Love, Hate and The War
By Arleta Sziler
In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II beatified in Rome 11 Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth!. They were martyrs from Nowogrodek and included Sr. Superior Maria Stella and other 10 sisters.
However, one might ask, who were these women?
These were nuns who arrived in Nowogrodek in September 1929. Nowogrodek was a small town in the eastern lands of the Republic of Poland (now Belarus). Its population was very diversified because it included Poles, Jews, Tatars, Muslims, Belarusians and Russians plus a few others.
Even thou they were not gladly welcomed at first, the nuns tried to discern the needs of the community right from the beginning. The nuns wanted to run a school for girls and soon they opened one (btw, one of their first students was a Muslim girl). Sisters were not only examples of deep faith, hope and love for the locals, but at the same time they worked hard at school and always helped the needy. This help and overall assistance to Nowogrodek’s community gradually gained them the respect of the locals.
On September 1st, 1939, the Nazi Germany attacked Poland from the West and, 17 days later, the Soviet Russia did the same from the East. World War Two started from Polish soil, and Nowogrodek was taken by the Russians.
Communists did not allow the Sisters to exercise their faith. They were expelled from their house; forbidden to wear their religious robes, or run a school. They were forced to work on collective farms, or as cleaners in the Bolshevics homes. But still the nuns became much closer to the local people. They cried with the locals when the Russians arrested thousands of innocent Polish people; some were killed, but many were transported to the steps of Kazakhstan or to Siberia. A few years later, the Russians withdrew, because Germany attacked Russia, but then came the German occupation.
The Germans started their terror by gathering dozens of local Jewish people in the market square and executing them, while their orchestra played a waltz. It did not stop there. Even thou the Fara Church was filled with believers, the executions continued nonetheless. In July 1942, a mass execution took place in the forest near Nowogrodek, sixty locals, including two priests – Fr. Jozef Kuczynski and Fr. Michal Dalecki – were shot.
The citizens of Nowogrodek, tormented by the regime, looked for comfort in the church where Fr. Aleksander Zienkiewicz, the only priest who survived in the area, celebrated daily mass.
Meanwhile, the murderous Gestapo was still arresting and killing people. The next year, on the night of July 17 and 18, 1943, 120 people from Nowogrodek were arrested, soon to be executed. Sister Superior Maria Stella was meeting with Fr. Zienkiewicz and said: My God, if sacrifice of life is needed, let them kill us and not those who have families. We are even praying for that.
And suddenly, for an unknown reason, the execution of 120 people was withheld. Those, who were supposed to be killed, were transported to do compulsory work in Germany. Some were even released!. However, the Gestapo did not forget about their murdering vocation, oh no! On July 31st, 1943, Sister Maria Stella and her nuns were ordered to report to the Gestapo headquarters at 7:30 p.m. After the rosary at the Fara Church, 11 nuns of the Family of Nazareth went into the infamous Gestapo building.
The sisters’ names were: Stella, Imelda, Rajmunda, Daniela, Kanuta, Sergia, Gwidona, Felicyta, Heliodora, Kanizja and Boromea. But there was one more nun, who did not go to Gestapo headquarters. So where was she than? The 12th nun, Sister Malgorzata, who usually wore civilian clothes because she helped out every day in the hospital, was ordered to stay at home that evening by the Mother Superior, because the sick people in the hospital would need her the next morning. The Nuns thought that the worst thing that could happen to them was a transportation to Germany for slave work.
Then things happened very quickly. The nuns did not hear any accusations; there was no investigation. They were put into Gestapo dungeon. They knew..so they started praying… A few hours later, on Sunday, Aug. 1, 1943, at dawn, the nuns were transported and executed in a birch-pine tree wooded area, not far from the town. On that Sunday morning, love was killed by hate.
In the Spring of 1945, the Second World War ended. All those 120 people from Nowogrodek, for whom 11 nuns had sacrificed their lives, survived the war and came back home. Fr. Zienkiewicz and Sister Malgorzata survived horrors of war and they also returned to Nowogrodek. At the local cemetery, behind the Fara Church, bodies of the 11 nuns were buried again by the Nowogrodek community.
„No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends,” said the late John Paul II on the day of nuns beatification in March 2000, which reflects these women’s greatest deeds.
And even though the 11 Nuns were killed 75 years ago, their works and intentions are so pure and noble, that our generation should never forget it!