Voiceless Shout of the Polish Lapin from Ravensbruck
Maria Szonert Binienda
It’s been 17 years already since I was called to the dying Helena Piasecka. We had never met before, so I didn’t know Helena personally. But she knew of me or rather heard about me. She knew that in 2002 I published a book in the USA under the title “World War II through Polish Eyes” that was very meaningful to her. This publication resonated widely among the Polish community in the area of Cleveland, Ohio, where I have lived and where Mrs. Helena Piasecka resided after coming to the US.
I admit that my legs buckled under me when her guardian explained that Helena went through the German concentration camp in Ravensbruck, where she was subjected to terrible medical experiments. Her friend explained to me that before she dies, Ms. Piasecka wants to give me her documents and materials that describe the ordeal of her life. She wanted to entrust to me the mission of her life – to save from oblivion the terrible suffering and harm inflicted on Polish women at the hands of German torturers in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp and to work towards an unequivocal condemnation of these barbaric crimes by the international community, in particular the German society, and achieve an authentic apology and compensation from the Germans themselves.
Our meeting was brief but very intense. Aware that her hours were numbered, Helena was very eager to meet me. Unfortunately, she couldn’t talk much anymore. She communicated with me mostly with her eyes. Her gaze was sharp, determined, and extremely penetrating, her eyes wide-opened. We spoke through her friend, who was well-prepared for my visit.
Helena had pierced me with her sharp eyes in a silent scream throughout our meeting. She would indicate with her hand what documents her friend should give me. She listened attentively to what her friend was saying to me, nodding silently with her eyes in approval. Her companion briefly told me the story of Helena, successively handing over to me clippings from various English-language newspapers with headlines about Helena illustrated with photographs of a beautiful woman.
When she came to the description of the medical torture, tears appeared in Helena’s eyes, and she began throwing herself frantically on the bed. The nurse got up from the chair and uncovered Helena’s legs to show me the scars left by the German tortures. Helena began to tremble and toss, trying to turn around to show the back of her legs. I saw huge scars running down her legs from top to bottom. The moment was dramatic. As she was uttering groans of despair, I didn’t dare to take a picture. The caregiver explained that Helena relives these tortures every day. All her life, she was covering her legs and developed a deep phobia of showing them. Still, she decided to show them to me that day.
After this traumatic experience, the caregiver handed me an additional file of previously prepared copies of articles and documents. Helena instantly fell asleep. Shaken by this experience, I thanked the caregiver and said goodbye.
The year was 2006. At that time, I was working on documenting the crimes committed by the Stalinist regime against the invincible soldiers, preparing for publication a book entitled Null and Void – Case Study on Comparative Imperialism based on the story of Halina Zwinogrodzka Junak. I duly secured all materials received from Ms. Piasecka, sent one copy of the documents to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and put Helena’s story aside for further study after the story of Ms. Zwinogrodzka was completed.
As I am writing these words, it is already the year 2023. I just checked whether the Holocaust Memorial Museum took proper care of the evidence of crimes against the Polish lapins from Ravensbruck that I entrusted to them. It turns out that the folder with Helena Piasecka’s documents is listed in the Museum’s collection here: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn518597, but the materials are available only in the Museum’s library for in-person use. Helena Piasecka’s documents have not been digitized, and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington has not properly developed the collection about the Polish women subjected to medical torturous experiments in the German Concentration Camp Ravensbruck.
After I meet with Pani Helena, I did not realize that it would be 17 years before I return to these materials… An outstanding American journalist named Norman Couisins, who dealt with the case of Polish women subjected to medical torture in Ravensbruck, wrote:
The human mind is adaptable to learning and innovating but is not adaptable to dealing with painful matters.
Maybe that’s why, after publishing the book about invincible soldiers, I did not immediately return to the story of Helena Piasecka. Then came the 2010 assassination of Polish President Lech Kaczynski in Smolensk, Russia, which turned my entire world upside down and took 13 years of my life.
