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From Fr. Jan Kolodynski re Auschwitz (CI. Mar. 05, p. 15).

Although it is little known in the West, Auschwitz was in fact established by the Nazis in June 1940 for Polish prisoners because, as historian Yisrael Gutman explained, there weren't enough prisons in all of Poland to hold their Polish prisoners. At that time, the camp was actually located on German territory, since the Nazis had annexed this part of Poland after the conquest and subsequently expelled the Polish inhabitants from the area.

Until 1942 when the Nazis set up the death camp at Birkenau, an extension of the Auschwitz complex, the vast majority of prisoners were Christian Poles, among them hundreds of Catholic priests, one of whom was St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe who was murdered on August 14, 1941.

To appreciate the importance of Auschwitz for the Poles, one must bear in mind that the 150,000 Polish victims, half of whom perished, constituted a larger number of civilian losses in this one place than the total civilian losses of most countries occupied by Nazi Germany. Besides the Poles, there were also 23,000 Roma (Gypsies), 15,000 Soviet POWS, and 25,000 prisoners of other nationalities.

Polish prisoners were the majority in virtually every other concentration camp. In Majdanek, there were 100,000 Polish prisoners, 40,000 in Mauthausen, 35,000 in Dachau, 30,000 in Sachsenhausen, 23,000 in Buchenwald, 16,000 in Plaschau, and 34,000 in Ravensbruck, the women's concentration camp.

Only in Poland did the Nazis set up three special concentration camps for children; the biggest one, in Lodz, confined 13,000 children, 12,000 of whom perished. Poles were used for medical experimentation, including a special section in Dachau for Polish clergy, the only clergy in Europe so treated.

A further 2.8 million Poles were sent as slave labour to Germany (among these were my parents and grandparents) where they were deprived of the most fundamental human rights and subject to any whim of their persecutors including summary murder.

With respect to Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, who represented the Pope at the ceremonies on January 28 and who recently retired as Archbishop of Paris, his parents were Polish-Jews from the town of Bedzin in south-western Poland of which he is an honourary citizen, the following story might be of interest.

At seven o'clock in the evening of September 8, 1939, the invading German army set ablaze the synagogue, as well as the neighbouring Jewish houses on Plebanska and Boczna Streets. The Jews who were chased from their homes, and fired at by the Germans, converged on the street leading to the rectory of the Church of the Blessed Trinity. Their screams alarmed the pastor, Rev. Mieczyslaw Zawadzki. Fr. Zawadzki immediately ran from his garden to the gate and opened it over the protest of German sentries, and led the Jews to safety on Castle Hill. These Jews were spared the fate of hundreds of Jews who were massacred by the Germans that day.

During the war Rev. Zawadzki also sheltered a Jewish family. In 1960 a delegation of others presented him with the memorial book of the Jewish community of Bedzin containing the following inscription:

"To the Most Reverend and Distinguished Dean Mieczyslaw Zawadzki. We present you with this book, which embodies the soul of the Jewish community in Bedzin, in gratitude and full appreciation for your humanitarian and courageous dedication in rescuing human lives from sure annihilation. The Jewish community of Bedzin, living in Israel, will never forget your remarkable person, who risked his own life to tear away many of our brothers from the hands of the Nazi assassins."

St. Jerome's Parish

Brampton, ON
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Author:Kolodynski, Jan
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:May 1, 2005
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