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Zofia Kossak-Szczucka

Zofia Kossak-Szczucka around 1933
Born August 10, 1889(1889-08-10)
Kośmin, Congress Poland
Died April 9, 1968 (aged 78)
Bielsko-Biała, Poland
Occupation Writer, resistance fighter
Nationality Polish

Zofia Kossak-Szczucka (10 August 1889[1] – 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 Poland's Jews in escaping 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. She was also a granddaughter of painter Juliusz Kossak. She married twice, and kept the name Szczucka from her first marriage (second time with Zygmunt Szatkowski in 1925). In 1924 she settled in the village of Górki Wielkie in Cieszyn Silesia.[2] 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 Gold Laurel (Złoty Wawrzyn) of the Polish Academy of Literature.

Kossak-Szczucka is regarded as one of Poland's best historical novelists, alongside Henryk Sienkiewicz and Józef Ignacy Kraszewski. Her 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.

During the German occupation of Poland, Kossak-Szczucka worked in the underground press: from 1939 to 1941 she co-edited the underground newspaper, Polska żyje (Poland Lives) and in 1941 co-founded the Catholic organization, Front for the Rebirth of Poland, and edited its newspaper Prawda (The Truth). In the underground, she used the code-name Weronika (Veronica).

Despite already being the target of an intensive Gestapo search, she exposed herself to the added danger of helping the Jews. Her motivation was moral, humanitarian and patriotic. She regarded the Germans' actions, she said, as an offense against man and God, and their policies as an affront to the ideals that she espoused for an independent Poland.


In the summer of 1942, when the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto began, Kossak-Szczucka published a leaflet entitled "Protest," which was printed in 5,000 copies. 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," she wrote. "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 in to 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 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."

Kossak-Szczucka also saw the issue as one of national honour. "We do not believe that Poland can benefit from German cruelties," she wrote. "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."

Since World War II writers have been puzzled about what they see as Kossak-Szczucka's contradictory views. On the one hand she is described as a nationalist and an anti-Semite, something she did not in fact deny. On the other hand, she made a genuine appeal to the Polish national conscience to come to the aid of the Jews as well as risked her life by becoming involved in practical work to save at least a fraction of Polish Jews from the Germans. She co-founded Provisional Committee to Aid Jews (Tymczasowy Komitet Pomocy Żydom), which later turned into Council to Aid Jews (Rada Pomocy Żydom), codename Zegota, an underground organization whose sole purpose was to save Jews in Poland from Nazi extermination. In 1985 she was posthumously awarded Righteous Among the Nations title.

Polish history contends that most organizations and individuals detected the evil of Hitler's campaign and suspended whatever antisemitic activities in which they had been engaged. One example given is... that of the ultranationalist Zofia Kossak-Szczucka's 1942 "Protest". 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 Zegota that same year--an Armia Krajowa (AK, Home Army) unit whose sole purpose was to save Jews.[3]

Later career

While Kossak-Szczucka is generally credited with galvanising a united front in the struggle to help Jews, she and others were already involved in this work, either as party activists or as individuals. The aim after 1942 was to unite all these forces and link them with the resources of the Home Army (AK) and to get funds from the government-in-exile in London and other sources.

In 1943 Kossak-Szczucka was arrested, but the Germans did not realise who she was. She was sent first to the infamous Pawiak prison and then to Auschwitz. There she was held in the concentration-camp not the adjacent extermination camp 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. After the war she emigrated to Britain and returned to Poland in 1957, after the end of stalinist period.

Kossak-Szczucka published Z otchłani: Wspomnienia z lagru (From Abyss: Memories from the Camp) 1946, describing her experiences in Auschwitz. Dziedzictwo 1956-67 is about the Kossak family, and Przymierze (Alliance) 1952 has biblical themes. Kossak-Szczucka also wrote also books for children and teenagers, including Bursztyn 1936 and Gród nad jeziorem (Castle at the Lake) 1938.


  • Beatum scelus
  • Beatyfikacja Skargi
  • Bez oręża (English title: Blessed are The Meek) (1937)
  • Błogosławiona wina
  • Błogosławiony Jan Sarkander ze Skoczowa
  • Bursztyny
  • Chrześcijańskie posłannictwo Polski
  • Dziedzictwo
  • Gród nad jeziorem
  • Kielich krwi - obrazek sceniczny w dwóch aktach
  • Kłopoty Kacperka góreckiego skrzata (1924)
  • Król trędowaty
  • Krzyżowcy (1935)
  • Ku swoim (1932)
  • Legnickie pole (1931)
  • Na drodze
  • Na Śląsku
  • Nieznany kraj (1932)
  • Ognisty wóz
  • Pątniczym szlakiem. Wrażenia z pielgrzymki (1933)
  • Pod lipą
  • Pożoga (1922)
  • Prometeusz i garncarz
  • Przymierze (1952)
  • Purpurowy szlak
  • Puszkarz Orbano
  • Rewindykacja polskości na Kresach
  • Rok polski: obyczaj i wiara
  • S.O.S. ... !
  • Skarb Śląski (1937)
  • Suknia Dejaniry
  • Szaleńcy Boży (1929)
  • Szukajcie przyjaciół (1933)
  • Topsy i Lupus (1931)
  • Trembowla
  • Troja północy with Zygmunt Szatkowski historic novel about Polabian Slavs
  • W Polsce Podziemnej: wybrane pisma dotyczące lat 1939 - 1944
  • Warna
  • Wielcy i mali (1927)
  • Z dziejów Śląska
  • Z miłości (1925)
  • Z otchłani: wspomnienia z lagru
  • Złota wolność (1928)

See also


  1. ^ 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 [1] (Polish)
  2. ^ Hierowski 1947, 194.
  3. ^ Robert Cherry, Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future, p.5. Published 2007 by Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 0742546667


External links

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