Zegota was the secret code name for the Council For Aid to the Jews. It was created through the efforts of two
Catholic Polish women: Zofia Kossak and Wanda Krahelska-Filipowicz, both dedicated to the mission of helping
shelter the Jews from German persecution. Both women had long been activists and were extremely well-connected
with important members of the Polish Underground, who were themselves already involved in the same mission.
Together they formed a formidable network. Much of the funding they received came from the Polish
government-in-exile in London, as well as from other sources.
The officers of Zegota were comprised of representatives from various political parties: Adolf Berman, Secretary,
from the Zionist Poale Zion Party; Leon Feiner, Vice-President, from the Bund, the Jewish Socialist Party; Julian
Grobelny, President, from the Polish Socialist Party; Tadeusz Rek, Deputy, from the Peasant Party; Ferdynand
Arczynski, Treasurer, from the Democratic Party; Wladyslaw Bartoszewski and Witold Bienkowski Liaison Directors,
from the Catholic Front for Reborn Poland. The leadership and members of Zegota established vital links with the
Jewish Underground which brought them into contact with the Jewish community. They had "offices" in Krakow, Lwow,
Zamosc, Lublin, and many areas throughout the Polish countryside. But its base was in Warsaw.
In the midst of Nazi terror, Zegota was quietly organizing its priorities, setting up its plan of action and secretly
recruiting candidates who were best equipped to implement the goals of the organization. The Council dealt with the
specific needs of the Jews, organized into departments: Legalization, Housing, Clothing, Medical Care, Finances, as
well as anti-szmalcownik strategies, directed at unscrupulous Poles who preyed upon the Jews using blackmail or
Many of its members were part of the Home Army, the AK. Zegota's most important links were with Aleksander
Kaminski and Henryk Wolinski, both from the AK. Kaminski was the editor of the Biuletyn Informacyjny (BI), the largest
and most widely read underground newspaper. Wolinski was the head of the Jewish section of the Underground
Bureau of Information and Propaganda, and the main contact between the AK and the Jewish liaison of the ZOB (The
Jewish Fighting Organization). Witold Bienkowski, a very important key player, was a representative of the
Delegatura ( The Home Delegation of the Polish government-in-exile.) Grobelny's contact with labor unions made it
possible to obtain the assistance of railway workers to smuggle Jews out of Warsaw.
Wanda Krahelska-Filopowicz had been a part of the Underground from its inception and early on began to hide the
Jews in her own home. One of her charges was the widow of the reknown Jewish historian, Symon Aszkenazy. Zofia
Kossak, by contrast, was a conservative nationalist and a self-professed anti-Semite. She was the target of an
intensive Gestapo manhunt for her activities in helping save Jews. Her children were involved in the same
humanitarian mission. She strongly believed that German crimes were an offense against God and man, and
expected other Poles to follow her example in helping the Jews. In the summer of 1947, Kossack appealed to the
Polish community in a scathing pamphlet entitled, "Protest" in which she urged Poles to help the Jews even if only to
defy the German occupation.
Zegota was only one of three organizations dedicated to rescuing Jews. They were recognized by Yad Vashem
as Righteous Among Nations.
Irena Sendlerowa (Sendler) was among Zegota's first recruits. She was an administrator in the Warsaw Welfare
Department and had an invaluable network established with many medical and social workers. She succeeded in
smuggling 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, and hid them with Polish and Austrian families. She too
was recognized as Righteous Among Nations, and in 1991 became an honorary citizen of the State of Israel. She
condemned Catholics who claimed to love God but hated their Jewish neighbours and demanded sacrifices from
others no less than what she risked doing herself.
The financial resources needed to save even one Jewish life ranged from 6,000 to 15,000 zlotys. The monthly budget
of Zegota ranged from 500,000 to 2 million zlotys - not even close to the money required to meet the demands of the
organization. The main activities of Zegota dealt with forging documents for Jewish refugees. On any given day,
Zegota produced on average 100 forgeries. By the end of two years they had secretly issued over 50,000 fake
documents. Because of Zegota, 40,000 to 50,000 Jews were saved.
Despite the risks and dangers, all the leadership and members worked tirelessly in their mission. No one ever
betrayed the organization, not even under threat of death.
Zegota maintained contact with the Jewish Underground even when the ghetto walls were erected. The Bund
maintained contact with its counterpart - the Polish Socialist Party; and the Jewish Communists with their Polish
counterparts, and so on from every level on the political spectrum,
In 1942, Dr. Adolf Berman, director of CENTOS, a Jewish charity established for the care of ghetto children, focused
his energy on making Polish contacts on the outside with the goal of helping Jews escape the Ghetto.
Leon Feiner, member of the Bund, the largest Jewish political party had also escaped the Ghetto, and worked with the
AK and Delegatura. His appearance, that of a "Polish country squire" enabled him to travel all over Poland quite
easily, armed with a collection of forgeries.
Zegotas membership was enormous, and included vast networks representing students, members of the Scout
Association, Writer's Union, Underground Journalist Association, the Democratic Doctor's Committee, as well as
railway, tramway, and sanitation department workers' organizations, and so on.
Its Headquarters was situated at 24 Zurawia Street, and held " office hours " twice each week during which couriers
would pick up or request documents, clothing, or arrange for food, shelter or medecine for the Jews in hiding. Despite
the enormous number of people who knew the location of Zegota's head office, by a miracle it had never been raided
by the Germans. Whenever they were under surveillance, they continued their administration in the homes of various
Without the help of Zegota, and organizations like it, it would have been impossible to save even one Jew. Poland was
the only Nazi-occupied country where helping the Jews was punishable by death. But there were many Poles who
risked their lives and the lives of their famillies in order to help the Jews. One Polish man was caught tossing a sack of
bread over the wall of the Warsaw Ghetto - and was instantly shot by the Nazis. Throughout the war at least 20,000
members of Zegota were captured and executed by the Germans. Thousands more were imprisoned, tortured, and
sent to concentration camps.
It is impossible to determine how many Poles helped the Jews. When the Nazis discovered Jews hiding in Polish
homes, they were shot along with the Poles who were sheltering them. Often entire families, friends, and neighbors
were murdered. No witnesses remained to tell the story.
That many Poles did not attempt to help the Jews had more to do with terror of the Germans, than indifference
towards the Jews.
We must all ask ourselves if we would have risked our lives and the lives of our own children to save people in similar
[Editors Comment: There are some Jews today who acknowledge Zegota's mission but only grudgingly, and go so far
as to complain that Zegota didn't save enough Jewish lives. This saddens me deeply. Far too many people are
unaware of the fact that ethnic Poles were also targets for annihilation, and their rescue missions had to proceed with
the greatest of caution. Logistics and planning were necessary aspects of each case they encountered, and needless
to say, required an inordinate amount of time and preparation. It was difficult enough for Poles to carry out their
mission secretly, but to do so under the constant scrutiny of the Germans was nothing short of amazing. ]