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Agnieszka Dbek, Fr.

Pawe Rytel-Andrianik

Roman Catholic Priests in the Eyes of the Holocaust Survivors


According to Yad Vashem Archive Sources
Summary
The present article aims to show Roman Catholic Priests attitudes towards the Jewish
People in Poland during the Second World War according to Yad Vashem Archive sources.1
The main question is: Were the Catholic Priests aiding Jewish People at the time of the
Holocaust or were they indifferent to their tragedy?
The data verified at Yad Vashem shows that Polish clergy took a firm stance in the
face of the Holocaust. A good number of priests risked their own lives in order to save Jewish
lives. We have managed to find information about more than 110 Roman Catholic priests.
According to the Holocaust survivors, each of them was very helpful in various ways. The most
common way was issuing false baptismal certificates or other fictitious documents as well as
finding a safe shelter with Catholic families or employment as parish staff. It must be added,
though, that the number of more than 110 priests is obtained from one archive only. Research
carried out by the Righteous for the World Foundation and various scholars in many other
archives and countries reveals that approximately 1,000 Catholic priests in Poland were
involved in saving Jewish people at the time of the Holocaust (cf. http://www.kpktoronto.org/archives/clergy_recue_kpk.pdf).
In coming to this conclusion we are aware of the fact that we have not yet seen all of the
documents in Yad Vashem regarding this theme. However, from the archive database and
research program it seems that we have studied almost all of the documents available now.
Moreover, most of the documents we have researched have never been published before. This
research is still in progress and we hope that it will make a significant contribution to
interdisciplinary studies related to the Holocaust.

In July and August of 2014, the research on the attitudes of Roman Catholic priests towards the Jewish
population in Poland was being carried out on the basis of the material gathered at the archive at Yad Vashem in
Jerusalem. The research team included: coordinator - Fr. Pawe Rytel-Andrianik, professor at the Pontifical
University of the Holy Cross in Rome, lecturer at WSKSiM and the Pontifical Faculty of Theology in Warsaw;
Dorota Kiedrowska, Monika Kwiatkowska, Marcelina Surma and Agnieszka Dbek all from the Nicolaus
Copernicus University (NCU); Faustyna Brunka and Joanna Gerke - both from the Higher School of Social and
Media Culture (WSKSiM), and Paulina Makowska from the University of Gdask. That was part of the research
carried for the benefit of Memorial Chapel, which is being built in Toru in collaboration with Righteous for the
World Foundation.

Introduction
The genocide of the Jewish population began as the Nazi German troops crossed Polish
borders. At the end of November 1939, all Jews were required to wear the Star of David in
public. Later, they were placed in ghettos. According to German Nazi rules, being of Jewish
origin was a sufficient reason for execution without trial. Hans Frank, Governor General, issued
a decree on October 15, 1941, stipulating that Poles caught helping Jews would also be
punished by death. Thus, the Holocaust was one of the greatest Jewish and human tragedies. In
just six years, between 1939 and 1945, German Nazis murdered approximately six million
Jewish people, including nearly one million children.
Catholic clergy were also victims of Nazi persecution. The statistics are dramatic. Out
of 16,000 Polish priests, about 4,000 were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps during
World War II. About 2,000 of them were murdered by the Nazis. There were some dioceses,
such as Dioceses of Wocawek, Gniezno, and Chemno, where almost 50% of the priests were
killed.
In connection with the above, we would like to pose a question concerning the
attitude of the Catholic priests in face of such terrible events: Were they aiding Jews or were
they indifferent to their tragedy?

Testimonies of the World War II survivors are being collected in various archives and
other institutions. We have studied those preserved at the Yad Vashem Archive. Having
verified these testimonies, we have managed to find information about more than 110 Roman
Catholic priests who were operating in German occupied Poland. To our surprise, in literally all
the cases in which priests were asked for help, they never refused. In addition, we found one
ambiguous testimony, in which the Jewish person complains that Germans were visiting a local
priest and he did not refuse to give them food.

At the same time it must be stressed that the number of more than 110 priests is
obtained from one archive only. Research carried out by the Righteous for the World
Foundation and other scholars in many archives in various countries reveals that approximately
1,000 Catholic priests risked their lives to save Jewish people in Poland under German
occupation (cf. http://www.kpk-toronto.org/archives/clergy_recue_kpk.pdf).
2

Thanks to these materials, the following question was raised: How have these priests
helped the Jewish people? In order to answer this question some documents, found in Yad
Vashem Archive in Jerusalem, will be presented to show the testimonies of the Holocaust
Survivors.

