Zofia Kossak, the founder of ŻEGOTA, the only organisation rescuing Jews during WW2

Zofia Kossak was a Polish writer and co-founder of ŻEGOTA, the Polish Council to Aid Jews and part of the Polish Underground State. Żegota was the only underground resistance organisation in occupied Europe established specifically for rescuing Jews from mass extermination in extremely difficult realities of daily life in Poland under German occupation. 

The heroine, who contributed to the rescue of tens of thousands of Jewish people, was in the end arrested and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp but survived the war and had continued to live in Poland under subsequent Soviet occupation of the country until 1947.

However, she was forced to leave Poland due to the realities and dangers of the emerging communist regime hostility to the former members of the Polish Underground State. She became ‘persona no grata’ in her own country. Together with her husband, Stanisław Szatkowski, they found refuge in Great Britain and lived in Cornwall for twelve years on a farm near the town of Launceston.

They purchased a breeding farm in Trossell in partnership with two other buyers. While their partners provided most of the cash, Szatkowski family agreed to work on the farm. However, the farm’s housing conditions were substandard, with no electricity, no proper sewage system and no telephone line. Their children, son Witold and daughter Anna, studied abroad, in Ireland and Switzerland, respectively. Therefore, Zofia, aged 60, and her husband began a life of farmers with no additional helping hands and with no previous experience in farming.

Living and working on the farm for intellectuals like Zofia and her husband was one big challenge indeed. They had to spend time learning to cope with the duties of everyday life on the farm and many problems and surprises like, for example, tracing and finding lost cattle or sheep in the vast Cornish fields.

Whenever they could, they kept in touch with Poles living in Great Britain, inviting and visiting each other. They often offered shelter to compatriots arriving from Poland. They lived in good relation with English neighbours as well, including an Anglican pastor from North Pertherwin who, by the way, sometimes seized an opportunity trying to convert them to Anglicanism. He, for example, tried to challenge Zofia with the question: “You Poles are such devoted Catholics, but how this happened Poland did not have any Polish Pope yet?” Zofia calmly answered: “No, but we have patience and still have time and we will wait”. Well, we all know it has come to reality 30 years later.

Zofia and her husband loved to spend holidays travelling through the picturesque Cornwall. They admired beautiful sandy beaches and hills of Bodmin and Dartmoor.

They became parishioners in the nearby RC Church of St Cuthbert Mayne and befriended the parish priest, Fr White, who was of Irish descent, and who often invited the couple for a cup of tea and a chat to his presbytery.

From the editor:

Zofia Kossak is among the 7,112 Poles (more than any other country) honoured as “The Righteous Among the Nations” at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Poles constitute the largest national group within the Righteous Among the Nations recognised by Yad Vashem. 27.712 people have been recognised so far. More than 25% of which were Polish. More can be read at the official Yad Vashem website. We need to remember that throughout the German occupation of Poland, many Poles risked their own lives – and the lives of their families – to rescue Jews from the Germans. To date, 7,112 Poles Christian Poles have been awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel, more than those of any other nation (to compare Germany just 616). Considering the harsh punishment that threatened rescuers, this is a most impressive number. Polish citizens were hampered by the most extreme conditions in all of German-occupied Europe. Occupied Poland was the only territory where the Germans decreed that any kind of help for Jews was punishable by death for the helper and their entire family. At least 50.000 Poles were executed by the Germans solely as a penalty for saving Jews.

 

Author: Zbigniew Izdebski

Source: Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, Memoirs from Cornwall 1947-1957, Literary publishing house.

Pictures: The author provided photos of the Cornish house and farm of Zofia Kossak and her family.

The author interviewed Cornwall residents who have remembered Zofia and kindly agreed to share their memories with the author.

Translation: Jolanta Pitera

 

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