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Our Lady of Czestochowa medal given to a Polish Jewish woman hiding as a Catholic laborer

Object | Accession Number: 1988.154.2

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    Our Lady of Czestochowa medal given to a Polish Jewish woman hiding as a Catholic laborer


    Brief Narrative
    Religious medal of Our Lady of Częstochowa (also known as the Black Madonna of Częstochowa or Matka Boska Częstochowska), given to Raszka (Rose) Galek in June 1943 by Jan Majewski to help her hide as a Catholic. The medal was made in 1932, and modeled after a revered painting of the Virgin Mary and the baby Christ at the Jasna Góra monastery in Częstochowa, Poland. The medal commemorated the 550th anniversary of the painting’s donation to the church. In November 1940, Raszka, her parents, Moshe and Fela, and her sisters Deana and Sala were confined to the Warsaw ghetto. In April 1943, Raszka’s parents were shot and her sisters were deported to a concentration camp. Raszka later escaped and went into hiding. She received false identity papers for a Polish Catholic named Maria Kowalczyk from the Polish underground. Jan Majewski, a resistance member, hid Raszka in his refugee camp for displaced Polish people, and gave her the medal when she left the camp. The medal had belonged to Jan’s brother, a Catholic priest who was killed in Auschwitz. In June, she was sent to a farm in Krummhardt, Germany for forced labor. Raszka was liberated by US forces in April 1945 and moved to Stuttgart displaced persons (DP) camp. She began working as a liaison between DP camps and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. She met and married Kurt Braunschweig, a UNRRA employee, and immigrated to the United States in 1947.
    received:  1943 June
    commemoration:  1932
    received: Warsaw (Poland)
    distribution: Czestochowa (Poland)
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Rose Brunswic, in memory of her parents Fela and Moshe Galek and in memory of Jan Majewski
    font, left perimeter, stamped : MATKA BOSKA [OUR LADY]
    front, right perimeter, stamped : CZESTOCHOWSKA
    back, perimeter, engraved : PAMIĄTKA 550-CIO LETNIEGO [550-CIO SUMMER SOUVENIR]
    back, center, engraved : JUBILEUSZU / w / CZESTOCHOWIE / 1382-1932 [JUBILEE / in / CZESTOCHOWA / 1382-1932]
    Subject: Rose G. Brunswic
    Original owner: Jan Majewski
    Raszka Galek was born on November 24, 1920, in Sochocin, Poland, to Moshe and Fela (Zipora) Perznianko Galek. She had three sisters: Hinda, Deana (Dina), and Sala (Sara). Her father Moshe was born December 19, 1883, in Sochocin, to Yaakov and Zelda Mottel Galek. He had three sisters and three brothers. Moshe owned a mother of pearl button factory with 100 employees. Raszka’s mother Fela was born May 12, 1892, in Zakroczym, to Yehoshua, a lawyer, and Basha Perznianko. She had one brother, Tolek, who went to Russia before World War I. Fela was a hat designer in Warsaw until she married Moshe. The family was prosperous and employed several maids and a nanny. They lived with Raszka’s paternal grandmother, who ran a general store and bakery. Around 1930, Raszka’s maternal grandmother Basha moved in with them after her husband died. Raszka and her sisters attended a Polish school, where she learned German and English. She studied Hebrew twice a week. Circa 1934, the family moved to Warsaw so the children could receive a better education. Raszka’s sister Hinda married in 1938 and left for Palestine in early 1939. Made anxious by the rising antisemitism, Moshe wanted to use bribery to get to Italy and then Palestine. Fela did not want to start over, so Moshe decided they would stay.

    On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Warsaw was heavily bombed and German troops occupied the city on September 29. Moshe evenly divided the family’s possessions, such as jewelry and American gold coins, and said that they should all save themselves. In December, the family was required to wear Star of David armbands. In November 1940, the Galek family had to move into the newly formed Jewish ghetto, to an apartment crowded with many other families. There was very little food and no electricity or heat. Raszka briefly worked with the Judenrat in food distribution. In April 1943, the Germans lined up the Jews for a selection. Moshe and Fela, emaciated and weak, were shot in front of their children. Raszka and her sisters were lined up with younger people. Raszka escaped and hid in an alleyway where she was found by the underground. She was provided with false papers as a Catholic named Maria Jadwiga Kowalczyk and she then escaped to the Aryan section of Warsaw through the sewers. She went to the home of a former employee of her father, Mr. Nawrocki, who hid her in his attic in exchange for gold and jewelry. Raszka saw the ghetto burning during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In May, she developed whooping cough and was asked to leave. She walked aimlessly and was stopped and questioned by an SS officer. He realized she was Jewish but she bribed him with her last gold coin and he let her go. She went to the Vistula River and contemplated suicide. She was approached by Jan Majewski, a Polish Catholic who ran a refugee camp for Polish citizens expelled from Germany. He examined her false papers and saw that she was from his hometown. Jan knew there was no one named Kowalczyk in the village and realized Raszka was Jewish. He agreed to let her stay at the camp. After about a month, the Germans began to suspect Jews were hidden in the camp. Realizing it was no longer safe, Jan took Raszka to a church where several Polish people were hiding.

