Godlewski Marceli

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Story of Rescue - Godlewski Marceli

Prelate Marceli Godlewski was parish priest of the All Saints’ Church in Warsaw from 1915 to 1945. About 2 thousand Christian-Jews were in his parish before the Second World War, among them famous personalities such as Ludwik Hirszfeld, Prof. Mieczysław Ettinger, Seweryn Majde and Jerzy Nisenson. Before the war, Godlewski was famous for his anti-Semitic views and he openly supported the National Democracy (“Endecja”). He published a few magazines where he called his parishioners to follow the rule “everyone should stick to their own people and mind their business”. He founded Christian Unions and a savings and loan association which was supposed to help Christians avoid “Jewish usury”.

Despite his views, when the Nazis started murdering the Jewish population, Rev. Godlewski decided to do everything he could to rescue Jews – regardless of their faith. The All Saints’ Parish was located within the borders of the Warsaw Ghetto. Godlewski participated in smuggling food and drugs, he also organized false documents for Jews. He helped to hide Jewish children in his private house in Anin, which he had handed over to the Franciscan Sisters Congregation who was running an orphanage there. Among the sisters who worked in this institution was Matylda Getter, honored with the title Righteous Among the Nations.

Godlewski also founded a kindergarten and ran a soup kitchen together with Rev. Antoni Czarnecki, where they fed the starving inhabitants of the ghetto. The kitchen was closed in the winter of 1941, when the Nazis announced that anyone helping Jews would be sentenced to death. The priests had passes which enabled them to leave the ghetto at ease. This way, they were able to smuggle food from the “Aryan side”, they also helped many people escape from the ghetto and hide under false names.

The All Saints’ Parish issued hundreds of baptismal certificates. Over a hundred Jews were hiding there, among them Ludwik Hirszfeld and the family of Ludwik Zamenhof. It still remains unclear how many people Godlewski helped rescue – it is estimated that he saved between 1 and 3 thousand Jews.

In July 1942 Rev. Godlewski had to leave the ghetto during its liquidation. Most of the Jews he had helped were killed in Treblinka. Those who survived the Holocaust always emphasized how much they owed him. Ludwik Hirszfeld wrote: »When I recall his name, I am overcome by emotion. Passion and love within one soul. Once a militant anti-Semite, a priest fighting with his words and writings. But when fate made him see people living in extreme poverty, he rejected his former attitude and devoted his whole passion to Jews«.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Madaj Karol, Żuławnik Małgorzata, Proboszcz getta, Warszawa 2010
  • Archiwum Ambasady Izraela - Materiały opracowane w związku z uroczystością wręczenia medalu i dyplomu honorowego „Sprawiedliwy wśród Narodów Świata” księdzu Marcelemu Godlewskiemu 22 października 2010 r.