After the Mother Superior heard the story of Joasia, she arranged for us to visit the convent in Suchedniow, a small village about 150 km from Warsaw.
We arrived at the Warsaw convent to meet Sister Honorata, Iza our new and dear friend who translated for us yesterday, and, Sister Doretta who was to be our driver. I didn’t realize that a Toyota Corolla could do 180kmh/110mph. My knuckles were white for a full two hours while Sister Honorata prayed the rosary. The Sister was quickly renamed “Sister Le Mans” by Peter, and “The Flying Nun” by me.
In my mind I had pictured a large church with a steeple and a large dormitory building adjacent, and another larger building that the SS had taken over during the war as their “headquarters”. Instead, there was a small chapel and outbuildings, plus the long dormitory which had been the orphanage and school. We were welcomed as if we were long lost family. The nuns embraced us then insisted we sit down to an enormous meal they had prepared. As we sat and talked to Sisters Zofia and Maria, Sister Zofia pulled out a photo, that we learned later was taken in 1945. In it was a small child with dark glossy hair and round brown eyes. I knew it was Joasia, my mother. I knew we had found the right orphanage. The picture was nearly identical to pictures of me as a child.
Joasia’s beloved Sister Kornelia who had looked after her was not in the photo, as she was terrified of being photographed. Kornelia was devastated after the war ended when Joasia was taken away by people who were not her parents. It appears she went to her grave yearning to know where her special child was, and if she was safe.
|The orphanage and school. Mum remembered the building when I sent her this photo!|
|Beloved Kornelia RIP.|
The Suchedniow Saw Mill
After his wife Irena was killed, Zdislaw, Joasia's father, joined the underground resistance (A.K) He arranged for false papers for Ala, Irena's sister and Mietek her husband throughout their constant escapes from cities and villages all over Poland, often with Joasia . Eventually, he was directed by the AK to manage a factory in Radom and a saw mill in Suchedniow (about 40 kms away). Zdislaw was hiding Jews and escaped Polish prisoners of war under the warehouse floor at the mill. After he arranged a job at the mill for Mietek, Joasia & Ala also moved to the Mill after fleeing the killings in Tarnow. Ala told me, “We had a room with kitchen and I was cooking and baking cakes. I learned to bake in a wooden stove. We had Joasia with us, and all the time we had visitors who worked there. We had to invite them for dinner. All they talked about was Jews being killed here and there. We had to listen and agree and say - oh yes that’s so good…all the time.”
Eventually they were arrested. Ala told me when I interviewed her, “ I left her. I left Joasia in an empty room…they didn’t want a child. I left her in bed..she had a big white teddy bear…I gave her this teddy bear and went out. … It was very difficult, because we didn’t know what would happen to us. We thought they going to shoot us. We asked them to shoot us in the street, we told them we would run away so they could shoot us.”
As I was telling the Sisters Joasia’s story, they looked at me inquisitively when I mentioned the saw mill. Iza translated for Sister Zofia. “There was only one Saw Mill in Suchedniow, it was right across the street from us. It’s been torn down now and only the house is standing.” Zofia recounted the older Nuns discussing the events of people being forcefully removed from buildings during the war, and, hearing loud interrogations outside. “Yes, there were terrible interrogations.”
I couldn’t believe that my family were hauled like animals onto a street that I could see from the convent. Joasia was left behind in her room as if she were a useless object, an insignificant small piece of humanity. Her life was saved eventually, in circumstances that are nearly impossible to believe.
|Sisters Zofia & Maria say goodbye and wait for Joasia to visit.|