Fr. Emilian Kowcz - blessed priest from Majdanek
In Majdanek camp there were clergymen of various faiths, mostly Catholic priests. Despite imprisonment, they pursued their pastoral work among fellow prisoners of various faiths and nationalities. They secretly celebrated Holy Masses, organized secret prayers and confessions, and even administered Communion and Extreme Unction. Their attitude was a heroic testimony of faith. They are remembered as people who, putting trust in God and drawing strength from Him, even in the face of tragic conditions of the concentration camp, maintained their human and priestly dignity, reassured those who lost hope for survival, consoled people in despair. Among them there was priest Emilian Kowcz.
Priest Emilian Kowcz was born in Kosmacz, the Hutsul region, on 20 August 1884. He graduated in theology from Collegium Ruthenum in Rome. He was ordained in 1911.
He started his pastoral work in Podwołoczyska parish. Then he worked among Ukrainian settlers in Kozarac parish in Bosnia. After 4 years of service he returned to Galicia. In 1919 be was appointed as the chaplain of the Ukrainian Galician Army.
In 1922 priest Kowcz took office as the parish priest in Przemyślany near Lviv, and he held this position for 20 years. He was involved in religious and social work. He organized local Eucharistic congresses and initiated many events of the educational and cultural character.
During the German occupation, priest Emilian Kowcz helped Poles, Ukrainians and Jews (before World War II more than half of the population in Przemyślany were Jewish). He did not hesitate to catechize and baptize Jews in order to save them from Shoah, thus breaking the rules of the Nazi occupation authorities and ignoring their warnings.
„Right in front of the Germans’ eyes, priest Kowcz catechized Jews in the square beside the Orthodox church. As a faithful servant of God, he tried to save everyone (…).”
Wasyl Szczerbij, inhabitant of Przemyślany
As a result, the priest was arrested on 30 December 1942 and put in Gestapo prison in Lviv. During interrogations he not only admitted to baptizing Jews, but also refused to abandon this practice in the future. Consequently, he was sent to Majdanek concentration camp in the transport which departed from Lviv on 30 August 1943. After travelling through Rawa Ruska and Zamość region, the transport arrived in Lublin in the afternoon of 31 August.
In Majdanek priest Kowcz stayed in prisoners field III, barracks no. 14. In the camp he performed ministry service, regarding his mission in the concentration camp as a gift from the Providence. In letters sent to his family, he asked them not to make attempts to release him, because he wished to remain in the camp and fulfil his priestly duties.
„I praise God for His kindness to me. Apart from Heaven, this is the only place where I want to be. We are all equal here: Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, Lithuanians and Estonians. Now I’m the only priest here. I cannot imagine what they would do without me (…).”
A fragment of priest Emilian Kowcz’ note sent from the camp in 1944
Prisoners, appreciating his help, respected him and supported in his hard work. For many of them, the priest became their spiritual leader.
Priest Emilian Kowcz died in camp hospital on 25 March 1944 due to purulent inflammation of the right leg.
„Before capitulation, the commanders of the camp took him to the sick room from where he never returned.”
Jan Kulikowski, prisoner of Majdanek
In 1999, the Jewish Council of Ukraine conferred on him the title of „The Righteous of Ukraine”. On 26 June 2001 priest Emilian Kowcz was beatified in Lviv together with other 26 Servants of God by Holy Father John Paul II during his pilgrimage to Ukraine.
Anna Wójtowicz - employee of the Visitor Service Centre of the State Museum at Majdanek