Zegota

Zegota which was the common name of Rada Pomocy Zydom - Council For Aid to Jews - was an Underground organisation in occupied Poland. Zegota was in operation from December 1942, until the liberation of Poland in January 1945. It was preceded by the Tymczasowy Komitet Pomocy - Provisional Committee for Aid to Jews , founded on September 27, 1942, on the initiative of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, who also became its chairperson.

Made up of democratic catholic activists, the Provisional Committee had 180 persons under its care. On December 4, 1942, it became a permanent council known as Zegota. It had on its board, representatives of five Polish and two Jewish political movements. Julian Grobelny represented the right-wing Socialist movement; Piotr Grajewski the left-wing Socialist movement; Tadeusz Rek, the Popular Party; Ferdynand Arczynski, the Democratic Party; and Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, the Front for Poland's Renewal. The two participating Jewish organisations were the Jewish National Committee and the Bund, represented by Adolf Abraham Berman and Leon Feiner, respectively. These two men took Polish Underground Agent Jan Karski on a clandestine tour of the Warsaw ghetto.

Grobelny was elected chairman of the council, and when he was arrested in May 1944, he was replaced by Roman Jablonowski; in late 1944, Leon Feiner became president. Feiner and Rek were deputy chairmen; Adolf Berman, secretary and Arczynski, treasurer of the council. Zegota established a children's section, a medical section and a regional section. Witold Bienkowski, director of the Jewish section of the Delegatura (the representatives of the Polish Government in Exile in Poland), was the Delegatura's representative with Zegota, although from time to time this function was taken over by Wladyslaw Bartoszewski. Zegota had branches in Krakow, and Lvov, headed by Stanislaw Dobrowolski and Wladyslawa Chomsowa, respectively.

Zegota did not establish a regional network of its own, utilizing instead the existing clandestine organizations of its member movements, or of other groups that were in contact with it, such as the League of Polish Syndicalists and the headquarters group of the Polish Home Army (AK). The Delegatura made allocations to Zegota that in 1943, ranged from 150,000 to 750,000 zlotys per month and in 1944, from 1 million to 2 million zlotys per month, totalling 28.75 million zlotys for the whole period. Between July 1943, and June 1944, Zegota also received subsidies from the Bund and the Jewish National Committee, totalling 3.2 million zlotys, but it repaid these allocations late in 1944, adding a contribution of its own. In the autumn of 1943, Zegota repaid a sum of $23,000 to the International Organization of Polish Jews.

In January 1943, Zegota provided financial assistance to three hundred persons and by the end of the year to two thousand, that figure was doubled to four thousand by the summer of 1944. A chronic shortage of funds precluded a further rise in the number of aid recipients. The monthly allocation per person ranged from 400 to 700 zlotys, which was barely enough for subsistence. Similar monthly payments, however, were made by the Polish Home Army, to the families of its members who had fallen in battle. In cases of special danger or exposure to blackmail, the council made an effort to provide additional aid.

The major contribution made by Zegota was to provide, free of charge, 'Aryan' documents for Jews under its care, and frequently also for Bund and National Jewish Committee personnel. At first, Zegota used the facilities of the Polish Home Army and other political organisations for this purpose, but it later accomplished the forging on its own, producing false baptismal, marriage and death certificates, identity cards, and employment cards. Tens of thousands of forged documents of the highest quality were provided by Zegota to the Jews it was looking after - each person required several such documents.

Concealing Jews was punishable in Poland with death for all the persons living in the house where they were discovered, including their children. The most difficult aspect was therefore to find hiding places for persons who looked Jewish. Zegota was on constant lookout for suitable accommodation, utilising for this purpose its members' ties with other organisations. It also helped in the construction of shelters, inside or outside apartments, to be used by Jews either on a permanent basis or in critical moments. No estimate can be given of the magnitude of this form of aid by Zegota, but it appears to have been on a large scale.

Children were put in the care of foster families, or, where Zegota had the necessary connections, into public orphanages or similar institutions maintained by convents. The foster families were told that the children were relatives, distant or close and they were paid by Zegota for the children's maintenance. In Warsaw, Zegota had twenty-five, hundred children registered whom it looked after in this way. Medical attention for the Jews in hiding was made available thanks to Zegota's connections with the clandestine Democratic and Socialist Doctors' Committee. This committee maintained an efficient network that made it possible for Jewish patients to be seen by specialists at short notice.

Zegota had ties with the Piotrkow Trybunalski, Radom, Pionki and Skaryssko Kamienna camps, and Zegota's representatives in Warsaw helped transmit money and letters to these camps on behalf of the Bund and the Jewish National Committee. In Krakow, Zegota had similar ties with the Plaszow labour camp and with Lvov.

Zegota also made numerous efforts to induce the Polish Government -in-exile and the Delegatura to appeal to the Polish population to help the persecuted Jews , and to impose sanctions on Polish informers who were turning over Jews to the Germans for money. The Council published three leaflets dealing with this issue, as well as press releases on the struggle of the Jews and the fate they were facing, and it lodged protests against the anti-Semitic acts of some factions in the Polish Underground.

Among the few organisations in occupied Europe that were active in giving aid to Jews, Zegota was the only one that was run jointly by non-Jews and Jews from a wide range of political movements, and the only one that, despite the arrests of some of its members, was able to operate for a considerable length of time and to extend help to Jews in so many different ways.


Sources


Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust, McMillan Publishing Company, New York, 1990. 


Holocaust Historical Society 2017