BECAUSE GOD SAID
An action of bringing help was run by s. Matylda Getter, called ‘Mommy’ by other sisters and children. In the half-century of her death Fr. Robert Ogrodnik sanctified cornerstones at the Museum of Saving Jewish Children named Mother Matylda Getter – ‘Mommy’. In two years’ time, thanks to the efforts of the National Remembrance Institute, it is going to be built by the Warsaw convent house in Hoża street, where the ‘Mommy’ lived till the end of her life. The cornerstones come from an Israeli garden Yad Vash.
There was too long silence about what s. Matylda Getter did. And it must be made to public. We want our compatriots to find out about it. So that knowledge about it would reach also abroad. This is our common remembrance. Remembrance of our nation – the chairman of the National Remembrance Institute Jarosław Szarek said at the grave of s. Getter.
S. Matylda Getter was born in 1870 in Wola in Warsaw. She joined a convent at the age of 17 years. As today a historian and archivist of the convent s. dr. Teresa Antonietta Frącek says – s. Getter joined the convent of Mary’s Family being influenced by a suggestion of her confessor who told her: It is necessary to save poor children and serve to the country.
She was serving to Poland being under the Russian partition all the time, establishing orphanages for Polish children. Also at the time of the Second Republic of Poland. When s. Getter became a superior in the Warsaw province for the convent in 1938, she had already run 40 houses in which there were nearly 2 thousand children before the outbreak of the Second World War. The children were under care of over 400 nuns who ran orphanages, nurseries, boarding schools, schools including 5 schools belonging to the convent. For her work, s. Matylda was awarded by the national authorities of the Second Republic of Poland with the Gold Cross of Merits and the Cavalier Cross of the Poland Rebirth Order.
We cannot refuse
With the outbreak of the war and establishing the first ghettos by the Germans, the nuns were facing up a new challenge: to save as many Jewish children and adults as possible, who were sentenced to extermination by the Germans. The headquarter of the General House in Żelazna street was near a wall of a ghetto. Babies or little children were thrown over the wall to be rescued. Not only babies were taken to that street, but also young Jews, similarly as to a house in Hoża street. One of such meetings with s. Getter were recalled after years by Jewish sisters Lila and Mary Goldschnidt, who as teenage girls were hiding in Hoża street. Lilia who was there in 1942 told us about it as follows: ‘I will not forget the moment when the mother Getter was in a small garden in Hoża street and I came up to her saying that I was nowhere to go as I was a Jewish girl, so outlawed. Then the mother Getter said: ‘My child, whoever comes to us and asks for help, in the name of Christ, we cannot refuse them’. A few months later also her sister Mary was lucky to get to Hoża street. ‘When s. Getter asked: ‘What will you, my child, tell me (..), I answered (..) that I could not return to my flat, that I was a Jewish girl and I did not know where to go with my life which is so desperately knocking in my heart. That day I was allowed to stay in Hoża street’ (s. Teresa Antonietta Frącek, ‘Activity of the Convent of Franciscan Sisters of Mary’s Family in the years 1939 – 1945).
Mary Goldschmidt gave a testimony about f. Matylda, writing in one of letters to s. Antonietta in 1984: ‘I got a small medallion with the image of Our Lady from the Mommy in Hoża street. The sister told me then: ‘I know that you do not believe it. I understand as I believe it. Keep it with you’. And I have had it till today. I also got a little book of prayers from her with the words: ‘Learn these prayers by heart, as it may be useful’. I knew that in this cloister nobody was looking for little sheep for the Christians’ religion, but knowledge of Catholic religion might sometimes help with hiding one’s identity through false documents. I often had the prayer book with me, but being aware of respect to my own religion in which I lived with my Mommy, her respect for my origin, acknowledging my values and tradition were the greatest support for me’.
Angels wearing nuns’ habits
Lea Balint from Jerusalem is 80 years old and it is years since she has visited he Franciscan Nuns of Mary’s Family. Wherever she can, she has been testifying till today how her life was saved by s. Matylda Getter and other sisters from the convent. And they have been called angels till today. When she was moved to the convent she was only 3 years old. She found a refuge, together with other Jewish and Polish children, in the convent house in Brwinów which was established by the superior Getter in 1941. Lea Balint emphasized that the nuns had saved her life three times. The first time, when they took her to their house in Brwinów. The second time when unexpectedly the Germans arrived and a nun was in a veranda with her. Nearly last minute she noticed a big basket full of hay on whose top there were eggs. She quickly took out some hay from that basket and put little Lea into it. She covered the child with the rest of the hay and on the top she put back the eggs. When the Germans entered, they wanted to take the basket with the eggs at once. They were trying to take it by force but the nun did not let them – she said that it was the last food for children. And Lea showed her unusual courage and was as silent as a mouse. When the Germans left, the nun took her out from the basket, cuddled her, bursting into a loud cry. The third case took place in 1944. During the Warsaw Uprising, when fire glow was reaching Brwinów, Lea had hand infection. The nun took her to a sanitary point a few kilometers away, near the borders of Warsaw. The little girl got an injection there and thanks to it she did not die.
I have always felt that I am loved, despite being far away from my parents, despite my continuous fear – says Lea Balint. – I remember the following scene: when there was bombarding, we were very scared and crying. One of older girls asked how long it would last. S. Getter answered that there was no reason to be scared and she would go at once to ask God about it. She returned smiling and asked us to remain calm, as God said that the bombarding would end soon and nothing bad would happen to us. And, indeed, after several minutes everything turned quiet and peaceful. Friendliness which I felt in the house of the Franciscan nuns of Mary’s Family in Brwinów, always accompanied me. This good was throwing its light onto my whole life. Also onto the way of my bringing up children and grandchildren who live in Israel.
A window of life
After the war s. Matylda Getter had been a superior of the house in Hoża street for a few years. She was considered with great respect and recognition. As the archivist of the convent s. Antonietta reminisces, although the ‘Mommy’ was severely ill, she accepted her suffering with great patience and humility. S. Frącek often talked with her about her experiences from the time of the war. She reminisces that the ‘Mommy’ gave back the medal ‘Salvator Mundi’ to her superior some time before her death. She received it in the 20s of the 20th century from cardinal Aleksander Kakowski, who said then: - This medal will also save mother’s life… When in 1974 the nuns were celebrating the 100th anniversary of the house in Hoża street, the primate cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, participating in those ceremonies, reminisced the sacrificial work of the nun Getter, her devotion and patriotism. He also said that in that house there was so much good, so much sacrifice that when the nearby buildings were in rubbles, that wooden house survived. The primate emphasized that the nun Getter had fulfilled the evangelical call of Christ: ‘Somebody who accepts one child in the name of me, he accepts Me’. And he added: - How similar the verse Talmudu is to those expressions: Somebody who saves one life, he saves the whole world’.
Some years before, in the convent house in Hoża street the nuns opened ‘a window of life’ which a lot of babies, left behind by their parents, were found. Somebody who saves one life…
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 38/2018 (23 IX 2018)