In the quest of the concealed truth

Fr. Jacek Kapuściński

The above quoted fragment from a book by a medially recognizable author creates somehow a space which should be fulfilled with many real facts within retouch, and, bluntly speaking, with biographies of Poles. Otherwise, this space seems to be collapsing, creating blurred pictures as if taken from a mirrors hall. Then a caricature stands in front of us, not only of one man or a group but it seems to represent the whole nation in this way. And it is not a trivial matter. So, referring to this book, it may be worth omitting all methodological issues (an essay or not an essay, logical or not logical arrangement of evidential materials and the proper and improper drawing conclusions), because it was written about it many times (Piotr Gontarczyk, Piotr Semka, Peter D. Stachura); Whereas it should be noted that the author's professionalism exists in the public opinion. How did such an opinion appear? Well, it came from the fact that some mass media associate this person with a historian, although it is known that his education is different. Adding to that, the generally repeated professor degree with reference to this person and, finally, a person of a virtual historian is created whose books must be treated as historic, which reconstruct the past in a real way. However, it looks different.
It is easier to write something but it is more difficult to maintain a historical truth and sense. Therefore, this retouch is necessary to fulfill this empty space caused by the mentioned quote. Finally, it leads to repairing the public opinion which is formed by such types of publications. And when is it repaired? - When something starts to work wrong. However, repairing in this regard includes the signs of a duty because it touches the whole nation. It touches our Homeland.
So we read in the subtitle of a widely promoted book by some media, that the matter took place on the extremes… If it was so, let's look at other photographs of the past. Let's omit these extremes and let's look at one specific town (excluding the nearby villages). The choice of this town is not accidental at all. Because if accusations concern the Church, so what can be more 'ecclesiastical' than Częstochowa - the spiritual capital of Poland. In order to specify this problem, let's omit the faithful people living here and let's concentrate on clergy. Let's also omit the local nuns and monks so that it would be suggestive enough, and let's analyze only diocesan priests from the point of view help to Jews. Here are three photographs with short biographies of priests from the times of the Nazi occupation.

FR. BOLESŁAW WRÓBLEWSKI (1867 - 1951), he was a priest of Częstochowa diocese. In the years 1939 - 45 he was holding the post of a parish priest of the cathedral. Thanks to his attitude of a priest and social worker, he gained much approval among the inhabitants of Częstochowa. The local Jews also trusted him. Taking the advantage of the fact, that the area of the cathedral parish was in the neighborhood with the local ghetto, Fr. Wróblewski joined in helping persecuted Jews. In the first place he engaged in rescuing Jewish children. Trustworthy people took these children away from the ghetto at different times of day and night, and then the venerable parish priest took over the care over them. He was about 75 years old at that time. Jewish children were placed in Częstochowa orphanages or in houses of Polish families. It is difficult to define a number of rescued children in this way. Some people say that there might be a few dozens. Another dimension of his pro-Jewish activity was giving Catholic baptismal certificates to the rescued people. A written memoirs has even maintained that when there came time, he used to wear a soft helmet and civilian clothes (without a cassock) to set off on a ride by motorbike with other priests throughout the neighborhood of Częstochowa. Once he said before a ride: 'Today we are supposed to visit some Jewish families near Częstochowa. There are not only children there, but also many adults who want to be Christians now. The Baptism is a sacrament of our Church. They have their own church but they must not visit it. I give them only those certificates which they could show to the Germans if necessary. I do not pour holy water over them if they do not wish that but when I give them this piece of paper I make a sign of the Cross on them so that Jesus would take them under His care. (…) I believe that He will forgive me this cheating. When compared to the human life each piece of paper is meaningless'. Fr. Wróblewski was such a person. In 1944 he was badly beaten by Gestapo functionaries for his strong humanitarian attitude; he had his house searched by them. However, they did not find any traces of his pro-Jewish activity. As a result of this event the sister of Fr. Wróblewski suffered who was so badly beaten that she died after a few days.

FR. TEODODR POPCZYK (1910 - 43) - he was a priest of Częstochowa diocese. During the Second World War he was fulfilling his pastoral work as a vicar in the parish of St. Barbara. He was a little over 30 years old when the Germans started the liquidation of Jewish ghetto in Częstochowa. The only way of survival for the Jewish people was a contact with somebody outside the ghetto. And here the young vicar was working very actively in the society. He often hid the Jews in his flat who were wanted by the police. It was even believed that there was always a place in the presbytery of the parish of St Barbara for the runaways from the ghetto. They could count not only on the words of consoling there but they also received material support. Besides that Fr. Popczyk was engaged in giving Baptismal certificates of the Church. Thanks to that many Jews received their identity which gave them a real chance for survival. However, after some time, this kind of activity led to tragic consequences. And it started from arresting a Jew by the Germans because of his falsified documents. As a result of this investigation it was decided that these documents had been made on the basis of a false baptismal certificate. After hard tortures the arrested Jew revealed that he had received the baptismal certificate from a priest in the parish of St. Barbara. On this basis the Gestapo started a comb-out on the parish. The action was prepared for the day of 16 June 1943. Then during his escape, Fr. Popczyk was fatally shot and was still suffering for two hours after that. At that time it was forbidden to approach the wounded priest. Neither a doctor nor a priest with the last pastoral service was allowed to approach him.

