Deeply underestimated nowadays, they were the most reliable of the reliable

363 communities out of 63 religious congregations, 259 sisters are known by name, 42 received the “Righteous among the Nations” medal, 12 were murdered, 4 of them were beatified and/or canonized – they are martyrs of the World War II.

Until the end of her long life (1932-2021) Katarzyna Meloch, an illustrious journalist and editor, remained friendly with sisters from Turkowice at whose place she survived by hiding during the war as a Jewish child. She told me about them with a smile on her face and extraordinary inner optimism, one wanted to listen to it. It was well worth a listen! She said she had been happy there and that she owed her rich inner life to that spiritual atmosphere.

A war pupil of the Turkowice sistsers – who are servants from a congregation established by quite a layperson, Edmund Bojanowski from the Greater Poland – was, for some time, professor Michał Głowiński, who wrote how much of a support for him in hard times as sister Róża.

Known for his court disputes over Israeli citizenship, father Daniel Rufeisen, OCarm, was a charge of the Resurrection Sisters during the war.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE Two Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, Ewa Noiszewska, PhD and Kazimiera Wołowska, died from German hands for their assistance to Jewish families in Novogrudok. Their fellow sisters from Warsaw and Łomianki helped Jewish children throughout the whole occupation.

Heroes aren’t fortunate in Warsaw

Perhaps there are several courageous councilors in Warsaw who will make an attempt to name a street after both Felińskis

see more
Examples can be listed long, with the Warsaw address Hoża 53 being the most important – here there was, and still is, the house of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary. Their Warsaw wartime superior, mother Matylda Getter, was called in one of the publications a real “record holder” of the rescue for Jews, especially children. She had the support of the superior general, Mother Ludwika Lisówna from Lviv (Lwów). “My child, whoever comes to our yard and asks for help, in the name of Christ, we must not refuse” - this sentence pronounced by mother Matylda Getter, quoted years later by the girl who was saved at that time, who stood completely helpless in that yard at 53 Hoża Street, has already gone down in history, if we don’t even know about it.

– They were steadfast women who are deeply underestimated to this day – Alina Petrowa-Wasilewicz always emphasizes when we talk about these topics. – There was widespread fear and awareness that if the Germans discovered help, they would liquidate the entire house, murder the children, and send the nuns to Auschwitz at best. And yet the sisters undertook this task that required constant work, courage, cold blood, foresight – of how to feed and clothe three hundred little ones – and a far-reaching vision and hope, which made the sisters take care of their identity, preserve their roots.

There was a rule that in the matter of saving Jewish children and participation in the conspiracy, the key rule of obedience did not apply: none of the sisters could feel forced to participate in risky actions. But none of them refused. “They added saving these children to their charisma, because they read the Gospel well and deeply," emphasizes Alina Petrowa-Wasilewicz and adds: “sister Antonietta Frącek, PhD, a historian of the Franciscan Sisters, told me many a time that the congregation always took care of the poorest children, and during the occupation, these were Jewish children.

An outstanding expert on this subject, Sr. professor Agata Mirek, who died prematurely this year, thanks to many years of research in various archives, compiled statistics which she presented a few years ago at the international conference “Around helping Jews in occupied Europe” organized by the Institute of National Remembrance, the Center for Holocaust Research IFiS PAN and the Jewish Historical Institute: Jews threatened with extermination were helped by 363 communities from 63 religious congregations, 259 sisters are known by name, 42 received the “Righteous among the Nations” medal awarded by the Yad Vashem Institute, 12 were murdered, 4 of them were beatified and/or canonized – they are martyrs of the World War II.

– It was the monasteries – said Sr Mirek – that became points of resistance in the territories of occupied Poland: they educated children, provided charity, and gave shelter to Jews. The priority was to save children. This was decided by the superiors or individual sisters who enjoyed authority and involved their superiors in these activities.
In Warsaw, three houses of the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary – in Zelazna, Wolności and Zakroczymska streets – were adjacent to the ghetto walls. Photo: Archives of the Main Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Mary Family, 97 Żelazna St, Warsaw.
Most of the monasteries involved in helping were in Warsaw and Lviv, the most helping were the sisters from the Family of Mary, the Servant Sisters, the Sisters of Charity. This is the result of research initiated by prof. Jerzy Kłoczowski in 1972. He himself, as a soldier of the Warsaw Uprising, protected his comrade-in-arms from the fighting in Mokotów (the area of the “Baszta” regiment), whom he knew was a ghetto escapee, and a teenager at that.

Marek Rudnicki, a then young soldier, excellent painter and draftsman, told me about it already in Paris. He then pointed out to me that Jerzy Kłoczowski even during the war, although he was very young at the time (born in 1924), was aware of the extent of the help provided by the Polish underground state, including sisters and priests.

– After all, they all worked together. Irena Sendler was not only the head of the children’s section of the Council to Aid Jews with the Government Delegation for Poland (“Żegoty”), but also an experienced official of the magistrate, i.e. the City Administration, recalls Alina Petrowa-Wasilewicz. She knew that convents were the most reliable of the reliable, because even if they ran out of bread and money, the sisters wouldn’t throw anyone out on the street anyway.

So there is no shortage of examples, and we should write and talk about them so that we have in our living memory the heroism of Polish sisters who were able to make the grade in German-Soviet-occupied Poland.

Many years ago, in 1997 (quarter of a century!), in the kibbutz named after Ghetto Fighters, there was held the 1st world convention of “convent children” i.e. Jewish children saved from extermination thanks to the heroic attitude of sisters. The congress, organized by the Israeli organizations “Children’s Memorial Museum” and “Children Without Identity”, was attended by nearly 200 people who survived in convents in Poland, as well as France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Croatia. There were many good words, tears, thanks, memories.

One of the initiators of this meeting was Lea Balint, a girl from Brwinów, saved by the Franciscan Sisters, with whom she is still in touch. It was she who led the Franciscan Sisters to be honored with the Righteous Among the Nations medal.

But she too is over 80. There are fewer and fewer witnesses, let alone knowledge. More and more ignorance and – what comes along – arrogance in the approach to the question. We cannot let it go. – The topic is not utterly examined and historians may have their hands full, if they embark on it – says Alina Petrowa-Wasilewicz. After all there is a duty of remembrance, so we have to rescue everything we can. Every nation cultivates the memory of is heroes.

– Barbara Sułek-Kowalska
– Tanslated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: During the war, shelter was most often found with the nuns of the Family of Mary, the Sister Servants or the Daughters of Charity. The photo shows the funeral of Józef Pilsudski in 1935. In the foreground: Sisters of Charity in the funeral procession in Kraków. Photo: NAC/IKC
See more
Columns wydanie 22.12.2023 – 29.12.2023
Swimming Against the Tide of Misinformation
They firmly believe they are part of the right narrative, flowing in the positive current of action.
Columns wydanie 1.12.2023 – 8.12.2023
What can a taxi do without a driver?
Autonomous cars have paralysed the city.
Columns wydanie 1.12.2023 – 8.12.2023
Hybrid Winter War. Migrants on the Russian-Finnish border
The Kremlin's bicycle offensive
Columns wydanie 1.12.2023 – 8.12.2023
Is it about diversity or about debauchery and libertinism?
It is hard to resist the impression that the attack on Archbishop Gądecki is some more significant operation.
Columns wydanie 24.11.2023 – 1.12.2023
The short life of a washing machine
No one has the courage to challenge the corporations responsible for littering the Earth.