Social Welfare

In the Middle Ages, some kind of social care was provided by religious brotherhoods - at first assembled at parish churches, and later at the churches belonging to religious orders. The brotherhoods were mainly concerned with religious life, but also looked after material affairs of the members. In Poland, brotherhoods grouped people by profession or nationality, and they provided help for their members with regard to work and financial matters; they also saw to their funerals and provided for the families of the deceased.

After the Council of Trent (1545-1563), religious brotherhoods began to encompass wider groups of people. In 1585, in Cracow, the priest Piotr Skarga founded the Brotherhood for Charity - later known as the Archbrotherhood - and dedicated it to the Mother of God. It was to offer help to "anyone ashamed of begging". According to the statute, it was obliged to look after hospitals, and so it did until 1815, when another institution, the Society for Charity, was organised in Cracow and assumed the duty of providing financial assistance for the hospitals in Cracow.

Another very interesting institution was the Almshouse for the Veterans of the January Uprising. It provided care and shelter for the lonely and destitute participants of an uprising fought for Polish independence (the so-called January Uprising of 1863). The almshouse was a social institution supported by private donations - including money coming from the citizens of Cracow.

During World War I, Prince Bishop Adam Stefan Sapieha brought to life a committee (the so-called Książęco-Biskupi Komitet) to provide assistance for the war victims, giving financial help to the wounded, the families of the killed in battle, as well as the orphaned children. The committee also organized medical assistance for civilians.

In the period between the two world wars, Bishop Sapieha co-ordinated the work of all the charity organizations in Cracow and of the whole of the diocese by means of the Bishop's Rescue Committee. 1926 marked the establishment of another Committee, the Książęco-Metropolitalny Komitet, which had the goal of relieving the plight of the unemployed.

The years of World War Two were particularly significant for the charities in Cracow. As early as September 1939, owing to Archbishop Sapieha's initiative, the Citizen's Committee for Providing Assistance (later known as the RGO, Rada Główna Opiekuńcza) was established . It had its branches in the entirety of Poland. In Cracow, the Polish Relief Committee was operating, it centered all its social activities in the city, organizing help for the citizens and the displaced from other parts of Poland. It also took care of both political prisoners in Nazi prisons and camps and their families. With the exception of the Polish Red Cross, the RGO was the only social organization permitted by the Nazis. In addition to the official activities controlled by the Nazi authorities, the committee carried out conspiratorial work, such as clandestine fund-saving.

After the war, the activities of the Polish Relief Committee were continued by the Town Committee for Social Welfare in Cracow. It was active in the years 1945-1949 and helped the displaced persons and the former concentration and labour camp prisoners, as well as forced labour workers on their return.

KJL, MM

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A clandestine ledger of the Polish Relief Committee from 1944, kept in a cigarette box. It has been preserved and handed down as the bequest of Maria Zazulowa, who was in charge of the Polish Relief Committee branch that provided help for prisoners and their families (APKr, ref. no PolKO 198. Photo: RM)