Until recently, it wasn’t fully understood what happened to the more than 3,000 babies born in the Auschwitz concentration camp. New research sheds light on a Polish midwife who, ordered to watch the murder all the babies she delivered, was able to secretly rescue a few from certain death at the hands of her Nazi overlords.
Stanislawa Leszczyńska was born in Lodz, a town situated in the heart of Poland. When the Nazis invaded her country in 1939 this wife, mother and midwife joined the Polish resistance, according to a report by Aleteia.
As part of her work with the underground, she provided fake documents and food for those in Jewish ghettos.
After her family’s efforts were discovered by the Gestapo, she and her daughter were sent to Auschwitz. Her husband and oldest son escaped, but she would never see her spouse again; he was killed in later fighting during the war.
At Auschwitz, Stanislawa volunteered as a midwife. Many women were executed when their pregnancy was discovered, but others managed to continue their pregnancy until delivery.
SEE A VIDEO OF TESTIMONIES AT END OF ARTICLE.
Stanislawa was sent to work in the maternity ward, which was a “set of filthy barracks that was less a place to care for pregnant women than a place to usher them into death,” according to History.com.
The Nazi female collaborators who managed the ward, “Sister” Klara and “Sister” Pfani, announced newborns were “stillborn,” – even if alive. Horrifically, they proceeded to drown the babies in buckets in front of the new mothers.
(As an aside, it is difficult to imagine infanticide is currently being considered by legislators in the U.S., who are openly talking about killing babies during and after delivery.)
When Stanislawa was told she must murder the babies after their delivery, she feared God more than man and refused, echoing the sentiment of midwives recorded in the book of Exodus:
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. (Exodus 1:15-17 NIV)
Stanislawa’s intransigence was rewarded with a beating by Klara, but she still did what she could to keep as many babies alive as possible.
“Before each delivery she would make the sign of the cross and pray. She also provided moments of calm for the mothers with prayers and song — all done very quietly,” according to Aleteia.
Most babies were killed at Auschwitz during the first few moments of life. In her two years at the camp, Stanislawa delivered 3,000 babies. “She even stood up to the infamous ‘Angel of Death,’ Josef Mengele, when he ordered her to murder the infants.”
Some babies were adopted into German families and were considered “Aryan” babies. Stanislawa managed to tattoo these babies, with the hope they might be identified later in life.
“Some non-Jewish moms got to keep their babies, but with breast-feeding forbidden, these babies often perished from starvation,” according to Aleteia.
Medical historians Susan Benedict and Linda Shields have documented the grim statistics of babies born at Auschwitz. They discovered half of the 3,000 babies were drowned, 1,000 died of starvation or hypothermia, 500 were sent to German families and 30 babies survived — just one percent.
Stanislawa did her best to make sure the mothers were treated with love, “and that each new life was given some dignity, if only just for an hour or two.”
WATCH PART 1 OF A DOCUMENTARY ON BABIES BORN IN CAMPS:
After the camp was liberated, Stanislawa returned to her native Lodz to continue as a midwife. Her children all became physicians.
Maria Saloman, who gave birth in Auschwitz, shared later: “To this day I do not know at what price [she delivered my baby]. My Liz owes her life to Stanislawa Leszczyńska. I cannot think of her without tears coming to my eyes.”
Stanislawa’s faith in God allowed her to survive the brutal conditions of Auschwitz.
“This unassuming woman touched so many lives, bringing a little bit of comfort to thousands, even when it endangered her own life. She viewed each baby as a precious gift from God and she continued to pray for the children she had delivered later in life.”