PRIEST, PLEASE, BAPTISE ME!
FR. JAN KRAWIEC
Fr. Karol Śmiech, born on 27 May 1908 in Lipnica Wielka, in the years 1939-46 was a vicar in the parish church of the Blessed Heart of Jesus in Sułkowice (today the province of Kraków). One day, during a raging Nazis terror, a scared girl burst into the parish office to Fr. Karol
Crying, the girl was shouting:
Priest, please, baptize me! The German police have arrested my parents just now and other families living in Sułkowice. I was lucky to escape, but the police are chasing me.
Scared Fr. Karol, looking at a window, saw two armed German gendarmes approaching the rectory. At that dramatic moment, not thinking, he said to the young Jewish girl:
- I am baptizing you but now you must hide in the parish office quickly.
Having said these words, he pushed the runaway girl into a wardrobe, closing it with a key. Hardly had he done it and sat at his desk, when the policemen burst into the parish office, stating that they were looking for a Jewish runaway girl. One younger of them – a Gestapo officer went down quickly to a cellar, later to the attic and other rooms of the rectory to find the runaway, whereas the older policeman, not showing much interest in searching for the Jewish girl, looked around in the rector and later he left it, stood at the door to wait for the younger Gestapo officer. The latter one did not find the girl and went somewhere else to find her, to add her to the Jewish families deported from Sułkowice.
When the direct danger of arresting the young girl was over, Fr. Karol freed her from the wardrobe and asked:
- Why do you want to be baptized?
- When I attended a junior high school of St. Anna in Kraków, I sometimes stayed at religion classes with my classmates. One day a priest teaching us religion said that an unbaptized man, when regretting his sins and would agree to be baptized, his soul would go to Heaven after his death. I know that when I join my parents, the Germans will murder me and even if I do not, sooner or later, not being able to hide somewhere, I will die. Therefore, I am begging priest to baptize me.
Emotionally moved by the fervent request of the Jewish girl, the vicar fulfilled her desire immediately and gave her baptism in the parish office, giving her name of Mary. The baptized young neophyte girl thanked Fr. Karol and wanted to say farewell to him, in order to go to her arrested parents and other detained Jewish families from Sułkowice. However, Fr. Karol suggested:
- Mary, I baptized you onto your request, but as a priest I cannot forget about you and your further difficult life. I will try to hide you against the Nazis.
- But for hiding the Jews, the Germans punish with death penalty – noted the girl, surprised by the priest’s attitude.
- Well, if we do not succeed, then both me and you will die, but if we succeed, then we will live. Do you want to hide?
- Yes, I do.
After this short talk, Fr. Karol, in secret from the parish priest so that only he would be responsible for hiding the Jewish girl, hid the runaway girl in a safe place in the attic of the rectory and, giving her food and blankets, asked her to put up with these difficult conditions for at least two days, before he would find her a more comfortable and safer place.
Next day , at night, in the pouring intense rain, the vicar led Mary to a house of his acquainted and warm-hearted elderly spouses, living on the suburbs of Sułkowice, asking them to hide the girl against the Germans for some two weeks. The spouses, despite their fear, fulfilled the request of Fr. Karol and treated the hiding girl warm-heartedly like their own daughter. They also accepted money brought by the vicar to but her some food and clothes. Fr. Karol provided Mary with textbooks for learning German language, which she had learnt at the secondary school, in order to fill her time.
Thanks to the cooperation with members of the National Army, it was possible to organize an ID card for Mary within two weeks. At night she was led by a liaison of the National Army from Sułkowice to Zawoia, where she was officially registered under her changed surname, as a domestic assistant for a family of a forester, cooperating with the National Army.
However, because of the intensively developing insurgency, foresters were subjected to a special German vigilance. Fearing of being arrested, Mary was moved to another family, whose address was not given to Fr. Karol, because of a risk of accidental revealing the secret.
After the war, in 1946, Fr. Karol received cordial thank from Mary from Vienna for giving her holy baptism and making it possible for her to survive the Nazis terror during which her parents and siblings had been murdered.
The parish priest Karol Śmiech was unwilling to speak about his heroic act during the war and his cooperation with the National Army, because he did not want to expose himself to various hearings by the Security Service. When he told me, priest and a parishioner, about it, after my First Holy Mass in my priesthood, celebrated in Żabnica on 14 July 1957, he asked me not to tell anyone about it during his life. Fr. Karol Śmiech died...