"Żegota" in Kraków Established 75 Years Ago

Mateusz Szczepaniak / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, 14th March 2018
The Council to Aid Jews "Żegota" began its activities on 4th December 1942, initially limiting itself to assisting Jews primarily in Warsaw and the surrounding area. Insufficient funds and organisational difficulties made i t impossible to establish Council branches in other centres and in the provinces of occupied Poland. A few months later, thanks to the efforts of local communities and members of Warsaw "Żegota", two branches were established - in Kraków and in Lwów. The first was established on the eve of the liquidation of the Kraków ghetto, seventy five years ago, on 13th-14th March 1943.

The Council for Aid to Jews "Żegota" was the only state organization specifically established in order to save Jews, working together with the underground. The assistance provided by "Żegota" consisted mainly of financial support, arranging hiding places and providing false documents. Those under its care included both adults and children. Władysław Bartoszewski wrote: This was the first organization in which the Zionists, Bundists, Catholics, Polish Democrats, Polish socialists, peasants – Jews and Poles – all sat together at the same table and were active, secretly, against the Germans. 

The first attempts to create a branch of the Council for Aid to Jews "Żegota" were made before creation of the Council in Warsaw, which was established to replace the Konrad Żegota Provisional Committee for Aid to Jews. The Council's aims, structure and tasks are defined in a letter, dated 29th December 1942, from the Provisional Presidium of the Council to the Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Republic of Poland to the Nation. It states:

The nature of the Council is two-fold – central and local. On the one hand – and in relation to the creation of local councils – the Council is the central institution. On the other hand, it is a local institution active in Warsaw and the surrounding area. (…) Local councils will be set up at various points in the country, wherever necessary. Their activation will take place as the result of instructions from the Government Plenipotentiary, directed to Regional Delegations, with the participation of the Council itself and the groupings represented within it, and the relevant organisational units at various points in the country.

A key role in the establishment of the Council to Aid Jews "Żegota" in Kraków, the capital of the General Government, was played by the local Polish Socialist Party – Freedom, Equality, Independence, the Democratic Party and the Peasant Party, which undertook, independently, to set up a multi-party Committee to Aid Jews in Kraków.

egota's" treasurer, Marek Ferdynand Arczyński, made initial contact with this new organisation which, on 12th March 1943, led to its transformation into a branch of the Council to Aid Jews "Żegota". It operated under the guise of a chemical company, whose partners were Stanisław Wincenty Dobrowolski and Andrzej Morbitzer.

"Żegota" Kraków was comprised of Stanisław W. Dobrowolski (PPS-WRN) – Chairman, Władysław Wójcik (PPS-WRN) – Secretary, Anna Dobrowolska (SD) – Treasurer, Tadeusz Seweryn (SL), Maria Hochberg-Mariańska (from July 1943, on behalf of Jewish organisations), Jerzy Matus and Janusz Strzałecki.

Shortly after, the Germans began liquidating the Kraków ghetto. Marek Ferdynand Arczyński wrote that the newly created organisation felt even more mobilised to provide quick help because of this act of barbarism. Kraków "Żegota" recognises that it would be advisable to appeal to the community to help save the Jewish population. Tadeusz Seweryn noted that: These facts have stimulated our group to everish activity in all possible directions.

On 13th-14th March 1943, Kraków's Jewish community finally ceased to exist. Close to 8,000 Jews, considered as fit to work, were transported to the camp in Płaszów which, from 1943 to 1945, operated as a Nazi German slave labour camp, and then as a concentration camp. However, around 2,000 individuals were murdered in the ghetto. The remainder were sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

The main goal of Kraków "Żegota" was to rescue the remaining Jews in the Kraków district of the General Government. Help was primarily provided through finding and paying for hiding-places, providing those in need with food and with false documents. Within the activities of the underground, they played the roles of courierrs, resource distributors and helpers. Among them was Frantisek Jiřanek, a Wehrmacht soldier, ethnically Czech.