It was not until the energetic actions of the government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki under the leadership of Minister Arkadiusz Mularczyk that brought this terrible subject of the hellish German crimes against Polish women from the resistance movement back to life. Thank you, Prime Minister Morawiecki and Minister Mularczyk, for bringing back from oblivion these horrendous crimes!
Who was Helena Piasecka?
Born in 1914 in Żuromin, about 120 kilometers northeast of Warsaw, Helena Piasecka was a teacher. She graduated from the University of Lublin before the war, majoring in teaching. In 1939, she married Edward Piasecki, an officer of the Polish Army who took part in the defensive war of 1939. He was an adjutant of the 16th Combat Artillery Regiment in Grudziądz and fought as a fire officer of the second battery of the 16th Regiment in defense of Modlin. After the September campaign, he joined the ZWZ. He was murdered in the German Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942.
Helena was arrested by the Gestapo in February 1941 for her activities in the resistance movement. She was pregnant at the time. Deported to Ravensbruck, she gave birth to two twin boys there. Unfortunately, the children died shortly after birth.
Polish women in Ravensbruck were subjected to deliberate torture aimed at their quick destruction. They were sent to hard labor and starved to death with minimal food rations. Most of them weighed only 70-78 pounds. Those who could not work were murdered.
The torture of quasi-medical experiments began in Ravensbruck in the spring of 1942. In the first round, 10 women were subjected to this torture. These experiments continued in 1943. A total of 74 Polish resistance fighters were subjected to this medical torture, at least three of whom were minors.
Helena Piasecka was summoned to this medical torture on August 15, 1943, together with her older sister Władysława Karolewska.
“Behind these doors, you will find out what awaits you!”
This was the answer of the SS man who led her to the torture room.
Seeing that she was inevitably becoming the next guinea pig, Helena resisted but was quickly overpowered and euthanized. When she woke up in the hospital room, she had a very high fever and terrible pain in her legs. It turned out that her left leg was broken in 5 places. Both legs were in plaster. During the so-called recuperation in the hospital, bed bugs got into the wounds. When the cast was removed, and she saw her legs covered in blood and bedbugs, she immediately fainted. In total, Helena was subjected to three such terrible operations.
Despite this horror, she lived to see liberation. When the Germans were fleeing Ravensbruck in 1944, Helena could not walk. Her companions of fate took her from the camp in a baby carriage. In this chaos of historical turmoil, Helena was lucky. One of the French Resistance prisoners, Violette Lecogne, took care of her. Her fiancé Robert DuCroquet was the medical doctor who undertook to treat Helena. In 1946, Helena spent six months in a French hospital under his care.
After leaving the hospital in November 1946, Helena Piasecka, together with her sister Władysława Karolewska (both pictured in 1958), testified as witnesses before the British Nuremberg Tribunal regarding medical torture used by Nazi Germany on Polish women in Ravensbruck.
According to the Nuremberg Tribunal, about 200 German doctors were involved in this criminal practice, and at least 300 knew what was happening. Only 23 doctors were prosecuted for this bestiality, and only 15 of them were convicted. Of these 15, only 7 were sentenced to death by hanging, and 5 received life sentences.
German medical experiments contributed nothing to medical science
The Nuremberg Tribunal concluded that the medical experiments carried out did nothing for the good of medicine. Not a single cure or drug was developed from these experiments. Nothing practical of any medical value was obtained from these tortures. These experiments contributed nothing to medical science.
Doctors around the world saw a mortal threat to the medical profession in the practice of medical torture, and in 1948 the World Medical Association adopted the First Amendment to the Hippocratic Oath, which has not been changed for 2000 years. German degeneracy forced the first amendment to the Hippocratic Oath in 2,000 years. It reads:
I swear that I will treat human life with the greatest respect from natural conception. Even under threat and coercion, I will not use my knowledge contrary to human law.