“I looked after his spirit, you look after his body”

In 1939, Słonim, today a part of Belarus, had a population of around 28,000-20,000 Jews, as well as Poles and Belarusians. In 1907, the Congregation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary established a convent there. The order's Mother Superior was Marta Wołowska. Sister Ewa Noiszewska was the doctor on duty at the convent's hospital.

Sister Marta of Jesus

Kazimiera Wołowska was born in Lublin on 12th October 1879 into a family of gentry and intellgentia. Her father worked in the court and was communally active. Her mother died when Kazimiera was thirteen years old. The girl received a private education. Her religion teacher was a renowned theologian Father Antoni Noiszewski, rector of the priesthood seminary. Due to their work with the local church, the Wołowski home became known as the “Lublin Vatican”. In 1900, Kazimiera joined Congregation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and took the name “Sister Maria Marta of Jesus”.

Sister Ewa of Providence

Bogumiła Noiszewska was born on the 11th or 24th June 1885 in Osaniszki, in the Wileński Province. She was the eldest of eleven children of Maria (nee Andruszkiewicz) and Kazimierz Noiszewski, an optician. Her maternal and paternal grandparents were sent into the depths of Russia for participating in the January Uprising. Bogumiła spent her childhood and the early years of her youth in the Dyneburg area (today Daugavpils, Latvia) and later in Tule (Russia). She graduated in medicine in St.Petersburg. During World War I, she treated patients in both field hospitals and informaries. in 1919, she joined the Congregation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conceptionand took the name “Sister Maria Ewa of Providence”. She taught in high schools in Jazłowiec and Słonim, as well as working as the school and convent doctor.

Soviet Occupation

Following the outbreak of World War II, Słonim found itself within the area controlled by the Soviet Union. The nuns were forced to leave the convent. They lived with friendly families, while the building was designated for a children's hospital. The wearing of habits was forbidden. Several nuns remained in the hospital, working as laundresses and housekeepers.

German Occupation

The Germans occupied the small town on 24th June 1941. They began a brutal persecution of the Jews, locking them in a ghetto and demanding enormous contributions. They ordered the men into forced labour and, in July 1941, they shot around 1,200 Jews on the outskirts of Słonim, in a wilderness near the village of Pietralewicze. In November, they murdered a further 8,000 Jewish men, women and children. At the end of June 1942, those who still remained in the ghetto attempted armed resistance. The Germans set the closed-off area on fire and, over a two-week bloody period, they murdered those still in hiding. Just prior to the liquidation operation, several hundred young people managed to get into the surrounding forests, where they formed partisan units. The last remaining group of Jews in Słonim were forced, by the Germans, to bury those who had been murdered and to clean up the area of the former ghetto. In Spetember 1942, they too perished.

The Sisters' Activities During the War

From the moment the War broke out, Sister Marta opened the Słonim convent to fugitives. She organised secret education classes and help for the hungry, especially for the families of those who had been imprisoned or murdered. She worked in the town's gardens and in the digging up of potatoes.

In April 1940, the Soviet authorities removed Sister Ewa from the hospital, suspecting her of illegal activities. Fearing deportation to Siberia or Kazakhstan, she left Słonim. She returned in 1941, after the city was occupied by the Germans. She treated patients privately and, in September, she became the director of the Słonim polyclinic. With the help of Sister Marta, she hid Jewish children and, sometimes, entires families in the convent. She provided medicines and wrote prescriptions for the Jews. With her knowledge, one of the doctors, Dr Orlińska smuggled polyclinic medicines to the partisans, after her husband had joined them.

The nuns worked together with a priest, Adam Sztark, a Jesuit from a parish in Albertyna, 6 kms from Słonim. He was the Congregation's chaplain. Father Sztark hid Jews in private homes within his parish. Together with his parishioners, he gave up a gold cross in order to help the Jews pay a tax demanded by the Germans.

The nuns continued to provide help despite the warnings of a German priest. He said that the convent was under observation and that denunciations had been made. Sister Marta, who was being investigated, was interrogated by the Gestapo. Even this did not stop her activities. Jews were being hidden in the attic, in the orangery and in the cowshed.

The Rescued

Jakub and Helena Glikson found work in the Słonim polyclinic after fleeing from the Germans in Warsaw. He was a bacteriologist and she a pharmacologist, both having studied at Warsaw University. Jakub brought his brother Józef east. He was an actor in the Yiddish theatre. Józef and his wife Cypora, also an actor, became active in the Yiddish theatre in Vilnius.

In June 1941, Helena Glikson was seven months pregnant. Józef and Cypora fled the Germans and headed to Uzbekistan. In mid-August, Helena gave birth to a son, Jerzy. Dr Henryk Kagan delivered the baby in the polyclinic. The parents did not circumsize the boy.

The Gliksons joined the partisans. In all probability, they perished in 1942, during a German raid. Through the polyclinic, their son went into the convent, where he spent a year. Father Sztark then placed him with a family who ran a plant nursery on the outskirts of Słonim. According to the records of the Congregation's sisters, in the winter, he went to the Mikuczyn family. From under his cloak, he took out the child, handed him to Mrs Mikuczyn, saying, “I looked after his spirit, you look after his body”.

