Żegota, Council for Aid to Jews in Lviv

ID: 206
Żegota, Council for Aid to Jews, functioned in Lviv on behalf of the Polish government in exile. Who were the main activists of the underground organization? What were the main obstacles in their activities? 

The story is a part of the theme Reactions of Lvivians to Holocaust, which was prepared within the program The Complicated Pages of Common History: Telling About World War II in Lviv.

In Galicia, chiefly in Lviv, assistance to Jews was provided by the underground organization Żegota, which operated from December 1942 on behalf of the Polish government in exile. The main branches of this organization functioned in Warsaw and Krakow, the Lviv branch was founded in 1943.

The initiators of the founding of Żegota were Polish public activists Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, a writer, a member of the Catholic organization Front for the Rebirth of Poland (Front Odrodzenia Polski, FOP), and Wanda Krachelska-Filipowicz, concerned with the centrist Democratic Party of Poland (Stronnictwo Demokratyczne, SD). In August 1942, after the start of a major liquidation operation in the Warsaw ghetto, Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, on behalf of the FOP, published her famous statement entitled "Protest!", which strongly condemned the mass murder of Jews and the indifference of world leaders as to their fate. Paradoxically, this text combines, on the one hand, calls for the rescue of Jews and for the fight against Nazi terror and, on the other hand, the labeling of Jews as "political, economic and ideological enemies of Poland." Like some other Catholic figures in interwar Poland, Kossak-Szczucka did not hide her anti-Semitic views, which, however, did not prevent her from actively helping the persecuted Jews, her actions motivated by humanistic and Christian values.

The official founding date of Żegota is December 4, 1942. The name of the organization comes from the name of an underground hero from the poem Dziady by Adam Mickiewicz. The organization was subordinated to the Government Delegation for Poland (Delegatura Rządu na Kraj), a secret higher administrative body in occupied Poland. Structurally, Żegota was divided into five departments, those for documentation (production and supply of false documents), housing (search for safe places to hide), medical care (organization of medical care), children (rescue of Jewish children and finding shelters for them in families, orphanages, monasteries) and propaganda (production and distribution of leaflets encouraging assistance to Jews). In addition to providing direct assistance, Żegota also prepared informational reports on the extermination of Jews for the underground press and international organizations. Żegota's activities were secret, and all contacts took place through a wide network of secret connections. It was funded from several sources: the Polish government in exile, the Bund and other Jewish organizations, and private donors.

The Lviv branch of Żegota was headed by Władysława Choms (1885(?)-1966), a well-known Polish public activist. Choms personally rescued dozens of Jews, including children for whom she found refuge in Catholic orphanages. The rescued called her an "angel from Lviv." During the interwar period she lived in Drohobych, where she headed the Social Welfare Commission and was a candidate for the city council. Choms maintained close contacts with Jewish organizations and openly opposed anti-Semitic tendencies. She was a member of the district council of the Polish Democratic Party. In 1938 she moved with her family to Lviv, where she lived at ul. Nabielaka 14 (now vul. Kotliarevskoho). However, during the Nazi occupation, she had to constantly change her name and place of residence to avoid denunciation. Eventually, at the end of 1943, Władysława Choms was forced to move to Warsaw, where she continued to help Jews and later became an active participant in the Warsaw Uprising. In 1966 she was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

An important center of Żegota's activity in Lviv was the apartment of Józefa and Marian Wnuk, a couple of Lviv artists. Their apartment was an underground meeting place for the organization (in need of a quick escape, there was a direct exit to the attic and roof). Marian Wnuk worked at the Academy of Arts in Lviv. During the war, the couple actively helped their colleagues from the Lviv artistic community. In particular, with their help, artists Jonasz Stern, Arthur Nacht, Henryk Streng and others survived. In her memoirs, Józefa Wnuk writes as follows:

Each of us had a role to play: at first, my task was to prepare documents, now for Jewish friends, who could be arrested at any moment for personal inspection. (...) Marian (Wnuk) searched for suitable apartments around Lviv and, together with Staszek Teiseir, established contacts with various parishes, where Staszek painted churches before the war, to place children in families who agreed to it. The money for this was allocated by the Council; Ogrodziński, who was the treasurer, brought it and hid it in a chest in our attic. Marian and Staszek also visited their friends and their families in the ghetto.
(Wnuk J., Wspomnienia, Sopot 1996; typescript of Józefa Wnuk’s memories).

Due to denunciations, the Wnuks also had to leave Lviv and continue their activities in Warsaw. After the war, Marian and Józefa Wnuk settled in Gdańsk, where they worked at the Academy of Arts. In addition to the above-mentioned figures, members of the Lviv branch of Żegota included: Justyna Wolf, Artur Kopacz, Marian and Adam Pokryszko, Tadeusz Miciak, Edward and Ina Pawliuk, Karol Kuryliuk, Marian Krzyżanowski and others. Many of them belonged to the underground Polish Socialist Party (PPS-WRN), the Democratic Party (SD), the Peasant Party (SL), and were partisans of the Home Army. The example of the Council for Aid to Jews Żegota illustrates the effectiveness of the rescue network, which involved a large number of people. At the same time, the members of Żegota had to face many obstacles in their activities, in particular, constant denunciations.

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Vul. Kotlyarevskoho, 14 – residential building

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1. Документальний фільм: "Żegota — Time to Remember" (1998).
2. Josef Kermish, "The Activities of the Council for Aid to Jews ("Żegota") In Occupied Poland", Yad Vashem Online Resources (accessed on 16.11.2018).
3. Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata. Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, red. I. Gutman, Kraków, 2009.
4. Martin Gilbert, The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust, London 2002.
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Anna Chebotariova
Translated by Andriy Masliukh