As Czarnecki later explained, “To make the certificate, it was necessary to search through the death register for a death certificate, most often of a child or infant, whose year of birth coincided with that of the person wanting to ‘break out’ of the ghetto.”
The ghetto resident then received a baptismal certificate bearing the name, date of birth, and date of baptism of their “double” as recorded in the parish’s baptismal register.
“I have personally known many of them and, to this day, they still use the assumed surname,” Czarnecki recalled after the war.
If the Nazis had discovered this ruse, Godlewski and Czarnecki would have faced the death penalty. In 1941, Hans Frank, governor-general of the occupied Polish territories, decreed that Jews who left their designated area would be executed. Those who sheltered them would face the same punishment.
Godlewski and Czarnecki were obliged to leave the ghetto in July 1942, the same month that the Nazis launched the “Grossaktion Warschau” (pictured below), in which more than a quarter of a million Jews were deported and murdered at the Treblinka extermination camp.
Following an uprising which lasted nearly a month, the Nazis liquidated the ghetto in the spring of 1943. General Jürgen Stroop, who oversaw the suppression of the revolt, sent a triumphant report to SS chief Heinrich Himmler entitled “The Jewish Quarter of Warsaw Is No More!”
Estimates vary for how many people Godlewski saved, from 1,000 to as many as 3,000. The priest died at his home near Warsaw on Christmas Day, 1945.
Ludwik Hirszfeld, a pioneering scientist who was jointly responsible for naming the blood groups A, B, AB, and O, credited Godlewski with helping him to survive the Holocaust.
“When I recall his name, I am overcome by emotion,” he wrote. “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.”
The Polish bishops’ conference highlighted Godlewski’s life on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
(Story continues below)
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In a statement marking the day, bishops’ conference president Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki noted that Jan. 27 is the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The official Auschwitz Memorial commemoration event, held online due to the pandemic, focused on the more than 200,000 children murdered in the concentration camp.
The commemoration included prayers by the Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, Catholic Bishop Roman Pindel, Orthodox Bishop Atanazy and Evangelical-Augsburg Bishop Adrian Korczago.
Gądecki said: “This anniversary obliges us to loudly express opposition to all manifestations that trample human dignity: racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. On this anniversary, we appeal to the modern world for reconciliation and peace, for respect for the right of every nation to exist and to freedom, independence, and the preservation of its own culture.”
“Let us pray for the victims of World War II. Let us also pray that, in each person, love for one’s neighbor may always be victorious!”