Happy International Women’s Day! Today, March the 8th, is international women’s day, a day to celebrate all women, their achievements and to look at how we can still improve lives for women around the world. Throughout history, women’s stories have often been lost, their amazing feats hidden from memory and time. But with every international women’s day (and any other time of the year really) there is a chance to really think about how important and instrumental some women have been through history. Many women have done amazing things, but a lot of the time we’ve never heard of them or only have vague recollection of their names.
Like a previous post I did two years ago on International Women’s Day, I’d like to take the opportunity to look back into history and find some amazing things about some extraordinary women. I’ve decided that I’m going to concentrate on one woman for this post and this will be part of a new series that I hope to put up on this blog periodically,to celebrate these amazing women heroes of history! So to begin let’s find out all about Stanisława Leszczyńska.
Stanisława Leszczyńska was a Polish midwife born in Łódź, Poland in 1896. After the Nazis marched into and began to occupy Poland in World War II, Stanisława and her family tried to help smuggle false documents and food to the Jews who were living in the ghetto in Łódź as part of a growing resistance in Poland. When the Nazis found out what the family had been doing, some of Stanisława’s family were taken to forced labour camps while she and her daughter were taken to Auschwitz.
Stanisława’s skills as a midwife became useful and she began working in the maternity ward of the camp. Although most women found to be pregnant while at Auschwitz were automaticaly sent to the gas chambers, others were allowed to give birth, before those babies would then be taken away from their mothers, declared stillborn, and subsequently drowned in a bucket of water, often in front of the mothers who had just given birth. The conditions in the ‘marternity ward’ for those that gave birth were horrible, there was no water, no blankets, no nappies for the babies to wear and very little food. Despite knowing that most of the babies would be killed within a few hours of their birth, Stanisława tried to give the pregnant women as safe and comfortable a birth as possible. Lice and disease were common in the ‘ward’ as well as inches of water covering the floor when it rained, but Stanisława soon had women lying on a rarely lit brick stove in the centre of the ‘ward’/barracks which was the only place that could accomodate a woman lying down in labour.
Despite what was asked of her by the Nazi doctors Stanisława refused to kill any of the babies that she helped to deliver. She even faced pressure from the notorious Dr Josef Mengele, the ‘angel of death’ who loved to experiment on twins and other inmates at the camp, who insisted that she kill the babies that she delivered. She stood up to him though and stood her ground, continuing to refuse murdering any of the children.
Although many of the babies did not survive the camps, some with Aryan features, blond hair and blue eyes, started to be taken away by the Nazis in 1943, to be adopted by German families, as part of the Lebensborn program. On finding out that their children were to be taken away, some mothers took the dark option to kill their babies before they were taken however for others Stanisława helped some of the mothers to tattoo their babies in the hope that they would one day be reunited with their mothers.
There were some mothers, who were not Jewish, who were allowed to keep their babies in the camp after giving birth, but these poor children soon perished due to the horrible conditions. Despite these horrific circumstances though and the heartbreaking reality of what was happening to so many women, Stanisława continued to care for the mothers and helped to baptize the Christian babies as best she could. Her caring manner meant she was soon referred to as ‘mother’ around the camp.
Stanisława refused to leave Auschwitz when, in 1945, the Nazis forced most of the inmates on a march to another camp. The Nazis tried to hide their crimes of the Holocaust and so they tried to march all the prisoners of various camps to other camps on long marches that lasted for tens and even hundreds of miles. These marches became known as death marches as so many people died on the way, being so malnourished and weak. Those that lagged behind in the march or tried to escape were often shot.
In her time at Auschwitz Stanisława safely delivered 3,000 babies. Although most of the babies that were delivered sadly died, 500 were taken away to live with other families and a further 30 survived the conditions of the camp. All of the women that Stanisława helped survived childbirth and both Stanisława and her daughter were lucky to survive until Auschwitz was liberated in 1945. Stanisława returned to working as a midlife in Łódź until she retired in 1957. She later died in 1974 having shared her story of her time in Auschwitz. She is a hero in Poland and has been nominated for Sainthood in the Catholic Church.
-Information sourced from History.com
I hope you emjoyed finding out about this amazing woman. I have to admit to having never heard of her before now, but she was an amazing force, looking after the women, helping to save their babies as well as she could and standing up to the tyranny of the Nazis, all while in the horrible conditions of Auschwitz concentration camp. I have a keen interest in WWII stories (especially Polish ones for obvious reasons 😉 ) so expect more of these as well as some inspiring and amazing women of all the ages coming soon.
What do you think of Stanisława’s story? Do you like the idea of a Women Heroes of History series? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