Bearing Witness to the Holocaust: The Story of Jadwiga Hassa

Jadwiga Hassa, a Christian woman who was part of the resistance against the Nazis in Poland, was arrested by the Gestapo and ultimately ended up in Ravensbrueck concentration camp.

The U.S. Holocaust Museum photo archive tells her story this way:

She joined the ZWZ, the youth organization associated with the Polish Home Army, and assisted the underground by administering first aid, obtaining medications, and distributing illegal publications. On March 28, 1941, the Gestapo arrested Jadwiga and sent her to the prison in Radzyn. Though she was never told the specific charges against her, she believed the Gestapo suspected her of supplying the underground with poisons to use in killing Germans. Subsequently, Jadwiga was transferred to a prison in the dungeon of Lublin castle, where she was beaten and tortured in order to get the names of other members of the underground. Jadwiga refused, and after six weeks, on September 21, 1941, she was deported to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp. As a Polish political prisoner, she had to wear a red triangle marked with the letter P. Her prisoner number was 7860. Jadwiga was assigned to a labor detail where she transported construction materials, but later worked in the camp’s shoe factory making straw inserts and rabbit fur linings. Her greatest suffering came at the hands of SS doctors who performed torturous medical experiments upon her. They injected staphylococcus aureus, a highly potent pyogenic bacteria, into her right causing a high fever and then made two incisions into the leg to simulate the battlefield wounds of German soldiers. Though many other experiment victims were treated with sulfonamides, Jadwiga was part of the control group who received no medication. She became extremely ill and lay semi-conscious for three months. It took a full five months for her wounds to heal. Jadwiga was left permanently scarred by her treatment and continued to suffer pain and stiffness in her leg and foot for the rest of her life. The Germans planned to execute all experimentation victims on February 4, 1945 in order to hide the evidence of their crimes. Jadwiga’s friends, however, were able to save her by hiding her beneath the slats of a wooden floor. Jadwiga remained in Ravensbruck until camp evacuation on April 28, 1945 when camp authorities sent the victims of operations along with the other remaining prisoners on a death march. She returned home on crutches only to learn that her mother had been killed during the bombardments of the final days of the war. Teodozjusz Nowinski had also perished after being deported to Auschwitz. After the war, Jadwiga returned to Warsaw and completed her education at Warsaw University. On December 17, 1946, she presented evidence at the Nuremberg Medical Case trial of 23 former SS physicians. After completing her education, Jadwiga worked for a pharmaceutical company in Warsaw. In 1951, Jadwiga married Jozef Hassa, a former Polish POW, with whom she had two children.

And below is an image of a handmade Christmas card given to Jadwiga by a fellow concentration camp prisoner (in December of 1942). Jadwiga read the rabbit as a reference to the way she, and her fellow inmate, were being treated by the Nazi doctors (like experimental rabbits):

The card says: “Dear Jadzienko Bunny, For Christmas I wish that baby Jesus will grant you health and hope and that you will get back home.”

And here is an image of the triangle badge that was worn by non-Jewish political prisoners (Jews wore a yellow star):


And here’s an image of Jewish survivors of Ravensbruek on their way home after the war:

And here’s a woman showing evidence, in court at Nuremburg, of the damage she received to her legs, from medical experiments, at Ravensbrueck:


More Holocaust images here.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Bearing Witness to the Holocaust: The Story of Jadwiga Hassa

  1. al says:

    I want to know.

    What do the jews say about the Russian Holocaust? Why don’t they EVER present the case of their wrongdoing, also? Isn’t it fair?

    Not only did the jews give us Marxism, and all it’s deivatives, worldwide, but the Russian Communists – ALL its outstanding leaders were jews -instigated the most VICIOUS, HORRORS EVER in the history of mankind, with the Gulags, the KGB torturing, killing, etc. They killed 50+ million ordinary Russians, Ukranians, and others, NOT to mention German civilians, after WWII, and more than 2million + runaway Russians, that Eisenhower hunted out thru Eur. and handed over to Stalin.

    So, please, what do the jews have to say about this?

  2. santitafarella says:


    First, you can’t throw all the Jews together and say, “What do the Jews say about . . .” Jewish people, like other people, are individuals and have different opinions about things. Why don’t you ask one of them and stop overgeneralizing?

    Second, it is not fair of you to associate Judaism with communism. It is true that Karl Marx was born into a Jewish family, but he was very far from his Jewish tradition, and actually had a great deal of prejudice towards Jews as a people. And Engels, the co-writer with Marx of many early communist books and pamphlets, was not a Jew.

    Many Jews throughout history have, in fact, been in strong opposition to communism, and continue to be so today. For every Jew that you wish to name as a supporter of communism, you can name many, many other Jews who were not.

    Third, Lenin was raised in a Christian family (he was given child baptism in the Orthodox church). Stalin was also raised an Orthodox Christian, and was, as a young man, a seminarian. He later became an atheist, and was never an adherent of Judaism.

    Thus to say that Jews were in any way, as a people, responsible for the Bolshevik revolution or the gulag system in Stalinist Russia, or that Jews in any way, as a people, are responsible for the death of millions of “ordinary Russians”, is simply false. I hope that you, as a human being, will acknowledge that people are individuals and should be held responsible for their actions as individuals (and not as members of this or that group).

    What happened to the Jews during the Holocaust was a vast moral evil; and what happened to Russians under Lenin and Stalin, and to those imprisoned in the Gulag system, was also a vast moral evil. We need to study these things, and seek to understand them, and hold individuals responsible for them. But we should not lay the horrors of Stalinism or Nazism upon any particular group of people and classify them as “evil.” Neither Jews nor Germans nor Russians are bad people, which makes it all the more disturbing how the atrocities that have happened among them occurred. Let’s not demonize one another, nor attempt to compare grievences (as if there was a numbers contest going on). Something like nine million people died in the Nazi concentration camps (six million Jews and at least three million non-Jews), and many millions of people died under Stalinism. The 20th century was a horrific time in many ways, and we need to bear witness to it and seek to understand it.


  3. Dee says:

    VERY good answer!

  4. Nishant Beriwal says:

    Whatever happened during holocaust to either Jews, Polish POWs & Russians POWs was the worst of humanity in the human history ever.
    Its still shocking & a big question that how come something worst like that was allowed to happen, how did normal human carried extensive burtal tasks to the fellow humans including children & even infants.
    May the soul of all those who suffered rest in peace and the souls of those who made them suffer will always rot in hell till eternity

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