The Convent Children: The Rescue of Jewish Children in Polish Convents During the Holocaust
The article addresses a controversial subject – the rescue of Jewish children in Polish convents during the Holocaust. As in other occupied countries, convents in Poland were considered relatively safe hiding places for persecuted Jews. Yet, as a result of traditional Polish Church hostility towards the Jews and the absence of ties between the Jews and senior Church officials and heads of convents, Jewish parents were reluctant to turn to Church institutions to hide their children. Parents feared that the children’s distress would be exploited in order to convert them. When the ghettos were being liquidated and all else had failed, Jewish children began seeking shelter in convents. The nuns took in and rescued hundreds of Jewish children devotedly and at great risk. The article analyzes the children’s lives in these convents and their acclimation to their new, strange, Christian environment. In their loneliness the children often found companionship in other Jewish children who had come to the convent under assumed identities. Shared fate was the basis for a strong bond. Special relationships also developed between these children and their responsible nuns, who were aware of the children’s true identity. These relationships attended them during the conversion process as well. The wartime experiences left a deep impression on these children and often made it difficult to return them to their people after the war.