We all can relate to that feeling of reluctance when we are tired and bored, but school tests or university exams are coming. To know that women in the concentration camp Ravensbrück were able to organize a school and that exhausted girls were willing to study is something that always amazes me.
Karolina Lanckorońska, a famous art historian incarcerated in Ravensbrück because of her connections and friendship with noble people, including Italian royal family, was offered a separate place to stay in far better conditions. Yet, she declined to move there, as she perceived it to be unfair towards the other women. Instead, Lanckorońska initiated the cycle of lectures which were aimed at forming the girls and giving them hope.
One of her students recalled how “she climbed up to the third floor of the beds and there, in a group of listeners staring at her, she spoke about the history of art. I don’t remember the content of those lectures today, but that atmosphere remains. A time without fear of death and hunger”.
Prisoners, who were teachers, felt particularly responsible for giving the others any possible type of education. At the gymnasium level, students studied Polish, history, Latin, physics, chemistry, organic chemistry, mathematics, geography, and the following languages: Russian, German, English, and French. Zofia Bastgen gave talks on contemporary life issues. Józefa Kantor organized a preparatory course for teachers, which was completed by 16 girls in 6 months. Any kind of such activity was, of course, strictly forbidden and had to be kept in secret.
Gradually, genuine friendship was formed between young girls and older women who acted like mothers towards them. “We loved our teachers. We didn’t call them by their first names, because they were older ladies, but we gave one person in the camp the great name of “mother”. Mrs. Maria Liberakowa was not a teacher, but she was the one we called “mother”. “Mother Liberakowa!” She was a quiet woman, with a kind, low voice, always smiling slightly, always protecting the youngest prisoners.”, recalls dr. Wanda Półtawska.
Many women claimed that their strength arose from faith that God was there and was suffering with them. Some knew the Holy Mass by heart and on Sundays, they would gather other prisoners to pray together. Before Easter, they organized retreats, and more people came then could be accommodated at once. Once, in the fall of 1943, a nun smuggled Holy Communion into the camp. At night in one of the blocks, they knelt around the Host placed in a tiny soap dish and adored the Eucharist. On leaving the room, the women received a piece of communion. One of them, Apolonia Rakowska, said she believed she would not die without the sacraments. Shortly after this adoration, she heard that they were calling her “to the transport.” “For transport over there,” she said, pointing to heaven. “Now I can go’”, she added and never returned from the “transport”.
What happened there, I believe, must never be forgotten not only because of them, but also because of us, because of our desperate need to see what immeasurable good can look like in life.