On the Way from Auschwitz


Fr. Alojzy Pitlok is described in the memoirs of Sara Erenhalt (ne Flaks) (born
1923), who used to live with her family in Przemyl. In 1941 she married Leon Patera. Soon
their first child was born. A tragic twist of fate made her and her family stay at one of the two
ghettos established by the Nazi Germans in Przemyl. Leon was killed while trying to escape to
the Aryan side. Saras parents and her sisters were deported to Beeec. Other members of
her family, including her only child, were killed in the ghetto. In September 1943, she was
taken, along with other people, to Birkenau (near Auschwitz). After the quarantine period, she
was given the number 66952 and sent to work in the Union factory, located three kilometers
from the camp. At the beginning of 1944, she was transferred to Auschwitz while continuing to
work in the factory2.

At the end of 1944, the process of liquidating the camp began. In January 1945, there
were not enough wagons to transport all prisoners. The remaining camp prisoners were led in
the so-called death march barefoot towards German borders. To everyones surprise,
Germans ordered a stop in the village of Porba, near Pszczyna, and allowed prisoners to look
for accommodation. Sara and six other women went towards the nearby houses. She recounts:

We all entered some cottage. There was an old man. We greeted him saying "Praised
be Jesus Christ." We asked him about the night in his barn. He replied: Poor little
things, how can I let you sleep in a barn at minus eighteen degrees. It appeared that
our host was a priest, dressed at that time in secular clothing. We started talking to
him and asking for shelter at his home. He agreed immediately to hide me and Genia.
() We were trying to persuade him that we cannot separate from our female

AYV, Ref. O.3/1588, Testimony of Sara Erenhalt (ne Flaks), pp. 2-3.

companions because we were together all the time in the camp, and if they go away,
they surely will die.3

Father Alojzy Pitlok agreed to host all of the women. He was also willing to offer
them help after the liberation, he said that it did not matter that we were Jews, but it was
important that our guardian angel had sent us to him, and he could save us. He also underlined
that if we did not manage to find our families, we could always come back to his place and find
a job. After the war, Sara contacted the Zionist organization. In 1946, she went to Israel.4

Keeping People Calm

The story of Father Wojniusz, the parish priest in Kiemieliszki, is an interesting


example of keeping peoples calm. Father Wojniusz as a balding, chubby old man, who was not
too good at theology, or at making poignant speeches, but he spoke right from the heart.
Thanks to that, his words truly reached his parishioners. As Masza Rudnicka recalls in her
testimony, just when the first signs of mutual hostility appeared among the people of
Kiemieliszki, Father Wojniusz reacted just in time. Masha describes it this way:

At that critical moment we were saved by Father Wojniusz, who announced a


solemn procession, a sort of procession which is organized only at special occasions.
There was such mystical mood among the Christians living in the village that people
quickly forsook their actions.5

Masha Rudnicka was later transported to the ghetto in Kiemieliszki, from which she
would be relocated to labor camps. After the liberation, when she and her sister returned to
Kiemieliszki, Father Henryk Wojniusz offered them help and took care of them. Testimony
given by Rachela Rudnik, who, like Masza, had to stay for some time in the ghetto in
Kiemieliszki, also confirms the aid given by Father Wojniusz6.

Ibid.. p. 15.
Ibid., p. 3.
5
AYV, Ref. O.3/2333, Testimony of Masza Rudnicka, p. 8.
6
AYV, Ref. O.3/1833, Testimony of Rachela Rudnik, p. 3.
4

Unbaptized Priest

Another case concerns the priest belonging to the Polish National Catholic Church,
not the Roman Catholic Church, mentioned in the title of the present paper. However, due to
the uniqueness and distinctiveness of this form of aid in comparison with others, we would like
to focus on this story more carefully. Alicja Heiler (born 1918), along with her family was
living in Krosno when the war started. In her memoirs from that time, she recalls the story of
her brother:

My brother, Dr. Stefan Stiefel (), who currently lives in Austria, hid from NKVD
roundups at the house of the Sochaski family. Immediately after the operation, he
turned to his friend Father [Lesaw] Chodorski-Kdra, relative of the pianist
Wadysaw Kdra. Chodorski belonged to the National Church. He agreed to give
my brother a shelter at his house. Whats more, he sent him a priestly robe to make
his leaving from Krosno to the country easier. And so, my brother left Krosno, at
bright noon, dressed as a priest, accompanied by Jadwiga Niepokj and other friend
named Cichocka. As they were walking down the street, women approached my
brother to kiss his hand, in a common gesture, unaware who that priest was! As it is
customary in small villages that the newly arrived priest celebrates masses, Father
Chodorski had to think how to get my brother and himself out of trouble. He
explained that my brother was a priest - a refugee from Pozna, who suffered a
nervous breakdown after the Nazi persecution. My brother lived with Father
Chodorski and his friends for some time. Later, given Aryan papers, he moved to
Krakow.7

The picture of Dr. Stefan Stiefel in a cassock can be seen at the Yad Vashem website
under this address:
http://collections1.yadvashem.org/arch_srika/1501-2000/1803-1869/1869_640.jpg

AYV, Ref. O.3/3421, Testimony of Alicja Heiler (ne Stiefel), pp. 7-8.

