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Nov 2 12 4:13 PM
Four days after his election as pope Karol writes to his "Dusia", Wanda Poltawska: "God decided everything of which we spoke at times. You yourself said that the day after the death of Paul VI and it has become reality. You should understand that in all this I think of you. (...) I would like to continue to walk with you, day after day (...) Since I learned of your story in the camp of Ravensbruch, this thought had grown in me: 'That God has given you to me with the task that I must balance all that you have suffered in that camp'. And I thought that you suffered for me too. God spared me that ordeal. Because you were there (...) The grace of God is stronger than our weakness. All things I can in him who strengthens me". From the five years of horrors spent in the camp Wanda returned transformed in body and soul.
At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Wanda Poltawska was a young college student. She was eighteen. She frequented the circles of Catholic students. And when the Nazis invaded Poland, like many of her peers, she joined the partisan resistance to defend the homeland. But it was discovered, arrested, transferred to Germany and spent five years in a concentration camp. For her work, very heavy work, began immediately. «The load huge weights on our shoulders. I remember that I carried 80 kilos of concrete on my back up narrow stairs up to the ceiling of a two-story house: I felt I was going to die but I could not drop that weight because behind me there was another prisoner and I would have killed her. We had to shovel sand. The guards stood next to us with terrible snarling dogs that threatened us when we tried to rest for a while. The hands were bleeding. In the morning the sand was wet and heavy, during the day it dried with the wind, it would rise, entering eyes, mouth, ears», recalls Wanda. A terrible anguish, exaggerated by cold.
Back home, she resumed hers studies, graduated in medicine and specialized in psychiatry. She never spoke of what she had suffered. But she wanted to write her memoires in a notebook so that they would not be lost, some of those memoires will flow into a booklet entitled «Ravenshrúck. I even afraid of dreams». Only at the beginning of the eighties she let herself be persuaded by a friend to publish «And I'm afraid of my dreams», the book with his memoirs. In Italy it became known in 1996 by Professor Adolfo Turano, a microbiologist, who was translating it for publishing. He still had the original manuscript, then the professor died prematurely, but the book was published also in Italy by Edizioni dell’Orso. In the late eighties, in the afterword to the German edition of the book, Wanda Poltawska affirms to have wondered if it can still make sense to publish her memoirs about the years spent in a concentration camp: «It already felt as though that time had passed forever and that all those thoughts developed at that time were now no longer relevant. But the momentous events that continue to unfold in Europe, lead to very different assessment». And again: «I never lost faith in the fact that man is God's creature, capable of heroic actions; but Ravensbruck also taught me that man is not automatically an image of God, and that in fact he must work to be so». In fact, the multiple activities of Wanda Poltawska are guided by a Christian view of the world. From 1955 she lectured on pastoral medicine at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow. Since 1957 she directs the Institute of Theology of the Family at that same Academy. From 1981 to 1984, she taught at the John Paul II Institute at the Pontifical Lateran University. She is a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family (since 1983), Health Professionals and the Pontifical “Pro Life” Academy. She was awarded the Gold Medal "for work rendered to the city of Krakow" (1964) and in the Vatican the Medal "Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice”. But above all, as also documented by the papal biographer Renzo Allegri, Wanda was the lifelong friend and extraordinary collaborator of Karol Wojtyla, since he was assistant to university students in Krakow. The psychiatrist from Lublin worked with Wojtyla in cultural and social activities of the Archdiocese of Krakow, especially for family problems. And, after Karol Wojtyla became Pope, she continued to work for him in Rome, in the three major Vatican departments of Family, Health and Bioethics. Appointments she still retains in the Curia, as shown in the Pontifical Yearbook 2008 with the title of «expert in anthropology and pastoral medicine», while at home she heads the Institute of Theology of the Family at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow. In short, a biography that reads like a novel. .......The incredible and horrific ordeal that Wanda Poltawska went through from 18 to 23 years of age in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. An experience capable of destroying any mental balance. Wanda survived those horrors both physically and mentally thanks to her faith. Her experience as a young prisoner who experiences a terrible tragedy but with invincible participation in the suffering of others. The first person to whom she will confide all this is Karol Wojtyla. When she turned 88 Wanda made some of the hundreds of letters received by John Paul II public, the others she keeps at home in Krakow in a suitcase. And the letters of a Pope to a woman immediately created a scandal. In the Vatican rumors immediately began to circulate that this unexpected situation might hinder the timing of the cause for beatification of the Polish pope. «She should have kept quiet», is the immediate response of the cardinal of Krakow, former secretary to Wojtyla. Some letters have been published by Wanda Poltawska in a book, published in Poland for Polish "Saint Paul" types, thereby immediately creating controversy. In