Forgotten History-Auschwitz’s Midwife

When I first starting compiling these Forgotten WWII stories, I reckoned I would be able to do 20-25 max, since so much was already written about the era.

But how wrong I was! Every time I do one story another one pops up. As in this case I was actually doing research on the real von Trapp family(from Sound of Music fame) when as a side note I saw the name of  Stanislawa Leszczynska, it was completely unrelated to the Von Trapp story but curiosity killed the cat and I had to look into the story of Stanislawa Leszczynska and am I glad I did, since her story is much more intriguing then the von Trapps( I don’t like Sound of the Music anyway).

Stanisława Leszczyńska (May 8, 1896 – March 11, 1974) was a Polish midwife who was incarcerated at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, where she delivered over 3,000 children.She is an official candidate for canonization (sainthood) by the Catholic Church.Several hospitals and organizations in Europe are named after Stanisława; the main road at Auschwitz concentration camp museum is named after her; and so is a street in the city of Łódź.

Born Stanislawa Zambrzyska in 1896, she married Bronislaw Leszczynski in 1916 and together they had two sons and a daughter. In 1922, she graduated from a school for midwives and began working in the poorest districts of Lodz. In pre-war Poland, babies were normally delivered at home. Stanislawa made herself available at any time, walking many kilometers to the homes of the women she helped. Her children recall that she often worked nights but she never slept during the day.

After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany at the onset of World War II, the Leszczyński family was forced to relocate to Wspólna 3 Street when the Łódź Ghetto was created for the Jews by the Nazi occupation administration. Żurawia Street, where they used to live, became part of the ghetto area. The Leszczyńskis began helping ghettoized Jews by delivering food items and false documents. However, Stanisława was caught red-handed, and brought to the Gestapo on February 18, 1943. Stanislawa was arrested in Lodz  with her daughter and two sons. The sons were sent to the labor camp at Mathausen and Gusen to work in the stone quarries. She and her daughter, Sylvia, were sent to Auschwitz where they arrived on April 17, 1943. They were given the numbers 41335 and 41336, tattooed on their forearms. They would remain as mementos of the camp. The Nazis sent the two boys as slave labour to the stone quarries of Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.Leszczyńska never saw her husband again; he died in the Warsaw Uprising.

Stanisława was relegated to women’s camp maternity ward along with her daughter, who had been a medical student before the war broke out.Stanisława met Dr Mengele,and was advised to euthanize the newborns she delivered.

Josef_Mengele

She did not comply. Leszczyńska did not kill a single child, and whenever possible, used to wrap them up in scraps of fabric or paper and put them under the mother’s rough blankets.

Even though Menegle was clearly opposed to Stanislawa’s saving of Jewish infants and their mothers, he did remark to the other Nazi physicians that not only was she an exceptionally skilled midwife, but that she was the personification of hope prisoners clung to that they may, eventually, escape the camp.

holocaust-infant

Years later, she described how she put her life at risk to save newborns in a work called Raport położnej z Oświęcimia (The Report of a Midwife from Auschwitz). She described how the newborns were snatched away, taken to another room, and drowned in a barrel by Schwester Klara from Germany, who was imprisoned at Auschwitz for infanticide, and her assistant,Schwester Pfani Of the 3,000 she delivered, some 2,500 newborns perished; a few hundred others with blue eyes were sent away to be Germanized. Only about 30 infants survived in the care of their mothers.

Before she arrived at the camp in April 1943, all the newborns of prisoners in the infamous Nazi concentration camp were drowned and allowed to be ripped apart by rats before his or her mother’s eyes.

During her imprisonment, Stanislawa helped deliver over 3,000 babies. But there was something even more remarkable than her trying to cope amidst these hostile conditions. As she explained to her son, the Lagerarzt ordered her to make a report on the infections and mortality rate for mothers and infants. She replied, “I have not had a single case of death, either among the mothers or the newborns.” The Lagerarzt‘s response was a look of disbelief. “He said that even the most perfectly handled clinics of German universities cannot claim such success. In his eyes I read anger and envy.” In a self-deprecating manner, Stanislawa attributed this to fact that “the emaciated organisms were too barren a medium for bacteria.” However, her children and fellow inmates ascribe this miraculous record to causes more than natural.

 

Expectant mothers did not realize what was going to happen to their babies and many traded their meager rations for fabric to be used for diapers after the birth.Stanisława remained the camp’s midwife until it was liberated on January 26, 1945.

holocaust-pregnancy

When time for delivery approached, the already famished mother had to give up her bread ration for a time in order obtain a sheet which would be used to make diapers and clothing for the child. Needless to say, the Nazis did not provide such things. To make things worse, there was no running water in the barracks which made cleaning diapers a risky experience, since inmates were not permitted to move freely in the block. Any cleaning had to be done surreptitiously. Finally, there was no extra food or milk allocated for the infants. But simple neglect apparently did not satisfy the camp administrators. Thus, criminal inmates were employed to dispose of the troublesome infants.

Until May 1943, all the children born in Auschwitz were drowned in a barrel. These operations were performed by Schwester [sister] Klara, a German midwife who was imprisoned for infanticide. “As a Berufsverbrecherin (one guilty of occupational crime), and thus forbidden to practice her profession,” says Stanislawa, “she was entrusted with a function to which she was more suited.” Later, Klara was aided by a German prostitute, the redheaded Schwester Pfani. “After each delivery, the mothers were able to hear the characteristic gurgle and splashing water” as their babies were disposed of.

The situation changed somewhat in May 1943. “Aryan-looking” children, with blue eyes and fair hair, were spared Schwester Klara’s treatment and sent to a center in the town of Naklo to be “de-nationalized.” There they would end up in orphanages or were placed with German parents.

Leszczynska was able to use a secret tattoo under the newborns’ armpit to help many of the families reunite after the war.  “As long as a newborn was together with the mother, motherhood itself created a ray of hope. Separation with the newborn was overwhelming,” she said.  “The thought of a possibility of future reunion with their children helped many women go through this ordeal.”

Leszczyńska returned to Łódź, and her children also arrived there from the forced labour camps. She settled in an apartment at 99 Zgierska Street and continued working as a midwife locally. Remembering Auschwitz, she prayed over every child she delivered. On January 27, 1970 Stanisława attended an official celebration in Warsaw, where she met the women prisoners of Auschwitz and their grown-up children who had been born in the camp.She died four years later. In 1983 the School of Obstetricians in Kraków was named in her honor.

Stanislawa Leszczynska (eligelavida)

 

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