Righteous Gentile: Polish catholic helps save 4,000 Jews during the Holocaust

The Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com) has an incredible story on Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, ex-Foreign Minister of Poland, who helped save 4,000 Jews during the Holocaust, including 2,500 children:

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski has seen it all.

At 80, he has outlived most of the friends who shared his intense experiences, those miraculous moments of carving life out of the wreckage of war, while risking death.

Twice the foreign minister of Poland, an author and historian, an anti-Communist dissident and ideologue of the Solidarity movement, a prisoner in Communist jails for seven years, an activist in the Polish underground, a survivor of eight months at Auschwitz, Bartoszewski is also the last prominent founder of a movement that clandestinely rescued, hid and smuggled Jews to safety in Nazi-occupied Poland. [...]

In 1940, when he was 18 and about to enter college, the Nazis were rounding up thousands of young Polish men, and he landed in Auschwitz three months after the camp was established. "That beginning of my adult life was in a Nazi camp. Eighty-five percent of the prisoners who arrived did not survive. I was stronger, more resilient; I was younger.

"We were beaten every day with clubs, fists, shoes, anything to break our spirit, our backbone. I was one of the lucky ones: Because they did not hit my head, my skull did not crack," he said animatedly. "When I was released, I dedicated myself to working against such a threat to humanity," he said. "Their treatment of me backfired into the exact opposite of what they intended."

The ghetto in Warsaw was about 840 acres in the middle of the city, surrounded by walls about 13 feet. Access was limited, he recalled, but some people managed to get telephone calls in, and city gas workers who were sent in for repairs brought out news.

Over several weeks, the Nazis deported 310,000 people from Warsaw, where every third resident was a Jew. "Everyone knew what was happening, but not everyone found the courage to counter it," he said during an interview Tuesday, alternating between Polish, through an interpreter, and German.

Zegota was financed by and functioned as an agency of the Polish government-in-exile. It saved and helped 4,000 Jews, including 2,500 children. The goal of the group, he explained, was to arrange for escapes, secure forged documents, find overnight shelters and ensure fugitives were fed.

On Tuesday, the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the museum's governing board, honored Bartoszewski with a special certificate commemorating Zegota's 60th anniversary.

Many people in Poland hate Jews with a passion (see this example) - Mr. Bartoszewski is an inspiration to humanity.

I copy the full article below.





Horrors of Auschwitz Forged a Life of Struggle
By Nora Boustany, Washington Post, December 13, 2002
http://www.washingtonpost.com/
wp-dyn/articles/A48169-2002Dec12.html

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski has seen it all.

At 80, he has outlived most of the friends who shared his intense experiences, those miraculous moments of carving life out of the wreckage of war, while risking death.

Twice the foreign minister of Poland, an author and historian, an anti-Communist dissident and ideologue of the Solidarity movement, a prisoner in Communist jails for seven years, an activist in the Polish underground, a survivor of eight months at Auschwitz, Bartoszewski is also the last prominent founder of a movement that clandestinely rescued, hid and smuggled Jews to safety in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Members and organizers of Zegota, or the Council for Aid to Jews, set up in Poland in 1942, operated under Nazi occupation laws that promised instant execution for any Poles -- and their families -- helping Jewish citizens, even for just sneaking in a piece of bread to a Jewish fugitive.

Close to 7 feet tall, Bartoszewski is a giant who even finds it hard to measure up to himself. He is now slightly stooped and balding, with gentle, pain-tested eyes, and his past continues to overshadow the present. The files on Bartoszewski retrieved from the previous Communist secret service occupy more than 30 feet of shelf space.

In 1940, when he was 18 and about to enter college, the Nazis were rounding up thousands of young Polish men, and he landed in Auschwitz three months after the camp was established. "That beginning of my adult life was in a Nazi camp. Eighty-five percent of the prisoners who arrived did not survive. I was stronger, more resilient; I was younger.

"We were beaten every day with clubs, fists, shoes, anything to break our spirit, our backbone. I was one of the lucky ones: Because they did not hit my head, my skull did not crack," he said animatedly.

"When I was released, I dedicated myself to working against such a threat to humanity," he said. "Their treatment of me backfired into the exact opposite of what they intended."

The ghetto in Warsaw was about 840 acres in the middle of the city, surrounded by walls about 13 feet. Access was limited, he recalled, but some people managed to get telephone calls in, and city gas workers who were sent in for repairs brought out news.

Over several weeks, the Nazis deported 310,000 people from Warsaw, where every third resident was a Jew. "Everyone knew what was happening, but not everyone found the courage to counter it," he said during an interview Tuesday, alternating between Polish, through an interpreter, and German.

Zegota was financed by and functioned as an agency of the Polish government-in-exile. It saved and helped 4,000 Jews, including 2,500 children. The goal of the group, he explained, was to arrange for escapes, secure forged documents, find overnight shelters and ensure fugitives were fed.

On Tuesday, the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the museum's governing board, honored Bartoszewski with a special certificate commemorating Zegota's 60th anniversary.

"I did not know I was doing anything great," said Bartoszewski, who became involved in Polish exile groups and intelligence work. "I am a Catholic, raised in a Catholic school. We were taught to love our neighbors. It was one of the Ten Commandments; I simply took it for real.

"These experiences triggered an accelerated maturity when I should have been falling in love and having a good time," he added. "I found myself facing ultimate situations and it transformed my life. The burden that fell on my shoulders could break a man or make him grow up fast."

Radek Sikorski, the executive director of the New Atlantic Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute, said Bartoszewski "saw such horror, it made his character. It turned him into a rock. Once you have seen the abyss, witnessed events such as the ghetto uprising, everything else must seem trivial."

Sikorski, who was Bartoszewski's deputy foreign minister from 1998 to 2001, added: "When people need to turn to someone to know what is right and wrong, the ultimate moral compass, after the pope, is Bartoszewski. He is our local one. . . . He represents the best in Poland, and to work for him is really to work for someone that the country can be proud of."

Asked to comment on the charges made against the Catholic Church that it did too little to prevent the massacre of Jews, Bartoszewski insisted that one must distinguish between the Vatican that said too little and the Polish priests who perished trying to help others. About 2,600 priests were killed for supplying falsified birth and baptismal certificates that enabled activists like him to secure travel documents for fugitives and dissidents.

"Compared to the millions of Jews who were killed, that was a drop in the sea," he acknowledged. "The Catholic Church, however, did not speak up about the murder of Catholic priests either."

His favorite success story is the rescue of an antique book dealer from Lwow in eastern Poland (now Lviv, Ukraine), who first hid in a cellar of a depot in Warsaw. Eventually, Bartoszewski found him a new identity and an apartment in a bombed-out building, and brought him provisions.

After five or six months, Zegota was tipped off by a dentist that a Polish prisoner, desperate to tell his Nazi captors something and thinking the building was not inhabited, had said someone was hiding there. When Bartoszewski hired a horse-drawn buggy to move him, the book dealer -- renamed Moritz Gelber -- vowed he would rather jump out a window than show his face, certain that his features would give him away.

"I finally brought bandages to conceal his face so he would leave," Bartoszewski said. "We carried him out and took him to a third place, he survived the war, changed his name again, went to France and then the U.S. We were friends until he died."

Posted by David Melle
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