Italy what makes the case explode is an investigation-reportage by the daily «La Stampa». Those letters are part of an intense correspondence between Wojtyla and Poltawska over 55 years. Especially in crucial moments: the request for healing made to Padre Pio in 1962 and the two conclaves of 1978. Karol writes to Wanda on June 30, 1978: "Today, around 9.00 p.m., I would like to come home to talk about the upcoming holidays. I brought your last letter to spiritual exercises. I think that during our stay at the Wislok river we will find time to review the old books and read together a few pages of the book «The sign of forgiveness». Fr (atello). «Karol writes to Wanda on August 6, 1978: «My dear Dusia, a surprising thing happened to me. I never dream, but tonight I dreamed of Pope Paul VI who motioned me to approach him». Wanda writes to Karol on October 16, 1978: "Today I took all your papers away from your room as you allowed me to do. The Polish television broadcasted the news («Annuntio Vobis Gaudium Magnum, Habemus Papam»), Don Marian immediately celebrated mass at the Church of Mary. The crowd was going crazy, the bell of Sigismund was sounded. How should I live after all that has happened? I remember one rainy day of the last holiday spent together on the Mountain of Sant'Anna. We were forced to seek shelter under a tree to protect your breviary, I had to hold my coat over your head, like a roof. As soon as I got home, the radio announced the death of Paul VI and my heart shrunk. For some time I had this premonition that you would soon go away. Forever». The two had met shortly after the Second World War, they became friends, worked together on several initiatives. First in Kraków, in the cultural and social activities of the diocese, especially for family problems; and after Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope, in Rome, where he assumed important positions in key ministries of the Curia. An intense activity, unusual for a Pope, which lasted until the end of the pontificate. It was a friendship that received extraordinary visibility in 1984, when it was learned that Poltawska had received a miracle through the intercession of Padre Pio, by request of Karol Wojtyla. But the turning point is the attack. The man Wojtyla comes out of it terribly aged. There is mistrust towards to old Curia. But Wanda not only maintains a unique private correspondence with the Pope. She is also the custodian of the most terrible secrets of that Pontificate. She knows much of the attack in St. Peter's Square, for example. It is no coincidence that the judge Rosario Priore, who investigated at length on the instigators who were hiding behind the hand of Ali Agca, she was questioned three times in November 1993. In fact, the judge had discovered that in the hours following the attack the Pope had cut all ties with the Curia and with the Vatican Secretariat of State, relying on this lady, in which he reposed the utmost confidence. "John Paul II - said Priore - surrounded himself with a very narrow band of trusted Polish people, cutting off all the others". The inference is obvious: he did not trust the rest of the Vatican.
Judge Priore was convinced of this absolute confidence in Wanda, after examining a little-known story: photos "stolen"of the Pope taken in the early days of his convalescence. A dozen shots taken with a powerful telephoto lens suddenly materialized in the Vatican. They were delivered by a certain Monsignor Francesco Salerno, legal advisor with the Prefecture of Economic Affairs. They were undoubtedly shocking: depicting a suffering Pope in a dressing gown overlooking a small terrace, with two doctors at his side. Maybe Wanda was with them. Monsignor Salerno understood that this was big stuff. And what did he do? He hastened to hand them over to Wanda Poltawska who described as "very close - he says when testifying - to the Supreme Pontiff".
Priore wanted to learn more. "I determined - said Monsignor Salerno – that it would be more advantageous to inform a person like the doctor of a situation that appeared to be delicate for the Pope’s personal safety, rather than formally urge internal authorities". More proof of the mistrust that prevailed in the papal apartment. "I knew of her relationship with the Supreme Pontiff and I considered her to be the most appropriate person to take any action required to avoid incautious exposure of the Pope". Dr. Poltawska also realized, at first glance, that it was hot material. It was the sign of a breach in security: and if someone was lurking with a sniper rifle? Trouble ahead, then, for privacy: and what if these pictures ended up in a newspaper? Lastly, a third question, very embarrassing: rebuilding the perspective, and considering that the papal balcony looked out towards the inside of the Vatican, the photos could only have been taken from the Lantern above the dome of St. Peter. And what's more, with a professional camera that required a strong stand. Who could have taken them? There was obviously a mole in the Vatican. Perhaps in security itself.
At that point Wanda began a personal investigation, involving Monsignor Salerno and the photographer of the Osservatore Romano, Arturo Mari. A very secret investigation which, when questioned by the Italian magistrates, was deliberately obscured. These were her vague answers: "At that time I hardly knew anyone in Italy. I personally did not make any decision on whether or not to refer to people of Vatican security. I referred solely to the Supreme Pontiff". But the investigation did indeed take place. Mari said that he had studied the photos and then returned them to Wanda. She herself reconstructed the moment at which they had been taken. "Having shown a copy of those photographs to personnel serving in the private apartment at the time, she found that only in the first three or four days after his return, was the Holy Father assisted by doctors from the Gemelli Hospital".
