Sr Helena Chmielewska with Maria Damaszek who was saved from Nazi deportation Sr Helena Chmielewska with Maria Damaszek who was saved from Nazi deportation 

How the Polish Church helped and rescued Jews during WWII

New research shows that many Jews received help during the Holocaust from about 100 Catholic religious orders in more than 500 facilities and from over 700 diocesan priests in 600 localities in occupied Poland, according to a new book entitled "Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy" presented at the Catholic University of Lublin.

Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik – Poland

"The book took several decades to write," said the Rector of the Catholic University of Lublin, Fr. Prof. Miroslaw Kalinowski, at the beginning of the conference. He stressed that the value of the publication lies in the fact that it contains testimonies of saved Jews and those who rescued them. "In this way, the book fulfills the University's task set by its former professor, St. John Paul II, who, while he was here later as Pope, said: 'University, serve the truth. If you serve the truth - you serve freedom, the liberation of a person and a nation, you serve life," Prof. Kalinowski stressed.

Financial assistance from the Vatican

Prof. Yagil Limore of the Institute for Holocaust Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel stressed that Pope Pius XII discreetly encouraged bishops and religious orders to help Jews. The Vatican sent funds for this purpose. "The hiding of Jews in Catholic convents and institutions was also done at the request of bishops, such as Bishop Adam Sapieha of Krakow and others. They were encouraged to do so by the Vatican," Prof. Limore of Israel stressed.

Professor Limore Yagil
Professor Limore Yagil

"Pius XII himself condemned Nazism and the deportation and murder of Jews, but preferred to act diplomatically and with discretion. From 1939 onward, the Vatican regularly sent financial and logistical assistance to help Jews flee France," summarized the scholar, a former staff member of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Muted facts about the Church's aid to the Jews

"The communists in Poland after World War II were silent about the involvement of priests and nuns in rescuing the Jewish population," said the director of the World War II Museum in Gdansk, Grzegorz Berent.

"The issuance of Church documents necessary for the legalization of Jews fighting for survival did not take place against, but with the consent of the hierarchy. The same applied to the provision of shelter in buildings belonging to the Church," Director Berendt noted.

He added that during World War II, one in five diocesan priests was murdered, and nearly 50 per cent of priests were eliminated from pastoral work. Despite this, priests were involved in helping the Jewish population, risking death for doing so. 

In this context, Ryszard Tyndorf's monumental publication devoted to the contribution of the Polish Roman Catholic Church to aiding Jews under German occupation is particularly important. "The author deserves words of appreciation and thanks for several decades of labor, which resulted in the creation of an extremely rich database, concerning Polish-Jewish relations during World War II, and making it available to readers."

Professor Miroslav Kalinowski
Professor Miroslav Kalinowski

First English monograph on the Church's assistance to Jews in Poland

In the 1990s there was very little information in English about the rescue of Jews by Poles, especially the clergy. Therefore, Ryszard Tyndorf and Fr. Zygmunt Zielinski, who headed the Department of Church History in the 19th and 20th centuries, took on the task of publishing a monograph on the subject. 

"The book, in a nutshell, examines and uncovers the extent of the rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic clergy. Its core is an episodic narrative based on the testimonies of Jewish survivors and the Poles who saved them, supplemented by the Church sources," said author Ryszard Tyndorf.

He pointed out that people are changing their minds and appreciating the role of the Catholic Church. He gave the example of Mordecai Paldiel, former director of the Department of Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, who wrote in 2022: "quite a number of priests, monks and nuns were involved in saving Jews, especially children, putting themselves in great danger."

The book is the first English-language monograph on Catholic clergy assistance to Jews in Poland during the Holocaust. It was published by the Academic Publishing House of the John Paul II Catholic University in Lublin in cooperation with the Abraham J. Heschel Center for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the Catholic University of Lublin.

"Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy" is free to download here:

Fr Stanislaw Falkowski during a ceremony to mark the Holocaust at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem
Fr Stanislaw Falkowski during a ceremony to mark the Holocaust at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem

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24 March 2023, 12:47