Unless you’re really into World War II history or you have been keeping up on the latest individuals to be beatified by the Catholic Church, you may not have heard of Stanislawa Lecysynska.
She didn’t attempt to assassinate anyone. She didn’t win any battles. She didn’t blow up any munitions factories or bridges. She didn’t find out any crucial bits of military intelligence. She never even wrote a book about her experiences. In fact, she rarely talked of her time as a midwife in Auschwitz.
But that’s OK. Because a lot of the mothers who knew her have told us about her- and even a couple of the babies she saved.
The Midwife of Auschwitz
Stanislawa Lecysynska was a midwife in Poland before the war. She was imprisoned in Auschwitz when she was suspected of collaborating with the Resistance. When the camp officers found out she was a midwife, they put her in charge of delivering babies for pregnant prisoners and killing the newborns. She delivered over 3,000 babies during her time in Auschwitz, but she refused to kill any of them- even when the infamous Dr. Mengele threatened to kill her for refusing to comply.
By all accounts, Stanislawa was a woman of great hope and compassion. All the pregnant women in the camp called her “Mother” because she gave the best care she could to every mother and baby- Jewish or Christian. Women described her as going hours without sleep to attend to laboring mothers and doing everything she could to keep babies alive for as long as possible. She had a deep conviction that if a baby was born alive, it was meant to live.
She delivered babies in the most hellish environment imaginable- and yet she never stopped caring for her mothers and babies. Some accounts describe the German doctors of being incredulous that she never lost a mother or baby to labor complications- despite the abysmal resources she had to deal with. It’s little wonder that she has been beatified by the Catholic Church (the first step towards sainthood).
Saving Babies Through Breastfeeding
Infant formula was not available in concentration camps. Mothers who weren’t able to make enough milk turned to other prisoners who were lactating to feed their babies. One of these babies, Barbara Puc, lived out the first two years of her life in Auschwitz. When her mother was unable to breastfeed her, another woman who had just lost her baby offered to wet-nurse baby Barbara, saving her life. One Auschwitz inmate, Maria Saloman described how Stanislawa found two women to wet nurse her baby who ended up living to adulthood.
Kazimera Bogdanska was unable to breastfeed her little girl at first, but Stanislawa encouraged her to keep putting the baby to the empty breast in hopes that it would eventually stimulate lactation. When the camp was liberated, Kazimera was able to see a doctor who encouraged her to follow the midwife’s advice.
“Mother [Stanislawa Lecysynska] was right,” says Kazimera, “How lucky I was that I believed her. When liberty came in January 1945 and I was taken to a real hospital (since I had typhoid fever) the doctor allowed me to continue to give my child my breast devoid of milk. After some time milk returned. My daughter began to gain weight. . . . She started to become round and rosy cheeked. . . . Mother’s wisdom and faith saved my only child.”
I just think it’s beautiful advice for any mother who is struggling with breastfeeding. Even when you feel like nothing is happening, even if you have to supplement or get donor milk for a time, keep putting the baby to the breast. It might stimulate the glands.