Czesława Kwoka was born on August 15, 1928 in Wólka Złojecka, a small village in the Polish Zamość region that fell victim to Hitler’s Lebensraum (living space) – the ideological policy of territorial expansion into Eastern Europe. Czesława and her mother, Katarzyna, were Roman Catholics: a group reviled by the Nazi Party. The Nazis refused to tolerate any group or social gathering that was not controlled or thoroughly infiltrated by their governance. Catholics, under the sway of the Pope and their local clergy, were suspect: it was not possible, according to Nazi dogma, to give allegiance to both the Church and the Fatherland. Further, Jesus’ Semitic roots were reviled by the Nazis who, through the cracked lens of Social Darwinism, spewed hateful propaganda that declared the Jewish people to be the root of all of Germany’s social and economic problems. In Nazi Germany and occupied Europe, many Catholic clergymen and nuns were persecuted and sent to concentration camps. Similarly, many followers of Catholicism were arrested as political prisoners suspected of serving the interest of the Roman Catholic Church.
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The Catholic Saints of Auschwitz
Prominent Catholic leaders were persecuted and murdered in Auschwitz. Two of the best-known names are those of St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
.... was a Polish Franciscan priest who died as prisoner 16770. When one prisoner tried to escape, the SS guards demanded that ten men be punished for his crime. St. Maximilian volunteered to take the place of one of these ten men. After being starved for two weeks and still found alive, he was killed by lethal injection on August 14, 1941.
... was a Jewish philosopher who converted to the Catholic Church and became a Carmelite nun. She was taken from the convent and transported to the camp, along with her sister, on a cattle train. Once she arrived she was deemed unfit for work and was sent to the gas chamber. Edith was murdered on August 9, 1942, soon after her arrival.
Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch girl of Jewish origin, kept a meticulous diary for the last two years of her life, documenting the persecutions of Jewish people in Amsterdam and her own religious awekening. Etty took on administrative duties for the Jewish Council in July 1942, when round-ups of Jews intensified. She volunteered to work on a department of Westerbork known as “Social Welfare for People in Transit”. On 5 July 1943, her status was revoked and she bacame a camp internee along with her family. On 7 September 1943 they were deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz. From a window of the train she tossed out a card that read, “We have left the camp singing.”
Toward the end of her journal, she wrote:
According to camp's records, Etty's parents died on 10 September 1943. It is not known if they were gassed immediately upon arrival or if they died in transit. Her youngest brother, Mischa Hillesum, remained in Auschwitz until October 1943, when he was moved to the Warsaw Ghetto and, according to the Red Cross, died before 31 March 1944. Etty died in Auschwitz on 30 November 1943. She was 29.
During processing by KL Auschwitz’s Nazi SS administrators, Czesława and Katarzyna were assigned prisoner numbers 26947 and 26946, respectively. According to camp records, Katarzyna, died on February 18, 1943. One month later, Czesława was murdered with a phenol injection to the heart at the age of 14.
Author: Séamus Bellamy
Editor: Maria Zalewska
Sponsored by: Michael Frank Family Charitable Fund