Also, Dr Henryk Kagan, who had delivered Helena Glikson's baby, gave his own son into the care of the nuns and then he also joined the partisans. Another family, with the surname of Kagan, also found itself in the convent – two dentists with their nine-year-old daughter, for whom Father Sztark prepared a false baptism certificate.

Arrest and Death

On 18th December 1942, the Gestapo arrested Father Sztark in his parish in Albertyn. They took him to Słonim. At around 11:00pm, the prisoner was taken to the convent where they demanded to see Sister Marta. One of the nuns delayed the officer, pretending that she did not understand German. However, he entered Sister Marta's cell and forced her to get dressed. Sister Ewa had just returned from the polyclinic. She told the Germans that she wanted to accompany Sister Marta. They checked her identity and discovered that the arrest warrant also included her. The nuns' activities came to light when, during the capture of a Jew, the Germans found her signature on a prescription.

Both nuns and Father Sztark were taken to the Gestapo station. At around 2:00am, the German police searched them, demanding that they hand over any valuables. According to the convent's records, Sister Marta asked that she be allowed to retain a cross. A policeman ripped it from her hand, threw it on the ground and then kicked the nun.

At around 5:00am, they were loaded onto a truck and taken to Góra Pietralewicka, 2 kms from Słonim. Years later, Zofia Poczebyt, a resident of Słonim, said, “Before the execution, the victims were ordered to undress. Father Sztark obeyed the order. However, the nuns waited, embarrassed. When the priest (…) said, 'The Lord Jesus was also exposed', the nuns also undressed. People were told about this by eye-witnesses to the event – local policemen, assisting in the execution”. Altogether, there were eighty-four people. Among them were the two Kagan dentists and their daughter.

The naked victims were shot by a firing-squad and their bodies fell into a previously-prepared pit. One of the policemen, Jan Poważyński, who was present at the execution, said that the sisters were offered the opportunity to escape. But, they wanted to stay with those who had been condemned. Witnesses to the execution, who brought the nuns' clothing to the convent, told all about what had occurred.

Jerzy Jerry Glikson - Life in Hiding and After the War

Słonim was liberated from German occupation in July 1944. Józef Glikson returned to Słonim in April or May 1945. In the polyclinic, he looked for the woman who had worked with his brother, Jakub, in the laboratory. before joining the partisans, Jakub and Helena left her a microscope and wedding ring, together with a list of contacts, in case they did not return. She told him what had happened to their son, that he had been adopted by the Mikuczyn couple.

Years later, Jerry Glikson wrote,

“My memory goes back to the time when I was two years old. I lived on the Mikuczyns' farm and hid in the attic when Germans came.

I had no idea that I was a Jew, (…) I had no idea what a Jew was. At various times, I'd go with Mr and Mrs Mikuczyn to church and pray. (…) we probably went to the parish in Albertville (Albertynia), where the parish priest was Father Sztark. I remember how I knelt and prayed in the vestibule of the church, in front of a picture of the Holy Mother.

Life with the Mikuczyns was idyllic. The Germans left the villagers alone. They were allowed to cultivate the land, so that we were never hungry.

One day, a strange man appeared in the sideroad (…). He gave me chocolates and said that he was my father. It was my uncle, Józef Glikson, the brother of my real father Jakub. He had survived the War in Tashkent, with his wife Cypora. I was terrified and ran away. My mother (Mrs Mikuczyn) said that he was a German, so I hid in the attic whenever he came.

But, in time, I had to go to the town with my mother where I was given over into the care of Józef and Cypora Glikson. Our neighbour, Zofia, recently told us what a heart-rending experience that was for my mother. It was also shocking for me. I don't remember the proceedings, but afterwards I had to go with the man whom I called 'Mr Glikson'. We slept in the home of a younger woman, who had given evidence in the hearing. I was in shock after being taken away from my mother and cried constantly”.

In 1948, the new family settled in New York USA, having reached there via Moscow, Tashkent, Warsaw and Stokholm. The boy, born in a polyclinic, is today Professor of Radiology, Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania. He runs the Molecular Imaging Laboratory which conducts research into cancer and heart disease.

“I only found out who my real parents were when I was eighteen-years-old, when I had to be formally adopted to obtain United States citizenship. Until 2005, I didn't know about the roles played by Father Sztark or Sisters Ewa and Marta in my rescue. I was sixty-four years old and decided to return to Słonim to race my roots. (…) In 1992, my mother (Ed: adoptive mother, Cypora Glikson) wrote diaries, shortly before the death of Józef's father (Ed: Glikson, Jakub's brother). (…) When my father died, my mother fell into a depression and attempted suicide. She probably didn't want her diaries to be read before her death”.

In 2005, during his visit to Poland, Jerry Glikson the Congregation in Szymanów a memorial plaque, dedicated to those who had perished. In the centre of the hexagonal plaque is written, in Hebrew, “They gave their lives in order to save me and others. It is written in gold, symbolising the act of Father Stark and his parishionersm who gave up their gold crosses in order to help the Jews to collect the ransom demanded by the Germans. The entire Jewish community of Słonim was murdered. In the name of those who were murdered, I pay tribute to Marta, Ewa and Adam”.

Honour

In 2001, Father Sztark received the title of Righteous Among the Nations. On 13th June 1999, Sisters Marta and Ewa were among the group of 108 World War II martyrs who were beatified by Pope John Paul II. In 2008, Jerry Glikson made efforts to honour them also with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.