Particular note should be taken of Kraków "Żegota's" work in helping to move those in danger to Hungary, thanks to its proximity to the southern border of the General Government. It also directed its help to prisoners in slave labour and concentration camps. Initially, accessing specific camps, especially in Płaszów, allowed for co-operation with the Jewish Support Centre (Jüdische Unterstützungsstelle), led by Dr. Michał Weichert (1890-1967) with the support of overseas donations sent throughj the International Red Cross and Jewish organisations such as the American Joint Distribution Committee. However, working together with JUS ceased when Weichert was accused of collaborating with the Germans. According to representatives of the Jewish National Committee and the Bund, the organisation's activities were not benefitting the Jews, but favoured the occupying power. Soon after, JUS was disbanded by the German and, in looking for a hiding-place, Weichert received help from Stanisław W. Dobrowolski.

Dobrowolski provided space for Kraków "Żegota” in his office at 11 Jagiellońska Street. Maria Hochberg-Mariańska recalls: (He) placed everything at the Council's disposal - his office, various contacts and his tireless efforts, even though "Żegota" was only a part of his underground activities.

Meetings were also help in Anna Dobrowolskiej at 6 Wielopole Street, where financial documents and cash receipts, signed by those receiving "Żegota" assistance, were stored. The legal section, whicj dealt with false documents with the help of the excellent graphic artist Edward Kubiczka, was located in Wanda Wójcik's (wife of Władysław Wójcik, Council Secretary) beauty salon on 3 Wrzesińska Street. The contacts were arranged in the surgery of Dr Helena Szlapak at 24 Garbarska Street, Stanisław Cisła's apartment at 64 Starowiślna Street, at Maria Piller's apartment at 10 Kołłątaja Street, Zdzisław Kasparek's home at 14 Bosacka Street, as well as in premises belonging to PPS members  at 22 Św. Sebastiana Street.

In the beginning, per medium of the Council in Warsaw, Kraków "Żegota" received a subsidy from the Government Delegation for Poland in the amount of 30,000 zł. By May 1944, that amount had steadily grown to 338,000 zł. By the end of the War, it was 1 million. The number of people being cared for also grew. Initially, in May 1943, the number was 93. One year later, it was 281. By the end of 1944, it was close to 1,000, of whom 570 were receiving regular support.

Read more about the Council to Aid Jews "Żegota"

These articles contain information about Council members, the Council's structure, its modes of operation, the manner in which it has been commemorated in Poland and Israel, as well as memorabilia from POLIN Museum's own collection.

On 11th March 2018, the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Kraków ghetto, a memorial march took place through the streets, in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. Several hundred participants left Bohaterów Getta Square in Podgórze and headed towards the site of the former camp in Płaszów. Along the way, flowers were laid at the part of the ghetto wall, preserved at Lwowska Street.

Undersecretary of State from the Office of the President of Poland, Wojciech Kolarski, said: I have the honouryto represent the President of Poland in paying homage to the victims who died here, to those who were removed to the camp in Płaszów and to those who died along the way to this German concentration camp. In talking about Kraków "Żegota” members, he added: These individuals who, at that time, made the effort to save their Jewish brothers and fellow-citizens, are our national heroes.

Demony at Bohaterów Getta Square Chairperson of the Association of Krakowians in Israel, Lili Haber, and poet Adam Zagajewski read the poem "An Unwritten Elegy for Kraków Jews". Others to speak included Cardinalt Stanisław Dziwisz and Chairman of the Kraków Jewish Community Council Tadeusz Jakubowicz.

On 8th July 2018, an exhibition entitled "Żegota – Hidden Help" will open at Oskar Schindler's Emalia factory at 4 Lipowa Street. It is being prepared by Historical Museum of the City of Kraków. More information regarding the exhibition»

Quotation sources: Jewish Historical Institute Archives, Ref. 349/24/2034; M. Arczyński, W. Balcerak, Kryptonim „Żegota”, Warsaw 1979, p. 109; T. Prekerowa, Konspiracyjna Rada Pomocy Żydom w Warszawie 1942-1945, Warsaw 1982, pp. 363-364.