradition. It was on the evening of her feast day on November 24th into the 25th, that young men sought to determine something about their future marriage partners. The custom was called katarzynki, after Katarzyna, the Polish name for Catherine.
On this night, young men curious about their future paid special attention to their dreams: a white hen - meant a wedding with a maiden; a black hen - a wedding with a widow; a hen with chicks - marrying a widow with children; an owl - meant a wise but unmerry wife; a pigeon – a wife that was sweet and kind, but unfortunately, not too bright: a gray horse meant he would remain a bachelor for life.
Just as important as finding out her marital status and personality characteristics, was finding out her name. The men used a similar method as the girls during their night of St. Andrew's fortune-telling. Instead of cards with the image of St. Andrew , used by the girls, young men used holy cards with the image of St. Catherine, and on the back of the cards wrote the names of females they were interested in and placed them under their pillow overnight. This action gives understanding to the Polish proverb, “W noc świętej Katarzyny, pod poduszką są dziewczyny,” meaning, “On the eve of St. Catherine, the girls are under the pillow.” In the morning one of the cards would be drawn blindly from under the pillow to determine the name of the future wife.
Having learned these details about their future bride, there was still another detail to discover: would all this happen soon? To find out, it was necessary to cut a cherry branch (and some sources say apple or other fruit bearing tree) and put it in the water on Saint Catherine's day. If the branch bloomed by Christmas, it meant a wedding soon and a happy marriage.
In the end, as patroness of young bachelors and happy marriages, it was recommended that the young men attend church or a chapel and pray to St. Catherine for help and guidance in matters of the heart.
In Christian iconography, St. Catherine of Alexandria is always depicted with a wheel, the instrument of her torture and a palm, the symbol of martyrdom. Her image was often adopted as the crest for various noble families and for Polish towns and villages, such as the one above for Nowy Targ in southern Poland.
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.