The Structure of "Żegota"
"We should not stop considering them as political, economic and ideological enemies of Poland", wrote Zofia Kossak about Jews in the pamphlet "Protest!", which was published by the Front for the Revival of Poland (FOP), in response to the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto (the Gross Aktion), which commenced on 2nd July 1942.
"Moreover, we realise that they hate us more than they do the Germans, that they hold us responsible for their misfortune", she continued. But, at the same time, she stated, "However, being conscious of those feelings does not relieve us of our responsibility to condemn these crimes".
The appeal by FOP members led to the later establishment of the Council to Aid Jews "Żegota". The organisation was created by Polish and Jewish activitists whose views were extremely diverse.
Władysław Bartoszewski, co-founder of the Council recalled that, "(...) it was the first underground organisation against the Germans in which Zionists, Bundists, Catholics, Polish Democrats, Polish Socialists, People's Party members - both Jews and Poles – all sat at the same table".
"Żegota" was comprised of representatives of the Polish Socialist Party - Freedom, Equality, Independence (PPS-WRN), the Workers Party of Polish Socialists (RPPS), the Alliance of Democrats (SD), the People's Party (SL), the Front for the Revival of Poland (FOP), the International Jewish Labour Bund and the Jewish National Committee (ŻKN).
The Council's central core was a reflection of its internal diversity. Julian Grobelny (PPS-WRN) was elected as its first Chairman, He was followed by Roman Jabłonowski (WRN) and then Leon Feiner (Bund). Deputy Chairman was Tadeusz Rek (SL), Secretary was Adolf Berman (ŻKN), while the Treasurer was Ferdynand Arczyński (SD). The Council's underground office was located in the apartment of Eugenia Wąsowska-Leszczyńska, at 24 Żurawia Street in Warsaw. The work of the office was organised by Zofia Rudnicka, with the help of Janina Wąsowicz, Celina Tyszko and Władysława Paszkiewicz (linked to the SD/SDP). Separate branches were run by Stanisław Dobrowolski (PPS) in Kraków, Władysława Chomsowa (SD) in Lwów and the Zamojsko-Lubelski Committee headed by Stefan Sendłak (PPS-WRN).
The "Żegota" cell, codenamed "Felicja", was reponsible for one-fifth of all the people under the care of the Council in Warsaw. It was headed by Maurycy Herling-Grudziński, a Jewish lawyer, who remained under his own name on the so-called "Aryan side".
"Żegota"'s contact with the Government Delegation for Poland was maintained by Witold Bieńkowski (FOP) or by his deputy in the department of Jewish affairs, Władysław Bartoszewski (FOP).
The goals of the organisation were set out in a letter to the Government Delegation for Poland, dated 29th December 1942:
"The Council's task is to come to the aid of Jews who are victims of the extermination actions of the invader, to direct that aid towards saving them from death, to legitimise them, to allot them accomodation, to grant them reasonable financial support, when called upon to seek out paid employment for them, to administer funding and its distribution - to spread the word, which directly or indirectly, might fall within the scope of this help."
The Council's work was streamlined through various departments – legalisation, financial, residential, anti-blackmail, propaganda, children, provincial matters and, from the autumn of 1943, medical and clothing.
The legalalisation office was headed by Leon Weiss. It provided documents which were essential for someone to function outside the ghettos and the camps. As writer Maria Kann recalls, "False documents not only enabled one to remain in hiding, but in certain circumstances allowed one to obtain work". The residential department was managed by Emilia Hiżowa. She and her co-workers searched for premises in the city and were involved in preparing hiding places outside the city or in the country. Activities in the provinces were coordinated by the department headed by Stefan Sendłak (PPS-WRN). The children's department was run first by Aleksandra Dargiel and then by Irena Sendler (RPPS).
The medical department was headed by Dr Ludwik Rostkowski, who was linked with the Committee of Democrat and Socialist Doctors. The anti-blackmail and propaganda departments played a special role - with the aid of information, printed material and other activities, they fought against blackmail and appealed to Polish citizens and to the world for help for the 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.