Second World War’s Forgotten Martyrs And Villains
Adelaid Mardosewicz, Jadwiga Karolina Żak, Anna Kukołowicz, Eleonora Aniela Jóźwik, Józefa Chrobot, Helena Cierpka, Julia Rapiej, Eugenia Mackiewicz, Paulina Borowik, Leokadia Matuszewska and Veronika Narmontowicz, represented all that was good.
Heinrich Klaustermeyer, Jurgen Stroop, Josef Blosche were among the personifications of evil in a time of unfathomable horrors.
Few are aware of any of these people, whose names were lost in the miasma of death that was orchestrated and conducted by the Nazis during World War II.
The 11 women, all nuns, are known by various names, the Martyrs of Nowogródek, the Blessed Martyrs of Nowogródek, the Eleven Nuns of Nowogródek and Blessed Mary Stella and her Ten Companions. All were sisters of the Catholic Church in the town of Nowogrodek, where they arrived in 1929 to help the local bishop. A decade later they were put to death by the Nazis because they would not relinquish their faith. On March 5, 2000, Pope John Paul II beatified the group as Blessed by virtue of martyrdom.
Before the war, the nuns spent most of the time in seclusion and religious contemplation until Nowogrodek was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939 and incorporated into the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1941, the town was occupied by the German army as part of the Operation Barbarossa. During the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Nowogrodek, the Sisters became a beacon of hope amid the cruelty and violence.
The Nazi terror in Nowogródek began in 1942 with the extermination of the town’s Jewish population as part of Operation Reinhard.
Operation Reinhard was the secret German plan to exterminate Polish Jews in the General Government district of German-occupied Poland. The deadliest phase of Operation Reinhard was marked by the introduction of extermination camps. As many as two million Jews were sent to Bełżec, Sobibór, and Treblinka to be murdered in gas chambers. In addition, facilities for mass-murder using Zyklon B were developed at about the same time at the Majdanek concentration camp and at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, near the earlier-established Auschwitz I camp for ethnically Polish prisoners.
Of Nowogródek’s 20,000 inhabitants before the war, around half were Jews. The Germans murdered about 9,500 of the Jews in a series of “actions” and sent the remaining 550 Jews to slave labor camps. This was followed by a surge in Polish arrests, then the slaughter of 60 people, including two Catholic priests. The situation was repeated on July 18, 1943, when more than 120 people were arrested and slated for execution.
The women of the town turned to the Sisters to pray for the prisoners’ release. The Sisters unanimously agreed and told the local pastor, Father Zienkiewicz, that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for the prisoners. The Gestapo agreed to deport the prisoners to work camps. When Zienkiewicz’s life was threatened, the Sisters renewed their offer as martyrs.
But this time, on July 31, 1943, the Gestapo commander ordered the community to report to the local police station, where they were held over night. The next morning, they were loaded into a van and driven to a secluded spot in the woods about three miles from the town. The 11 nuns were machine gunned to death and buried in a common grave.
The religious names of the Sisters and their ages at the time of their deaths include Sister M. Stella of the Blessed Sacrament, (Adelaide Mardosewicz), 54; Sister M. Imelda (Jadwiga Karolina Żak), 50; Sister M. Rajmunda of Jesus (Anna Kukołowicz), 50; Sister M. Daniela of Jesus (Eleonora Aniela Jóźwik) 48; Sister M. Kanuta of the Agonized Jesus in the Garden, (Józefa Chrobot), 47; Sister M. Gwidona of Divine Mercy, (Helena Cierpka), 43; Sister M. Sergia of Our Lady of Sorrows, ( Julia Rapiej), 42; Sister M. Kanizja, (Eugenia Mackiewicz), 39; Sister M. Felicyta, (Paulina Borowik), 37; Sister M. Heliodora, (Leokadia Matuszewska), 37; and Sister M. Boromea, (Veronika Narmontowicz), 26.
The nuns were among 108 Martyrs of World War II who were beatified on June 13, 1999, by Pope John Paul II. Among others beatified was Jarogniew Wojciechowski who a student of the Salesian Oratory in Poznań and one of the Poznań Five resistance fighters. He was active in the Military Organization of the Western Territories and was arrested by the Gestapo in September 1940 and guillotined along with friends in a prison in Dresdent on Aug. 24. 1942.
The Poznań Five, Czesław Jóźwiak, Edward Kaźmierski, Edward Klinik, Franciszek Kęsy, and Jarogniew Wojciechowski , were students of the Salesian Oratory of Saint John Bosco in Poznań. They engaged in resistance activities during the Nazi occupation of Poland, recruited local clergy, gathered intelligence, and distributed underground newspapers. Arrested by the Gestapo in September 1940, they were guillotined in Dresden on Aug. 24, 1942. The Poznan Five became folkheroes in their hometown of Poznan.
Among Nazis, Josef Blösche displayed unusual cruelty, so much that the Jews called him “Frankenstein” for his brutality, including the raping and killing of women in the Warsaw ghetto. Blösche killed many Jews, and helped send many more Jews to their deaths in extermination camps. He also participated in several massacres. But he will forever be remembered in the famous photograph showing a boy surrendering with his hands upraised surrendering to Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto. In the rear is the SS man Blösche who is facing the boy with a sub-machine gun in hand.
Blösche and other SS members hunted and randomly shot down Jews. Blösche and another SS member, Heinrich Klaustermeyer, would ride bicycles into the ghetto and shoot Jews they encountered.
After serving in Warsaw with the SS, Blösche was briefly transferred to the Eastern Front, where he served with Einsatzkommando 8, a subunit of the death squad Einsatzgruppe B, responsible for mass shootings in Belarus.
He was transferred back to Warsaw in 1942, when mass deportation of Jews to the Treblinka death camp started. Blösche hunted down many Jews who were hiding from deportation. He participated in the shooting of about 1,000 Jews in April 1943 and later admitted that he personally shot around 75 Jews that day.
Blösche surrendered in May 1945 and was sent to a labor camp. In early 1946, Blösche was repatriated and interned in the Ostrava Region in Czechoslovakia. While working as a captive in a coal mine, Blösche was struck by a hoist and suffered a fractured skull and serious facial injuries. The injuries so marred his face that he escaped being identified and captured until 1967 when he was caught in East Germany where he was convicted of numerous atrocities and executed on July 29, 1969.
Jürgen Stroop was a Nazi SS officer who led the month long suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, leading to the deaths of more than 57,000 people. Stroop ordered the Ghetto to be systematically burned-down and blown-up, building-by-building. A total of 57,065 survivors were either killed on the spot or deported to extermination camp.
After the war, Stroop was prosecuted during the Dachau Trials and convicted of murdering nine U.S. prisoners of war. After his extradition to Poland, Stroop was tried, convicted, and executed for crimes against humanity.
Karl Heinrich Klaustermeyer served in the Gestapo, and was stationed in the Warsaw Ghetto, where he personally murdered many Jewish civilians and participated in the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising. After the war, he settled down in West Germany. Klaustermeyer was exposed and arrested in the early 1960s. In 1965, he was found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He was released from prison on health grounds less than two weeks before his death in 1976.
During the investigation, Klaustermeyer implicated Blösche, who was living in East Germany, in the atrocities he had committed. Blösche was arrested, tried for war crimes, and executed in 1969.