author: Zbigniew Tyburski
When depicting the life history of Stanisława Leszczyńska, mother, we must respect her desire for privacy. Not much can be said about her personal life, about her human and womanly dreams, disappointments and sufferings. Her life, which can best be described by memories of her humility, simplicity, and trustworthiness, was enriched by her spiritual attachment to the people she served.
Mother of the homeless, she who served both mother and child, Stanisława Leszczyńska, deserves a lasting memorial. Her biography can best be written as a recounting of her deeds and the spiritual imprints she left in human hearts, and in the feelings and memories of the people she touched.
Leszczyńska was born on May 8, 1896, in Łódź, Poland. At the age of seven, she began private schooling at the elementary level and later went to public high school. In 1908, she emigrated with her parents to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but two years later she returned to Poland and finished high school in Łódź.
During World War I, Leszczyńska worked for some charitable organizations and helped her mother bring up her two younger siblings. After her marriage in 1916, she continued her studies at the Midwife School in Warsaw, which she finished in 1922. From that time on, she began her duties as a midwife, which she always fulfilled with complete dedication. She usually prayed for each mother she served and asked the Blessed Virgin Mary for help in her profession.
Leszczyńska’s life and her work attained great significance during the Nazi occupation. She was arrested by the Nazis on April 17, 1943, and for sixty days, she was brutally interrogated. Later, she was taken to the concentration camp in Auschwitz where, as prisoner number 41335, she served as a midwife. She said that it was God’s providence that had sent her to Auschwitz. She expressed her feelings in the following words: “I was brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau with my daughter Sylwia on April 17, 1943. The German midwife who worked at the Auschwitz hospital became sick. When Lagerartz, the Nazi soldier who was responsible for the medical staff in the camp, heard that I was a midwife, he ordered me to perform that job. “The first childbirth I assisted at was a Gypsy woman, who was to be sent to death in the gas chamber. From that time on, (May 1943), all mothers gave birth at the concentration camp’s hospital. Some mothers were sent to the crematorium together with their infants immediately after they gave birth. The vision of those women each carrying her child wrapped in paper, sometimes on a winter day, to the place of execution, was terrible.”
Richard C. Lukas, in his book “Forgotten Holocaust,” reminds us that: “The first non-German prisoners at Auschwitz were Poles, who constituted the largest number of inmates there until 1942 when the Jews became the largest group. In addition, until 1942 ninety percent of the inmates of Stutthof were Poles. The first killing by poison gas at Auschwitz involved three hundred Poles and seven hundred Soviet prisoners of war. So many Poles were sent to concentration camps that virtually every Polish family had someone close to them who had been tortured or murdered there. Over thirty-five thousand Poles passed through Dachau; approximately thirty-three thousand Polish women were imprisoned in Ravensbruk. In Sachsenhausen, twenty thousand Poles perished; in Mauthausen, thirty thousand; in Neuengamme, seventeen thousand.
“As a result of almost six years of war, Poland lost six million, twenty-eight thousand of its citizens, or twenty-two percent of its total population, the highest ratio of losses to the population of any country in Europe. About fifty percent of these victims were Polish Christians and fifty percent were Polish Jews. Approximately five million three hundred eighty-four thousand, or eighty-nine percent, of Polish war losses (Jews and Gentiles), were the victims of prisons, death camps, raids, executions, an annihilation of ghettoes, epidemics, starvation, excessive work, and ill-treatment.”
Leszczyńska baptized the children at Auschwitz immediately after they were born, because, as she said, one never knew what would happen to the mother and child. She was unequaled in her care to mothers who gave birth. She cherished them with affection and goodness, applying first-aid, medicine and herbs – everything that was possible tor the mother and child to survive the difficulties of camp conditions.
Leszczyńska believed that she overcame the camp’s hardships due to God’s providence. She lost her husband during the Warsaw Uprising on August 1, 1944. She returned to Warsaw at the end of the war Where she undertook the care of her old parents, as well as her children. She worked as a midwife, and indefatigably fought for both mothers’ and children’s rights. Shortly after the end of World War II, she learned that she had cancer. Although she felt that death was coming, she courageously endured her sickness. She died on March 11, 1974, and was buried at the cemetery of Saint Roch in Łódź-Radagoszcz.
Throughout her life, Leszczyńska constantly fought for human beings and their dignity. She saw God’s image in the face of every person. By her own life and suffering, she showed other people a deep level of human dignity and guided them to divine destiny.
Kazimiera Bogdańska, a prisoner of Auschwitz Camp, Who received Leszczyńska’s help said: “I have reason enough to express my thanksgiving to ”Mother” Leszczyńska. (The title “Mother” was given to Leszczyńska by many prisoners). After I gave birth, I was very ill with dysentery had no medicine. Only one deliverance was possible for me firmly burnt the bread. However, each of us received only a small portion of bread. The fetid soup was impossible for me to eat. Leszczyńska, as a midwife, was allowed to receive white bread. She handed me her own white bread every day of my sickness, although she had her own sick daughter in the camp. She scorched thin slices over coals and grated it into powder. I lived on this food only and survived.
”My child who was born in the concentration camp also survived thanks to ”Mother” Leszczyńska. I absolutely had no milk because I was so emaciated. There were many such women. Our children were sentenced to death. Our children cried out with hunger, and we cried with grief and despair. When we gave them a little water, they immediately vomited. The Nazi authorities, near the end of the war, gave us a little milk, but in most cases, it was already sour, and the children could not drink it. ”Mother” always begged other mothers who had more milk than we who were sick and who already had lost their own children, to nurse ours. It was the only hope for them. Many of us, both mothers and our children, survived because of the heroic sacrifice of ”Mother” Leszczyńska.”
Note about the author:
Zbigniew Tyburski was born in Poland and was ordained in Lublin in 1973. He earned his doctorate in Pastoral Theology in 1983 at the Catholic University of Lublin. His first book, (I Wholeheartedly Belong to You, My Country) was published in Warsaw in 1993. He has written many articles on pastoral and sociological topics and has attended symposiums on Evangelization (Rome) and Christian-Jewish relations (Chicago). His latest duties have centered on parish life and evangelization in northern New Jersey.
SOURCE: POLISH CHAMPIONS author Zbigniew Tyburski, Published by Franciscan Publishers & Printers, Inc. Pulaski, WI