FR. TADEUSZ WIŚNIEWSKI (1905 - 87) he was a priest of Częstochowa diocese. During Hitler's occupation he was a vicar in the parish of St. Zygmunt. At that time the Jewish ghetto in Częstochowa was created. Also the church of this parish was within the ghetto. Then the Nazis forbade conducting holy masses there; while priests were allowed to stay in the parish. A 30-year-old Fr. Tadeusz also lived there. What is interesting, there was a Gestapo sentry just next to his room. Hence the priest was under a special surveillance of the occupant. Despite that he conducted an action on a wide scale to help the Jews. It was him with whom Fr. Wróblewski used to go to the nearby villages. Apart from that he was constantly preparing proper ecclesiastical documents in order to print them as baptismal and wedding certificates later for persecuted Jews. It must be added here that the preparation of such documents was a very laborious and tiring job. They had to be prepared in such a way that they would not contain any signs of suspicion. For, it was about cheating German service which was constantly tracking this kind of undertakings, also those with the help of trustees. Fr. Tadeusz managed to survive the difficult years of occupation.

The presented fragments of biographies of priests from Częstochowa, show a different picture of clergy and the Catholic Church with reference to the holocaust of Jewish people during the Second World War. These are not only individual cases. It is enough to mention that in Częstochowa, among 7 parishes existing at that time, in 3 of them the action of helping the Jews was undertaken. There is some evidence that such an activity was also shown by priests from Częstochowa. What is important, it was these heroes in cassocks who were carrying out the activity not only in the town but they also went to the outskirts of Częstochowa and the nearby villages. In this situation it may be worthy if the author of the quote placed in the beginning of this text looked into the priests' eyes at least once (their photos have been placed), like he was looking at the famous photo of Treblinka. It should be added in this matter that Jewish environments from England intend to start the process of giving an award 'The Just Man among the World Nations' to Fr. Bolesław Wróblewski soon. So, before writing about history, one should get familiar with the state of survey in a specific topic. And one should not justify oneself that historical materials are kept in archives, both of the church or the state, because information included in them has been in the current literature for ages. (look: bibliography).

Selected biblioghraphic positions:

J. Związek, 'Martyrology of priests in Częstochowa diocese during the Second World War; Theological Studies in Częstochowa' 4 (1976), p 271.
C. Tomczyk, 'Częstochowa Diocese in the years of the Nazi occupation 1939-1945, in: 'Studies in the history of the Church in Poland', Warszawa 1978, vol. 4, p. 350-351.
J. Pietrzykowski, 'Fights and martyrdom. The military history of the clergy of the diocese of Częstochowa (1939-1945)', Warszawa 1981, p. 90-91, 99-100.
J. Pietrzykowski, 'The shadow of swastika in Jasna Góra. Częstochowa during the Nazi occupation 1939-1945', Katowice 1985, p. 124-125, 180-181.
J. Związek 'Serve till the end. Weekly 'Sunday' of Częstochowa' 39 (1996), no 37, p. 1-2.
J. Związek, 'Daily life of priests in the diocese of Częstochowa during the Nazi occupation in 'The Polish clergy in the years of independence 1918-1939 and during the Second World War' by J. Gapys, M. B. Markowski, Kielce 2006, p. 368-369.
J. Związek, 'Proclamations of Dr Bishop of Częstochowa - Teodor Kubina after the Kielce pogrom in 'The Jews of Częstochowa- Coexistence, Holocaust, Memory' by J. Mizgalski, Częstochowa 2006, p. 216-217.
S. Maślikowski, 'A Vicar of St. Barbara. Almanac of Częstochowa' (2008), p. 58-63.
S. Maślikowski, 'If there is an open way to the Heaven, it is for those who serve to the Homeland' (Jan Kochanowski, Song XII 'About virtue'). Fr. Teodor Popczyk (9 XI 1910 - 16 IV 1943), 'First Museum of Częstochowa' 9 (2009), p. 85- 89.


"Niedziela" 48/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Lidia Dudkiewicz • E-mail: