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The Story of Jadwiga Dudziec

“Jews can't deal with the Nazi machine themselves. A Christian's duty is to help Jews as much as possible”, she told her friends. “Jadzia Dudziec, a young Catholic from Wilno, did not leave a long list of deeds which would immortalise her memory”, wrote Philip Friedman in his book Their Brothers’ Keepers. “She died too young. But […] she served as a courier and a messenger between Jewish underground organisations and the outside world”.

A Girl Scout

Jadwiga Dudziec was born on 19th March 1912. Her birth and baptismal certificate read:

Stanisław Dudziec, aged 52, a farmer from Jawor appeared before us personally […] and showed us a female baby, declaring that she had been born in the village of Jawor on 6/19 March this year, at six o'clock in the morning, to his lawful wife 46-yo Józefa (née Osowiecka). Holy Baptism of the baby was conducted today by Father Jan Błaszczak, […] giving her the name Jadwiga. The godparents were Wojciech Dudziec and Antonina Osowiecka.

Jadzia was the youngest of the Dudziec couple's ten children. Her father died when she was two and half years old. World War I forced the widow and her children into the Ukraine. They returned to Jawor three years later. One of her brothers died in 1919, during the Polish-Bolshevik War.

Jadwiga left the family home at the age of fourteen. She began studying at the Private Teachers Seminary of the Congregation of the Resurrection in Żoliborz in Warsaw. In 1931, she received her diploma as a public school teacher and found work in Oszmiania, in the Wileńskie Province. In Warsaw, Jadwiga met Irena Adamowicz, a girl scout who was two years older and who worked together with Jewish scouts. Irena became her guardian and her guide, which must have prompted Jadwiga to join the girl scouts.

In 1934, Jadwiga moved to Wilno where, thanks to Irena's financial support, she studied in the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences of the Stefan Batory University. She became involved with the “Rebirth” Catholic Youth Academic Society and also joined the “Makrele” 13th Scout Troop in Wilno (the so-called “Black Thirteen”).

Maria Lenartowicz, chronicler of the 13th Wilno Scout Troop, recalled:

She lived in the cheapest dormitory, I think in the Bernadine nuns' convent on ulica Św. Anna, eating meals costing 30 groszy. During all those years, she was always in the same coat and often wore cheap, worn-out shoes. All the Makrele” remember Jadzia as always smiling, full of warmth and kindness towards people. That attitude was the result, not only of her profound understand of scouting life, but also, and above all, due to her strong faith.

She led a group of Jewish scouts in the scouting district of Chorągiew in Wilno. In 1937, she went camping with them to Bujaków near Bielsko:

The group of 25-30 Jewish boys and girls, under the care of girl scout Jadzia, is meandering from Bujaków to Porąbka, where they are watching the construction of a water dam on the Soła River and then marching to Międzybrodzie, Bielsko and also to Babia Góra.

In the summer of the following year, they visit Józefów near Warsaw.

A photograph has been preserved, probably from the Jewish orphanage, the “Dzieciakowa”, in which we can see Jadzia amongst eight girls. On the reverse is written “Summer 1938. Jadzia! Best wishes from the girls of the White House in Józefów”. Next to that are several illegible signatures: Cypera, Ryfka, Jaffa...

She completed her studies in 1939.

The War

Following the outbreak of war, she revealed neither her education nor her profession.

Her identity paper, issued by the District Office on 15th September 1939, states “home duties” under occupation.

Until 24th June 1941, when Wilno was taken over by the Wehmacht, the city had been in Russian hands. Persecution and deportation, including deportations to Siberia, became the fate of around 35,000 Wilno residents. The village of Ponary became the symbol of German terror with around 100,000 Polish citizens killed, amongst them Jews.

During 1941–1944, Jadwiga repeatedly changed her place of residence. In the winter of 1941/42, in her apartment on Wiwulskiego Street, a Armia Krajowa (Home Army; than: AK) officer taught the girl scout how to build weapons and fighting methods. At the same time, Dr Józef Lenartowicz conducted a course in nursing and and first aid.

Also at that time, Jadzia often met with a young man who, during the occupation, ran a photographic business on Królewska Street. They were not only linked through their work in the underground, but also by a thread of personal emotion.

The Jewish Resistance Movement

On 6th September 1941, the Germans opened a “big” and a “small” ghetto in Wilno. Only one month later, they liquidated the “small” ghetto. After that operation, the underground movement of Zionist youth organisations was divided into two camps - those advocating escape to the ghettos in the General Government and in Belarus, considered as safer, and those, like the Jechiel Group, who favoured staying in Wilno.

In January 1942, on the initiative of Aba Kowner (an art student and poet), the Faraynigte Partizaner Organizatzye (yid. United Partisan Organisation; then: FPO) was established. Around three hundred fighters belonged to it. The organisation prepared bases in the surrounding forests and gradually withdrew from the city. On 1st September 1943, the German began deportations from the Wilno ghetto. FPO called for resistance and uprising – there was one clash. On 23rd September, on the final day of the ghetto liquidation, the last group with Kowner withdrew into the Rudnicki Forest. Until the end of German occupation, around 500-700 Wilno Jews fought in Soviet partisan units or in various battalions.

Jadzia

She managed a workshop in a timber factory – Theodor Betcher, Holzsohlenschuhe, Wilna, Mindaugiene str. 5. The employees were mainly Jews in hiding who had been provided with papers by the AK's dopcuments department. Thanks to this work. Jadwiga was able to travel outsidethe Wilno district to procure supplies for the business.

[…] when arranging the company's business, Jadzia also transports weapons to Jewish partisans in Szawla, Poniewież, Kowno, Jaszuny, Troki, Rykont and Podbrodzie. In Wilno, she works with Szejnbaum [Echiel Szejnbaum, leader of the Jewish Fighting Organsation in Wilno – ed.]. Jadzia's travels took place legally, approved by an officer of the “gebietskomisariat”, at the request of Theodor Betcher. We do not know who was Jadzia's employer nor if he knew of his employee's secret activities.

Wala Sulimowicz, a friend, recalled:

She travelled to Jewish partisan units, transported weapons and documents to Warsaw. On one of these trips, from Warsaw, stitched into the bottom of a suitcase, she brought pages of Aleksander Kamiński's “Kamienie na szaniec” [Stones for the Rampart – ed.]. I remember the moments of excitement and emotion as we carefully extracted the secret and shocking text.

Over the workshop, in her apartment, meetings would take place organised by the Jewish youth resistance movement. Seventeen members of the Zionist scouting organisation were placed with the Domincan Sisters in Kolonia Wileńska, where they worked as labourers on the convent farm.

She frequently entered the ghetto, where she took part in meetings and self-education discussions. Druhna Gabriela Kosińska recalls:

She talked about how high their level was and how interesting were the lectures in philosophy, literature and others. Pinning a yellow star onto herself, she would enter the ghetto, led out young Jewish women and hid them in the countryside. She also saved young children from the Holocaust. If she couldn't give a child into the care of someone in the country, she would knock on the door of the Sisters of Charity convent in ulica Subocz, where they ran an orphanage. She was never met with a refusal.

A 1958 article in “Tygodnik Powszechny” her co-worker wrote:

In the autumn of 1941, we went with Jadzia, by wagon, to the Podbrodzie area, taking a few young, Jewish woment to hide with friends in the country. Jadzia also brought a one-year-old child whom she held the whole way. We managed to place only one girl and had to return with the rest when we were threatened with a roundup. Jadzia placed two infants with the Sisters of Charity in Wilno.

She also looked after the belongings of Jews in hiding.

In 1944, when the German front was retreating from the depths of Russia and neared Wilno, she told her colleagues, “The War is ending, maybe soon, but I can't see my life ahead, I can't imagine it”. She decided not to escape to the country to a friend's family. The battle for Wilno was fierce. Those who remained in the city found themselves on the front of the battle between the Red Army and the resisting German troops.

[…] on one of those days, between 7th and 12th July 1944, someone called Jadzia over to a neighbouring shelter for potato pancakes. As she ran through the garden, a piece of shrapnel hit her in the leg.

For a week, she lay in the heat without any help. She ran a fever due to the wound becoming infected. Wala Sulimowicz recalled:

Jadzia kept Jewish belongings in her home. She took nothing for herself. After this long suffering, she offered a teb ruble gold coin to anyone who would take her to hospital. Only then, someone agreed to take her – unfortunately, it was too late.

The infection had set in and the doctors decided to amputate the leg.

Another girl scout watching over her recalled:

Until her last moment, Jadzia worried about the fate of the Jewish belongings. In the house where she lived, an explosion had hit the wall of Jadzia's room. Some human hyenas had crawled through the hole and plundered Jadzia's humble belongings and and the majority of the Jewish parcels.

Gabriela Kosińska wrote:

The day before her death, she asked me to dig in the yard of the home where she lived, to retrieve a bottle there containing a historical, Jewish document and to hand it over to the outstanding activitist Kowner.

The surviving items were collected by Pesia Szejnbaum and Anna Kowner.

Jadwiga Dudziec died on 16th or 17th August 1944. The Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem awarded her the title of Righteous Among the Nations on 17th June 1999, based on the testimonies of her fellow girl scouts.

Bibliography

  • Bartoszewski Władysław, Lewinówna Zofia, Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej, Warszawa 2007
    This publication consists of 3 parts: monographic outline of the issue of aid given to the Jews; collection of German and Polish documents concerning the histories of Jews and the aid given to them; collection of the post-war reports created by Poles and Jews about the aid.
  • Wyczańska Krystyna (oprac.). Florczak Zofi, Januszajtis-Poleciowa Danuta, Szole Rena (współprac.), Harcerki 1939-1945. Relacje – Pamiętniki, Warszawa 1985
  • Friedman Philip, Their Brothers’ Keepers, New York 1957
  • Kosińska Gabriela, Wileńska Harcerka, „Tygodnik Powszechny”
  • Michalska Hanna, Słownik uczestniczek walki o niepodległość Polski 1939-1945. Poległe i zmarłe w okresie okupacji niemieckiej, Warszawa 1988
  • Oprac. Minota Irena, Jadwiga Dudziec, Goworowo 2016