75 years ago the Provisional Committee to Aid Jews was established
The Konrad Żegota Provisional Committee to Aid Jews was established on 27th September 1942 in occupied Warsaw. It was the first Poland-wide, multi-organisational cell providing Jews with aid during the Holocaust. It was set up, with the consent and under the auspices of the Government Delegation for Poland, by a small group of Catholic and democratic activists in response to the mass extermination of Jews.
The call to establish such an organisation came from writer Zofia Kossak, "Weronika", "Ciotka" (1890-1968) from the Front Odrodzenia Polski (The Front for Polish Rebirth) who, on 11th August 1942, issued the appeal to "Protest!", calling upon Poles to condemn the Holocaust, and also from socialist activist Wanda Krahelska-Filipowiczowa "Alina" (1886-1968) from the Stronnictwo Demokratyczne (Democratic Party). To achieve their goal, they undertook discussions with Delegation representative Jan Piekałkiewicz, with Director of the Department of Internal Affairs Leopold Rutkowski and with the DIrector of the Department of Social Welfare Jan Stanisław Jankowski, which led to the establishment of the Konrad Żegota Committee under their leadership.
In order to keep the Committee's real name secret, Zofia Kossak named it after a fictional figure, Konrad Żegota, in order to avoid the dangerous use of the word "Żyd" (Jew). The first to become active within the Committee included Witold Bieńkowski, Ignacy Barski, Maria Lasocka and Władysław Bartoszewski (from FOP), as well as Marek Ferdynand Arczyński and Janina Raabe-Wąsowiczowa (from the Democratic Party).
In a December 1942 report Witold Bieńkowski to Leopold Rutkowski, the Committee's activities included "establishing contacts with the Jewish community so as to provide financial support, arrange apartments and overnight accomodation and to supply clothing and food". They were mainly active on the "Aryan side" of Warsaw where more than ninety individuals were directly provided with support. Support was also provided in Białystok, Biłgoraj, Bochnia, Brześć, Izbica, Kielce, Kraków, Kraśnik, Lublin, Puława, Radom, Siedlce, Zakopane and Zamość. More than 180 people were helped, 70% of whom were children.
The Committee struggled financially and organisationally. General Władysław Sikorski's government in London was only informed of its establishment, on 31st October 1942, by a telegram from the Government Delegation. Deputy Prime Minister Stanisław Mikołajczyk was then asked for help to the tume of "half a million złotych monthly".
In the autumn of 1942, efforts were undertaken to establish a new organisation - one that was permanent, strong and which was equipped with the proper means, supported by a large cross-section of the community. The first meeting regarding this took place at the end of September 1942 at the initiative of Marek Ferdynand Arczyński, in the apartment of Aleksander Mysiak-Niezabiłowski at 22 Czeczota Street in Warsaw. Representaives of various politicial parties were present, among them being Julian Grobelny (Polish Socialist Party – Freedom, Equality, Independence), Marek Ferdynand Arczyński (Dmocratic Partyt), Witold Bieńkowski (Front for Polish Rebirth), Leon Feiner (Bund) and Adolf Berman (Jewish National Committee).
During its third meeting, on 4th December 1942, the "Żegota" Committee to Aid Jews was officially formed. Zofia Kossak and Wanda Krahelska-Filipowiczowa did not join, but worked with the Committee in the following years. As Władysław Bartoszewski wrote, "It was the first organisation in which, in secret against the Germans, Zionists, Bundists, Catholics, Polish Democrats, Polish Socialists, peasants – both Jews and Poles – all worked together".
Marek Arczyński, Wiesław Balcerak, Kryptonim „Żegota”. Z dziejów pomocy Żydom w Polsce, Wydawnictwo Czytelnik, Warsaw 1979.
Władysław Bartoszewski, Zofia Lewinówna, Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej. Polacy z pomocą Żydom 1939-1945, Jewish Historical Institute, Świat Książki, Warsaw 2007. This article contains fragments of documents No. 60-62, p. 688.
Teresa Prekerowa, Konspiracyjna Rada Pomocy Żydom w Warszawie 1942-1945, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 1982.