In short, the shots must have been taken between 4 and 6 June 1981. Mysterious photos. Even the means by which they arrived at the Vatican remains a mystery. They were given to Monsignor Salerno by a priest, Don Ennio Innocenti, who in turn - he said - had received them from an Italian general. He was telling a patently false story. The general would have had them from a young stranger, along with others that relate to the tragedy of Vermicino, as he climbed on a military plane that would take him to Paris.
On the plane, looking through the package, he would have discovered the series which concerned Wojtyla and removed them. But who was this general? Called to the Courthouse, Don Ennio appealed to the secrecy of the confessional, and there was no way to make him talk. But maybe Wanda knows. Her parallel investigation, was one of the best kept secrets in the world. Immediately after the Supreme Pontiff returned from the hospital, she alone, the Polish doctor, and of course Don Stanislaw, had access to the papal apartment. And not only to attend the illustrious patient, but to think, reflect, investigate on the matter. Of course, under her guidance.
At one point, therefore, the pictures "stolen" from a location on the top of the dome of St. Peter's, private shots of a Pope in pain, reached the papal apartment. And Wanda took the reins of the investigation. One person upon which she leaned was Arturo Mari, the photographer of the Osservatore Romano. Mari prepared a kind of dossier for Poltawska, including a very detailed analysis of the shots "stolen" from the Pontiff’s intimacy. Another was the monsignor who had acted as "postman" and who had delivered them to Wanda, "knowing how very close she was to the Supreme Pontiff. "
When questioned by Judge Rosario Priore, Monsignor Salerno said: "Dr. Poltawska asked if she could examine the photographic evidence along with Mari. While looking at them, Mari noted that the photos were taken from the dome of St. Peter and the distance between the observation point and the photographic subject was very close, sufficient to advise against the Pope staying in a place so accessible".
Mari is an outstanding professional who since 1956, without interruption, has been following the pontificate. To Monsignor Salerno and then Wanda he explained that the mysterious paparazzo must have used a 1000 mm telephoto lens, probably doubled, and a tripod. With all this cumbersome paraphernalia, the photographer had stationed himself for who knows how long on the Lantern of the Dome. Clearly at times when it was not open to the public, and with the sight fixed on the terrace, the only which the Pontiff could look out on. Obvious conclusion: there was a mole inside the Vatican, someone who had helped the operation.
It is impossible to say what why. Just the desire for a scoop? An attempt to replicate the most famous photo shot of the century, the picture of a dying Pius XII taken secretly by the Galeazzi Lisi in 1957? Or was it something worst? An attempt at intimidation? Or even an operation to undermine the image of Karol Wojtyla? Many bad questions rolled around in Wanda Poltawsk 's head and that of the Pope’s limited staff.
"It's was so long ago", the photographer Mari parries today. "And as for me the intervention was ridiculous". He says he does not remember much more of this story. He does not remember his contacts with Poltawska. He also denies having spoken with Monsignor Salerno. "You know, my memory plays bad tricks". Mari explains, however, that the Lantern on the Dome is always a good location for photographers. "When there are the papal audiences, the Lantern is closed to the public. On May 13, 1981, when there was the attack on the Pope, one of my men was on the Lantern who took a series of photos. He photographed the jeep moving away from the Square with the Pope on board injured. Photos that were given to the authorities". Yet Mari helped Wanda Poltawska a lot in her investigation. He, like Monsignor Salerno, and the priest Ennio Innocenti, knew well how to deal with a person who had the Pope’s full confidence. Monsignor said: " After our meeting Mari kept these photographs and placed them in a file containing other pictures of the attack on the Pope, his hospitalization and audiences or ceremonies that took place prior to the attack. Mari then gave this entire file to Poltawska. "
All this took place in June 1981. Today Mari continues to be evasive. "I do not remember much. Journalists have advanced fantasies about the attack ... I seem to recall only some discussions about the possibility of a sniper on the Dome ... or a photographer ... I think that a foreign weekly, maybe it was the "Stern", or maybe it was "Paris Match", I'm not sure which magazine it was, came out with a cover with the figure of the Pope in the center of the viewfinder and the words: "We could have shot him".
Nothing more was ever heard of those mysterious photos. The file that Mari gave the Poltawska was never made public. Nor was a copy ever given to the Italian magistrates. There is even a question of whether the Secretary of State ever received a copy, or whether it is preserved in the famous suitcase that Wanda Poltawska took to Poland with her and that so embarrassed the Vatican, to the point of slowing down the process of beatification.Wanda Poltawska, 55 years of friendship with the Blessed Karol Wojtyla
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