Zofia Kossak-Szczucka in 1933
10 August 1889|
Kośmin, Congress Poland
|Died||9 April 1968
|Occupation||Writer, resistance fighter|
Zofia Kossak-Szczucka (Polish pronunciation: [ˈzɔfʲja ˈkɔssak ˈʂt͡ʂut͡ska]; 10 August 1889 – 9 April 1968) was a Polish writer and World War II resistance fighter. She co-founded the wartime Polish organization Żegota, set up to assist Polish Jews to escape the Holocaust. In 1943, she was arrested by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, but survived the war.
Writer and activist
Zofia Kossak was the daughter of Tadeusz Kossak, who was the twin brother of painter Wojciech Kossak, and granddaughter of painter Juliusz Kossak. She married twice, and kept the name Szczucka from her first marriage (rather than from her second, to Zygmunt Szatkowski in 1925). In 1924, she settled in the village of Górki Wielkie in Cieszyn Silesia.
She was associated with the Czartak literary group, and wrote mainly for the Catholic press. Her best-known work from that period is Conflagration, a memoir of the Russian Revolution of 1917. In 1936, she received the prestigious Gold Laurel (Złoty Wawrzyn) of the Polish Academy of Literature. Kossak-Szczucka's historical novels include Beatum scelus (1924), Złota wolność (Golden Liberty, 1928), Legnickie pole (The Field of Legnica, 1930), Trembowla (1939), Suknia Dejaniry (Dejanira's Gown, 1939). Best known are Krzyżowcy (Crusaders, 1935), Król trędowaty (The Leper King, 1936), and Bez oręża (Blessed are The Meek, 1937) dealing with the Crusades and later Francis of Assisi, translated into several languages. She also wrote Z miłości (From Love, 1926) and Szaleńcy boży (God's Madmen, 1929), on religious themes.
World War II
During the German occupation of Poland, she worked in the underground press: from 1939 to 1941, she co-edited the underground newspaper Polska żyje (Poland Lives). In 1941, she co-founded the Catholic organization Front Odrodzenia Polski (Front for the Rebirth of Poland), and edited its newspaper, Prawda (The Truth). In the underground, she used the code name Weronika.
In the summer of 1942, when the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto began, Kossak-Szczucka published a leaflet entitled "Protest," of which 5,000 copies were printed. In the leaflet, she described in graphic terms the conditions in the Ghetto, and the horrific circumstances of the deportations then taking place. "All will perish ... Poor and rich, old, women, men, youngsters, infants, Catholics dying with the name of Jesus and Mary together with Jews. Their only guilt is that they were born into the Jewish nation condemned to extermination by Hitler."
The world, Kossak-Szczucka wrote, was silent in the face of this atrocity. "England is silent, so is America, even the influential international Jewry, so sensitive in its reaction to any transgression against its people, is silent. Poland is silent... Dying Jews are surrounded only by a host of Pilates washing their hands in innocence." Those who are silent in the face of murder, she wrote, become accomplices to the crime. Kossak-Szczucka saw this largely as an issue of religious ethics. "Our feelings toward Jews have not changed," she wrote. "We do not stop thinking of them as political, economic and ideological enemies of Poland." But, she wrote, this does not relieve Polish Catholics of their duty to oppose the crimes being committed in their country.
We are required by God to protest," she wrote. "God who forbids us to kill. We are required by our Christian consciousness. Every human being has the right to be loved by his fellow men. The blood of the defenceless cries to heaven for revenge. Those who oppose our protest, are not Catholics.
We do not believe that Poland can benefit from German cruelties. On the contrary. ... We know how poisoned is the fruit of the crime. ... Those who do not understand this, and believe that a proud and free future for Poland can be combined with acceptance of the grief of their fellow men, are neither Catholics nor Poles.
She co-founded the Provisional Committee to Aid Jews (Tymczasowy Komitet Pomocy Żydom), which later turned into the Council to Aid Jews (Rada Pomocy Żydom), codenamed Żegota, an underground organization whose sole purpose was to save Jews in Poland from Nazi extermination. In 1985, she was posthumously named one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
Regarding Kossak-Szczucka's "Protest", Robert D. Cherry and Annamaria Orla-Bukowska wrote in the introduction to Rethinking Poles and Jews: "Without at all whitewashing her antisemitism in the document, she vehemently called for active intercession on behalf of the Jews - precisely in the name of Polish Roman Catholicism and Polish patriotism. The deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto precipitated her cofounding of Żegota that same year - an Armia Krajowa (AK, Home Army) unit whose sole purpose was to save Jews."
In 1943, Kossak-Szczucka was arrested, but the Germans did not realise who she was. She was sent first to the prison at Pawiak and then to Auschwitz, where she was held in the concentration-camp, not the adjacent extermination camp (Birkenau) where Jews were sent. She was released through the efforts of the Polish underground and returned to Warsaw. In late 1944, she participated in the Warsaw Uprising.
At the end of World War II, a communist regime began to establish itself in Poland. In June 1945, Kossak was called in by Jakub Berman, the new Polish Minister of the Interior, who was Jewish. He strongly advised her to leave the country immediately for her own protection, knowing what his government would do to political enemies, and also knowing from his brother, Adolf Berman, what Kossak had done to save Jewish lives. Kossak escaped to the West, but returned to Poland in 1957.
Kossak-Szczucka published Z otchłani: Wspomnienia z lagru (From the Abyss: Memories from the Camp, 1946), describing her experiences in Auschwitz. Dziedzictwo (1956–67) is about the Kossak family. Przymierze (Alliance, 1952) has biblical themes. Kossak-Szczucka also wrote books for children and teenagers, including Bursztyn (1936) and Gród nad jeziorem (Castle at the Lake, 1938). In 2009, the National Bank of Poland issued a coin posthumously commemorating the work of Kossak, Irena Sendler and Matylda Getter in helping Jews (see Żegota).
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- Polish culture during World War II
- Polish Righteous Among the Nations
- Juliusz Kossak
- Jerzy Kossak
- Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska
- Magdalena Samozwaniec
- List of Poles
Notes and references
- 8 August 1890, has usually been given as her birthdate, including by herself, but her recently discovered birth certificate confirms the date as 10 August 1889 — see  (Polish)
- Zdzisław Hierowski, 25 lat literatury na Śląsku 1920 - 1945, Wydawnictwa Instytutu Śląskiego, Katowice-Wrocław 1947, p. 194
- "The Righteous Among The Nations: Szczucka Zofia (1989 - 1968)". Retrieved August 26, 2013.
- Robert Cherry, Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future, pg. 5. Rowman & Littlefield, 2007; ISBN 0-7425-4666-7
- La maison brulée (The burned house). A sixteen-year-old voluntary helper during the Warsaw insurrection. Anna Szatkowska, Les Éditions Noir sur Blanc, CH-1007 Lausanne, 2005 (in French)
- Giffuni, Cathe (1990). "Zofia Kossak: An English Bibliography," The Polish Review, Volume XXXV No.3, pp. 289–293.
- Hierowski, Zdzisław (1947). 25 lat literatury na Śląsku 1920–1945. Katowice — Wrocław: Wydawnictwa Instytutu Śląskiego. OCLC 69489660.
- Jurgała-Jurecka, Joanna (2009). Historie zwyczajne i nadzwyczajne, czyli znani literaci na Śląsku Cieszyńskim. Cieszyn: Biblioteka Miejska w Cieszynie. pp. 68–89. ISBN 978-83-915660-9-1.