The History of "Żegota"
"When faced with crimes, one cannot remain passive. Whoever remains silent in the face of murder, becomes an accomplice to the murderer. Whoever does not condemn it, condones it." This was Zofia Kossak's public appeal in "Protest!", issued by the Front for the Revival of Poland, the underground extension of Catholic Action. That appeal became the symbolic beginning of the secret initiative to aid Jews, "Żegota".
That appeal was published on 11th August 1942, two weeks after the beginning of the German operation (the Gross Aktion) for the mass extermination of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. From March, transports from other ghettoes had been heading towards the centres of death. This mass murder had been preceded by years of repression, systematically conducted since September 1939, against the Jewish population of occupied Poland.
Whoever decided to escape from the ghetto or from a transport had to go into hiding. They needed false documents or had to remain in a hiding place. Individuals as well as institutions supported Jews, but that help was not organised in nature.
Zofia Kossak, conscious of the scale of the issue and the needs of those associated with it, decided to take action. She called upon the Government Delegation for Poland, the clandestine principal administrative authority in occupied Poland, to centralise the help provided to Jews. In 1942, the Delegation discussed the need to establish an organisation to help Jews, but the matter dragged on due to objections from representatives of the Alliance of Democrats (Stronnictwo Demokratyczne). However, in September, one month after the publication of "Protest!", the Provisional Committee to Aid Jews was established, an organisation she headed together with socialist acivist Wanda Krahelska-Filipowicz. The Provisional Committee to Aid Jews began its activities under the codename of "Konrad Żegota" – probably named after one of the conspirators in Part III of Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady. On 4th December, the Government Delegation for Poland replaced the Committee with the Council to Aid Jews "Żegota", a Polish-Jewish organisation. Its civic character was not in harmony with the efforts of Zofia Kossak. She decided not to join the Council and continued her work outside of its structure.
In Warsaw, the Council was one of three organisations providing help to Jews. The other two were the Jewish National Committee (Żydowski Komitet Narodowy) and the Bund. By the spring of 1943, the Council had branches in Kraków, Lwów and in the Lublin area. In all of occupied Europe, it was the only institution officially established and supported by a government, with the aim of saving Jews.
Karolina Dzięciołowska, December 2017 / English translation: Andrew Rajcher
We present the stories of Council members, its structure, its activity methods,
memorials in Poland and Israel, as well as memorabilia from POLIN Museum collection.
Marek Arczyński, Wiesław Balcerak, Kryptonim „Żegota”. Z dziejów pomocy Żydom w Polsce 1939-1945, Warszawa 1979.
Anna Bikont, Sendlerowa. W ukryciu, Warszawa 2017.
Teresa Prekerowa, Konspiracyjna Rada Pomocy Żydom w Warszawie 1942-1945, Warszawa 1982.
Gunnar S. Paulsson, Utajone miasto. Żydzi po aryjskiej stronie Warszawy (1940-1945), Kraków 2007.
Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej. Polacy z pomocą Żydom 1939-1945, oprac. W. Bartoszewski, Z. Lewinówna, Warszawa 2007.
„Żegota”. Rada Pomocy Żydom 1942-1945. Wybór dokumentów, oprac. A. K. Kunert, Warszawa 2002.
„Żegota. Dokumenty 1942-1945”, oprac. M. Olczak, Warszawa 2017.