WARSAW, Poland, July 26, 2016 – Looking at ruddy cheeked 17-year old Barbara Bia?oszewska, a youth leader at the Saints Peter and Paul parish in this city, you wouldn’t guess how painfully aware she is of the bloody history of her country, Poland and how it intertwines with the rise and fall of her own family tree.
Uncannily, a country that weathered medieval invasions and wars, Nazi occupation, and Communist rule could also be the home of the Divine Mercy devotion as well as the host to the World Youth Day (WYD) in Krakow with its theme “Blessed are the Merciful”.”
Bia?oszewska’s family is no stranger to the powerful witness of several individuals’ daring compassion and sense of humanity.
The great escape
One such person is Czes?aw Jacyna, Bia?oszewska’s grandfather, her maternal grandmother’s brother, who dressed as a German soldier during the Nazi occupation when he was 17 and went on to save Jews from Warsaw’s ghetto at the risk of sure death. The teen, who started to be part of the resistance against the Nazis when he was just 14 years old, saved a lot of Jews headed for the concentration camps from 1942 to 1944. In 1944, someone told the Germans about his activities, he was then arrested by the SS Guard at home where he was able to say goodbye to his family. He was 19-years old when he died in a concentration camp, just a few weeks before the liberation by the Allied Forces.
Bia?oszewska’s family, which traced its line back to nobility, would help the oppressed Polish Jews, who the Germans had lined up for systematic extermination, by giving them food rations.
The family of Bia?oszewska, who was a volunteer for the pre-World Youth Day (WYD) Days in the Diocese, also had members who were part of the Armia Kajowa (The Home Army), a group of partisans which would fight the Germans and Russia’s Red Army during Communist rule.
“The Russians said that these people (the Home Army) were the bandits, the murderers and [they killed] these people in the mass graves,” said Bia?oszewska in an interview with CBCPNews.
Mercy on all sides
According to the highschool student, the Reds would go on to massacre thousands of Polish nationals in the 1940s. Fortunately, Bia?oszewska’s great grandfather would narrowily escape death and would get sent to Siberia for imprisonment from 1946 to 1956.
“When he [came] back he was really sick,” said Basha, as her friends call her.
If there are stories of mercy about people who helped in the resistance there are also moving accounts of individuals who were supposed to be “the enemy” but who showed the face of true humanity and benevolence.
Izabela Kazubek-Fuksiewicz, also a volunteer for Warsaw’s Days in the Diocese, shared how her great grandmother, Jadwiga Madej, underwent the grueling experience of giving birth to two children during World War II in 1942 and in 1944.
Despite calling it “the most horrible [experience]”, Kazubek said her great grandmother’s plight moved a German soldier to help her by giving her milk, a white blanket, diapers, and other things she needed because he remembered the wife and kids he left in his home country.
The 17-year old also told the story of her maternal great grandfather, Antoni Madej, an engingeer who got sent with his father to the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp. Because Madej was a top engineer he was tasked with helping families in Germany with technical work. In time, he would win the sympathy of the families who would eventually help him by giving him a map and a motorbike to escape back to Poland.
“And we have this map to this day. He escaped to Warsaw and [to] his family,” added Kazubek, who was part of the team that welcomed a group of WYD pilgrims from Brazil and the Philippines last week.
Hundreds of thousands of young people are expected to converge in Krakow for the WYD, which Pope Francis is expected to grace. (Nirva’ana Ella Delacruz / CBCPNews)