Baptism

During the Holocaust, some Jewish people asked to be baptized. That was, however,
quite a complicated issue. They would have to find somebody who would agree to give them
some classes of Catholic doctrine and to perform the Baptism. It was much easier to give just a
fictitious baptism certificate, which could serve as a reliable document for obtaining the ID
Card (Kennkarte). In one of the accounts we find a story of the Pilichowski family who lived in
the Warsaw ghetto and in November, 1942 wanted to join the Catholic Church and get out of
the ghetto:

All our family members were baptized in the parish of the Saviour in Warsaw. Father
[Seweryn] Popawski agreed to baptize us at once without any further questions. Our
Polish friend directed us to this priest. Our baptismal certificates became the proof that
we were Aryan. My mother got her birth certificate for the name of the already
deceased parishioner - Maria Anna Kowalewska. My father became Aleksander
Franciszek Bdzikowski. I and my sisters kept our original surname.8

In this case, the family wanted to be baptized. It might be that they were led also by
a desire to survive. Was it right for the priest to baptize them in such a situation? We leave this
to your personal reflection.

Motivations
The reasons for aiding Jews people constitute an important issue. There were surely
numerous reasons a subconscious sense of responsibility, an instinctive moral duty, deep
compassion, or just an ordinary, human reflex of solidarity. Sometimes the person helping had
Jewish friends, whom they knew before the war, who came to them looking for help while
facing death, sometimes they did not know each other at all.
Father Jan Rbisz, in his letter of March 1947 that was sent to the Jewish Historical
Commission in which he described how he helped a Jewish girl when he was a vicar at

AYV, Ref. O.3/2826, Testimony of Zofia Pilichowska (Weiser), pp. 7-8; cf, AYV, Ref. O.3/2338, Testimony
of Anastazja Bitowtowa, pp. 2-3.

the parish church in Sokow Podlaski, simply states: I knew that we were both facing death
but the thought of giving Christian help to my sister suppressed all my fears.9

Conclusions

Summarizing our work and research conducted at Yad Vashem, it can be firmly stated
that the priests living in Poland under Nazi German occupation did not remain indifferent in the
face of the tragic fate of the Jewish people. Polish clergy sought to save their suffering Jewish
brothers and sisters with great courage, understanding, and compassion. They frequently risked
their own lives at the time, when even the slightest act of human kindness was liable to be
punished by death.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
AYV - Archive of Yad Vashem

Testimonies
Ref. O.3/2338, Anastazja Bitowtowa.
Ref. O.3/1588, Sara Erenhalt (ne Flaks).
Ref. O.3/3421, Alicja Heiler (ne Stiefel).
Ref. O.3/2333, Masza Rudnicka.
Ref. O.3/1883, Rachela Rudnik.
Ref. O.3/2826, Zofia Pilichowska (Weiser).

Correspondence
Ref. O.62/478, List nadesany w marcu 1947 do Woj[ewdzkiej] yd[owskiej] Komisji
Historycznej w Krakowie przez ks. Jana Rbisza, wie Doha, st. p. Midzyrzec Podl.
koo ukowa, [A letter sent in March 1947 to Voievodship Jewish Historical
Commission in Cracow by Fr. Jan Rbisz, village Doha, railway station Midzyrzec
Podl. close to ukw].

AYV, Ref. O.62/478, List nadesany w marcu 1947 do Woj[ewdzkiej] yd[owskiej] Komisji Historycznej w
Krakowie przez ks. Jana Rbisza, wie Doha, st. p. Midzyrzec Podl. koo ukowa, [A letter sent in March 1947
to Voievodship Jewish Historical Commission in Cracow by Fr. Jan Rbisz, village Doha, railway station
Midzyrzec Podl. close to ukw] 2.

Appendix

Some documents in the Archive of Yad Vashem, which testify about the Catholic priests,
who were saving Jewish people.

Testimonies (alphabetical order):

Ref. O.3/7433, Tzvi Abramovitz.