    In June 1943, the church was raided by the Germans. Raszka was sent to Germany as a Polish forced laborer. Because she spoke German, she was selected leader of her group. Upon arrival in Berlin, she was allowed to choose her workplace. Her options were an ammunitions factory, a hotel, or a farm. She wanted to avoid other Polish people in case they recognized her and decided that a farm was the safest choice. She was sent to the farm of Ernst Scharpf in Krummhardt, a small village near Esslingen. Ernst’s daughter Luise ran the farm with her husband Karl Beck, who was in the SS. Ernst was paralyzed, Karl worked at an ammunitions factory in Esslingen, and Luise spent her days caring for her child, so Raszka did the majority of the farm work. She chopped wood, cared for the animals, and ran errands. Luise and Ernst were kind to her. Raszka was afraid that Karl would take advantage of her because he made inappropriate comments about her, but she was never harmed. To maintain her false identity, Raszka regularly attended Catholic Church services. Several other Polish forced laborers attended the church, so Raszka decided it was too risky to go. She converted to Lutheranism and attended services with Ernst’s family. Raszka was required to wear a Polish forced laborer badge at all times. She once was caught without it on a trip to Esslingen and was severely beaten by a police officer. In September 1944, she forgot to wear it a second time and was taken to court and fined. The judge was sympathetic and made her a Polish interpreter for the court.

    As American troops approached in April 1945, Karl asked Raszka to burn his SS uniform so the Americans would not discover it. After she was liberated, Raszka stayed at the farm for two weeks to be sure that the Americans would not retreat. She then went to Stuttgart displaced persons camp. She worked as liaison between displaced persons camps and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association (UNRRA). She met Kurt Braunschweig (1920-1999), an UNRRA employee from Heidelberg. Kurt and his family had fled Germany for the Netherlands after the Nazi regime took power. They later went to France where Kurt served in the French army and then was held as a German prisoner of war from 1940 until 1945. Raszka and Kurt married on May 11, 1946. A US soldier helped locate Raszka’s paternal uncle, Irving Galek, who sent them affidavits for US visas. Raszka was six months pregnant and no ship would take her. Kurt’s father Willy arranged for them to be flown to New York on American Army plane on January 7, 1947. Their daughter was born that March. They settled in New York and changed their names to Claude and Rose Brunswic. Rose worked as a housekeeper, a seamstress, and a bookkeeper. During a 1987 visit to Poland, she learned that her sisters were killed in Auschwitz. She also met a man whose mother had worked in her father's factory and he gave her buttons she had saved from there. In 1993, Rose, 73, received a fine arts degree. She had never been able to speak about her wartime experiences, but through her artwork, she broke her silence. She began speaking often to numerous groups, believing that "We have the responsibility to those who have perished to remember the voices that were silenced." Claude, 79, passed away in 1999. Rose, age 92, died on February 22, 2013, in Virginia.
    Jan Majewski was a member of the Polish underground. He took Rose Brunswic into his home where he harbored other Jews and Poles from the Nazis, and provided her with a false identification card.
    [Kassoff, Anita, memo to Susan Morganstein (COL), 11/23/88. Found in Donor file BRUNSWIC ROSE]

    Physical Details

    Religious articles.
    Physical Description
    Thin, flat, circular medal made of silver-colored metal. The front features a stamped religious image of the Virgin Hodegetria. Mary is shown from the waist up and facing forward, holding the baby Christ with her left arm, gesturing to him with her right hand. Christ, wearing a mantle, is lifting his right hand up towards her, holding a book in his left hand. Both figures are wearing multi-point crowns on their heads, each flanked with angels on either side. Behind the angels and crowns, each figure also has a circular halo. A semicircle of 12 raised dots surrounds the halos. Underneath the crown, Mary is wearing a hooded mantle decorated with stars over a dress. Around her neck is a chain with a cross pendant. To the left and right of the image is raised Polish text, curving to follow the perimeter of the medal. The back is flat, with Polish text engraved in the surface. The text curves around the perimeter of the medal, with four lines of text and a date range in the center. At the top of the medal is a small tab with a broken edge. The raised portions of the image show significant wear and damage, and the overall image is heavily tarnished.
    overall: | Diameter: 0.750 inches (1.905 cm)
    overall : metal

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The medal was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1988 by Rose (Raszka) Galek Brunswic.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-09-01 08:52:32
    This page:

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