PATRIARCH OF BĘDZIN
A righteous one among the world nations
FR. MARIAN DUDA
Heroism of Fr. Wincenty Mieczysław Zawadzki influence also supporting, as much as possible, Jewish people during the war. Those circumstances connected his person with the nation, to whom he turned out to be a neighbor, ‘as he showed his mercifulness’ (see Lucas 10.37). So, we are moved by grateful remembrance towards his redeemer cultivated by those who survived.
Like new Moses
Wincenty Mieczysław Zawadzki was born in Częstochowa. He spent his childhood, youth here. The inhabitant of Częstochowa of the first generation, was brought up in the urban environment stigmatized with influence of Jasna Góra for ages. He was an inhabitant of one of the most dynamically developing industrial and urban centres in the Russian partition at that time. In what is the most important – in the spiritual growth beside his religious and patriotic family, he was formed by the atmosphere of the old parish church under invocation of St. Zygmunt and its prominent priests.
It was probably thanks to that formation that Fr. Mieczysław Zawadzki, the later parish priest in Będzin, was like new Moses, who led the Israelites through the Red Sea of fire. He passed his heroic exam at the time of testing his humankind, Christianity and priesthood, consoling others, dressing their wounds, leading others through fire onto a safe side of the city – to Góra Zamkowa where it was easy to find a refuge.
In a parish chronicle we find the following writing from 1948. ‘It was the day of 8 September 1939. It was dark in the whole town. People were allowed to be outside till 7 p.m. There was no light so I went to bed early. I was still awake, when at about 8 p.m. I heard a few powerful detonations. After a few minutes my housekeeper began knocking on the door of my room. ‘Priest, the synagogue is on fire! The Germans are murdering the Jews!’. I jumped out of bed, got dressed quickly, and ran outdoor. Indeed a powerful smog enlightened with flames was floating above the synagogue. We could hear detonations and terrible cries again. These were the Germans murdering the Jews. The fire was spreading, the Germans were systematically going from house to house, from the synagogue even to the Boczna street, in order to rush away inhabitants, throw bullets into houses and set fire to them. From time to time we heard terrible German shouts, bang of missiles and cries of the murdered. We were sure that the Germans would like to set fire to whole Będzin and destroy it. The whole space of the presbytery garden, church were surrounded with enormous blocs of tenements which were on fire then. Among burning tenements I saw the Germans busy in the garden. From time to time I could hear a terrifying cry: ‘Oh, my God’, then a shot and a momentous silence, or a cry of murdered Jews. At that moment there was a bang – these were the Germans who threw a missile into a vicarage. It got on fire. All inhabitants of the vicarage ran to the presbytery. There were more and more shots, more and more houses were on fire. The Jews, rushed away from their homes, beaten, murdered, began to escape towards the church, filling in the whole street from the vicarage, I ran to them, calmed them down and then opened the gates and led them through onto Zamkowa Góra, where they were not endangered any more’.
In this report what is essential is the information about the personal interference of Fr. Zawadzki in the reaction to the tragedy of people gathering at his windows, and being in a fatal trap.
Who saves one life…..
The heroic act of Fr. Zawadzki got inscribed on the cards of history as one of the most beautiful acts of helping Jewish people by Poles, especially the Catholic clergy – with exposing one’s life people were saved in the situation of the extreme danger, regardless of their nationality and religion.
The events of 9 September 1939 (the difference in dates which is in the reports of Fr. Zawadzki [8 September] and Fr. Stasiński [9 September] is verified to the advantage of the other one) brought some consequences to Poles. For the Germans, wanting to get acquitted of the accusation of murdering the Jews, decided to blame Poles for this terrible murder. Fr. Zawadzki reported on that fact on the basis of available information which seems very credible. For at the same night the Germans arrested 42 Poles (various numbers of the arrested are given: 40, 30, 20 – see M.D.) who were accused of setting Jewish houses on fire. The innocent who were arrested, certainly, denied that something like that had been caused by them, but a trick was used towards them – it was promised that if they had admitted to it, they would have been set free. Probably some of them admitted to the crime they had not committed. Those who were imprisoned were shot dead on the same day, and Fr. Zawadzki was asked for a place for them on the parish graveyard.
The worst things was faced up by Jewish people, when they were imprisoned in ghetto and then were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, from where they had no escape. Only a few were saved from the war nightmare. Fr. Zawadzki mentioned only one fact – there might have been more of them – saving a Jewish child by giving him under the care of the Carmelite Nuns of Jesus Baby in Sosnowiec.
Years were passing. The war ended. Jewish people disappeared from the landscape of Będzin, partly murdered in the camps and a small group of survivors emigrated from Poland and lived in Israel or other parts of the world. There were also those whose life was saved by Fr. Zawadzki. The communist political system did not favour keeping contacts with people living abroad, also those in Israel. However, saved Jews could not forget whom they owed their life. Having come round after shock of Holocaust, they began to return to their Polish roots, gathering among the others, in the Society of Jews of Zagłębie. Also crimes against the Jewish nation were documented and those who saved others’ life were honoured. So, a remembrance book on that occasion was published, whose copy with a special dedication was given to Fr. Zawadzki.
Between Fr. Zawadzki and the former inhabitants of Będzin saved from Holocaust there was a kind of relationship and permanent contacts and their gratitude took on a very particular character. In 1964 the priest was invited to visit Israel state. So, his desire to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land could be fulfilled.
There were a lot of testimonies expressing gratitude to the priest of Będzin. He was included into the group of the Righteous among the World Nations, received a lot of other distinctions and awards. The expression of gratitude for his attitude and saving a few hundred Jews in Będzin in 1939 is a book entitled: ‘Patriarch of Będzin. Fr. Wincenty Mieczysław Zawadzki 1894 – 1975’, published in 2016 and which is in the collections of the Yad Vash Institute in Jerusalem. The hero of the book, which is worth emphasizing now, was sorry about generalizing behavior of some Poles by the Jews and forgetting about those who risked their life to save Jews from the German murder. The attitude of Fr. Mieczysław Zawadzki proves it.
Translation: Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 8/2018 (25 II 2018)