Ref. O.3/4107, Oded Amarant.
Ref. O.3/13133, Zipora Cheslava Anbar (Domb).
Ref. O.3/2882, Sender Apelbaum.
Ref. O.3/442, Halina Ashkenazi (Raps).
Ref. O.62/53, Leokadja Bachner.
Ref. O.3/7897, Shifra Ben Nun (Kahane).
Ref. 0.33.C/3457, Ruti Ben Shalom.
Ref. O.3/4812, Moshe Berezin.
Ref. O.3/2827, Zopora Feiga Berkovicz Barkai (Reznik).
Ref. O.33/7027, Helena Bibliowicz.
Ref. O.3/2338, Anastazja Bitowtowa.
Ref. O.3/4415, Bela Brawer.
Ref. O.93/18946, Czesawa Czerenia.
Ref. O.3/5315, Irma Irena Dagon (Anikst).
Ref. O.3/ 12263, David Danielski Danieli.
Ref. O.3/3376, Gina Diamant.
Ref. M.49/6010, Jan Doliwa ledziski.
Ref. O.3/2999, David Enzenberg.
Ref. O.3/10995, Miriam Erlich.
Ref. O.3/1588, Sara Erenhalt (Flaks Pater).
Ref. O.3/10098, Bracha Bronia Freiberg Bendori (Kleinman).
Ref. O.3/3956, Szoszana Roza Gerszuni Nachimowicz (Medlinski).
Ref. O.3/4457, Sabina Gilboa.
Ref. O.33.C/1485, Chana Gindelman.
Ref. O.93/28393, Wadysaw Gowacki.
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Ref. O.3/10176, Batia Golan (Klig).


Ref. O.3/2689, Miriam Goldin (Ginter).
Ref. O.3/862, Esther Grinberg (Morgenstern).
Ref. O.3/3494, Jehoszua Grinberg.
Ref. O.3/3283, Priwa Grinkraut (Koniecpolski).
Ref. M.49/4151, Rudolf Hermelin.
Ref. O.33/193, Jakob Jehoszua Herzig.
Ref. O.3/3512, Mosze Jung.
Ref. M.11/376, Zelda Kaczerewicz.
Ref. O.62/438, Szymon Kahane.
Ref. O.3/3643, Ida Kapan (Lewkowicz).
Ref. O.3/1828, Szabtaj Kapan.
Ref. O.33/8486, Alek Elias Kleiner.
Ref. O.3/2824, Teresa Komer (Esterstein).
Ref. O.3/2518, Helena Korzeniewska.
Ref. 0.33.C/4774, Yocheved Kreminitzer.
Ref. O.3/174, Gina Lanceter (Hochberg).
Ref. O.3/10545, Esther Liber.
Ref. O.3/6820, Esther Lisak.
Ref. M.49/1922, Szymon Loeffelholz.
Ref. O.3/1652, Hena Nomberg (Bakalarz).
Ref. O.3/5434, Ludwika Oberleder (Aran).
Ref. O.3/7494, Ziona Oberman (Veisman).
Ref. O.3/2668, Mina Omer.
Ref. O.3/3527, Nachum Pelc.
Ref. O.3/12885, Eliahu Perevoski Levin.
Ref. O.3/2826, Zofia Pilichowska (Weiser).
Ref. O.3/3878, Esther Pop (Tesler).
Ref. O.3/182, Zeev Portnoy.
Ref. M.49/1221, Ada Rems.
Ref. O.62/179, Ada Remz.
Ref. M.49/6274, Josef Rosenbaum.
Ref. O.3/2611, Sarah Ross (Immelman).
9

Ref. O.3/ 2885, Zofia Roze (Haas).


Ref. O.3/2333, Masza Rudnicka (Szvizinger).
Ref. O.3/1833, Rachela Rudnik.
Ref. O.62/172, Regina Rueck.
Ref. M.49/1225, Jakub Sanzer.
Ref. O.3/5538, Aleksander Serel.
Ref. O.3/5645, Klara Chaya Stern (Heler).
Ref. O.33, Sonya Stizel (Silber).
Ref. O.3/2864, Witold Szymczukiewicz
Ref. M.49/ 217, Jan Tarlaga.
Ref. O.3/2567, Anna Thau (Wilf).
Ref. M.11/374, Alter Trus.
Ref. O.3/2365, Ewa Turzyska (Trauenstein).
Ref. O.33.C/4297, Aviva Unger.
Ref. O.3/3333, Abraham Wand.
Ref. O.3/6513, Henia Kristina Wasiak (Niewiadomski).
Ref. O.3/5010, Marishka Yanovska.

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