This town of Rabka, once a resort town for convalescents, during the years of 1942-1944, was the site of a courageous act by a group of women who chose to take action,and bury the dead. Located in a town between Krakow and Zakopane, holds an important yet relatively unknown historical place of significance. Here,during World War II the Gestapo took over a convent and used it as a center for training Nazis in interrogation techniques. In order to develop the most effective methods, the Gestapo used local Jews from the shtetl as guinea pigs. They used Jewish citizens from this shtetl as test subjects for teaching methods of interrogation using torture. In the process they would torture them to death and throw their bodies behind the convent.
The nuns of the convent, understanding that this was not right, at their own peril, somehow took the bodies up the hill into the woods and buried them with respect.
We can hear dogs barking in the distance, like they know someone new is in their town.
Today we are witnesses to an untold history. Nothing has been written about this. The nuns don’t go out of their way to tell the story, possibly because the new order who live here don’t know the story.
The nuns somehow managed to get the bodies up the hill, to a hidden space in the forest away from the convent where they had been interrogated and killed by the Gestapo. They made a statement by burying the dead and showing them respect. The nuns built cement platforms to mark the graves.
We have no idea how many bodies are buried here, but in 1989, the end of the communist rule in Poland, a man named Leo Geteterer funded a gate with a Jewish Star of David, enclosing the cemetery with a wrought iron fence.
Here in the cemetery, Shalmi told us a story about Karol Josef Wojtyla, who we now know as Pope John Paul II, who as a young priest in Krakow, did something remarkable. After WWII was over, a Polish couple brought a young boy to him and asked for him to baptize this Jewish boy they had hidden during the war. Fr. Wojtyla asked them if the boy’s parents were alive, and they said no, but the way they answered aroused his suspicions. He then did some research and found out that the boy’s uncles were alive and wanted to raise their nephew. At a time when baptism meant salvation to Catholics, Fr. Wojtyla told the couple no, he would not baptize the boy. Because of this action, he was considered a hero in the Jewish world long before he ever became Pope John Paul II.
As we leave the cemetery, a local man watches us from the woods behind the cemetery, obviously concerned about our visit. We leave knowing that what the nuns did here during the war is truly heroic; however, we wonder at their reluctance to honor those actions today.
We continue our journey to the Tatra mountains and the town of Zakopane, where the local highlanders’ crafts and beautifully constructed wooden houses fill the landscape. We are happy tourists who ride the funicular up the mountain, take many pictures, ride the ski lift down,and spend another hour or so shopping and eating excellent Polish kielbasa, soups and pierogies.