Ain Karem School for Girls

Palestine
(1942 - 1927)

Julia Masłoń-Kicińska
(nee Gąssowska)
1910 - 2009

 

Julia Masłoń-Kicińska (nee Gąssowska), the head of the Center for Polish Girls in Ain-Karem, was a beautiful young woman with spectacular long braids, a charming smile, and a captivating demeanor. She also had a strong personality, combined with excellent management and organizational skills. She was adored by her students, and respected by her staff. At that point in her life, she had already put in a number of years of work as a teacher, followed by hard labor at a camp in Kazakhstan.
 

She had graduated from a teachers college in 1932, and took on teaching positions at various schools around Białostock province. All the while, she invested most of her time and energy into the newly established Polish scouting organization. She organized scouting training and camps, and, in time, was appointed chief instructor for the entire Białostock province.  She got married and, together with her husband, moved to France where they both became actively involved with Polish immigrant organizations. In France, Julia gave birth to her daughter - Basia. She was on vacation in Poland with her husband and daughter when the war broke out. Both Julia and her husband were arrested by the Russians. Julia was sent to a camp in Karagandinskaya Oblast in Kazakhstan. Her husband was killed by the Germans in 1942.

Having lived through these horrific experiences, she joined General Anders' army, and got out of Russia to the Middle East. She later completed officer training. In 1942, she took over the management of a girls’ camp in Bethany near Jerusalem. She stayed there long enough to set up a school, and was transferred to Ain-Karem. She acted not only as the school commandant but also its headmaster, and the troop leader for all of Palestine. The school continued to grow, and ultimately morphed into the Center for Polish Girls in Ain-Karem, which in time became the main culture hub for the majority of Poles in Palestine. The patronage for the Center was provided by the Polish 2nd Corps 5th Infantry Division under General Bohusz-Szyszko.

Julia made sure that girls were always well dressed and nourished, and that the Center offered a high level of education. She organized field trips to locations all over Palestine, as well as Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. Since she had to report to both military and scouting authorities, as well as the Delegation of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, she struggled with obstacles and contradictory decisions. It was hard to please everyone. Numerous conflicts that she had to deal with affected her health, and ultimately contributed to her decision to leave Ain-Karem. The farewell to Julia Masłoń-Kicińska was sad and touching. Her students will never forget their headmistress.


JULIA MASŁOŃ-KICIŃSKA passed away on September 14, 2009 in Toronto, Canada. Born in 1910 r. as Julia Gąssowska, she was an active scout and a teacher at schools of Białostock province, and Polish emigrants' schools in France. In 1942 - 1945 she was the founder and the commandant of the Center for Polish Girls at Ain-Karem, Palestine. After the war, she settled with her family in Canada, where for a number of years she was actively involved in scout organizations and various social organizations, including the Association of Graduates of the Center for Polish Girls in Palestine. She was a recipient of numerous honors and distinctions awarded for her lifelong commitment to all things related to scouting and Poland.

The summer of 1942 was spent in Bethany at a Greek Orthodox convent. Then, under the command Julia Kisinski, they moved to Ain Karem
A class at Ain Karem in 1942
 
A plaque in a local church, in remembrance of the gratitude of the children.
 
DESCRIPTION of Ain Karem
 

Account of Hanna Lesser-Chmielewska
 

Ain-Karem is a beautiful town located in the mountains about ten kilometers from Jerusalem. St. John the Baptist was born here and his mother, St. Elisabeth, was vis­ited by her cousin, the Blessed Mother. There are, therefore, two churches here: St. John the Baptist and Visitation. There is also a Franciscan monastery as well as a monastery of Orthodox nuns and a mosque from whose minaret a muezzin calls the faithful to prayer.

 

The mountains are covered by cypresses, olive groves and quince and fig trees. In spring when the fruit trees are in blossom, the town drowns in flowers. Here, in this oasis of peace, a few hundred Polish girls found shelter ,thanks to the white fathers who gave them their living quarters for their school and boarding school.

I was ten years old in 1942 when I found myself in the Center for Polish Girls in Ain-Karem. Thin as a raił, my head shaved due to an infectious disease, I sat down for the first time at a desk in a Polish school. We learned how to read Polish from a copy of the Old and New Testament found in the Polish Home in Jerusalem. We did not re­ceive real school books until several months later. Thanks to the Polish Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, the Polish army, and the goodwill of many people, we received the necessary school equipment, scouting outfits, coats, shoes and dresses. We accepted it all as the most beautiful and expensive presents from Santa Claus. We studied like mad. In the course of the first six months we worked our way through two school grades. We were children, but being children who had lived through so much, we took our re­sponsibilities very seriously. Gradually we discarded the physical appearance and all the other deprivations connected with our Siberian slavery. In the large hall of the former monastery, now serving as a boarding-school dormitory, there appeared colorful blan­kets on the girls' beds and on them a variety of fluffy mascots purchased out of our own savings. Vases with hand-picked cyclamens and anemones graced our shelves. We also began to frequent the small Arabian store of Ibrachim, a hunchback, where we discov­ered the most delicious coconut candy bars in the world, as well as the store of the Arab, Maria, full of yarn and embroidery threads.

And so, amid our school responsibilities, Scout meetings, sporting and musical events, countless parties and games of youth, we passed these five years in Ain-Karem. We lived as a loving Polish family about which the foundress and school commandant, Julia Masłoń-Kicińska, was wont to say: "I have here a group of MY children." We were treated in the same way by all our teachers and caretakers, who gave us the best that could be given to youth out of their own ingenuity and patriotic hearts. The level of education here was very high and the mutual understanding between students and teachers reached an optimum level

PRESENTATION about AIN KAREM in Ottawa, Ontario

 

You must be wondering why we've invited you to a talk about the Center  for  Polish  Girls  in  Ain­ Karem. There were so many schools for Polish youth during the Second  World  War,  not  only  in Palestine but also in Lebanon, Persia, Egypt, India, Africa, New Zealand, and Mexico, not to mention England. I have to come clean - it's my fault. l owe a lot to that school personally . as it was attended both by my wife and her three  sisters. My  wife, as  many other graduates of the Center, counts  her time there among the happiest moments of her  childhood.  And no wonder -  the  girls of Ain-Karem were lovingly cared  for by an excellent team of teachers and educators, which must have  seemed like paradise after the traumatic experiences related to their deportation to  Siberia.  Other than my latewife and two of her siste rs, there are three other graduates of the Center living here in Ott awa.  l have also had an opportunity to meet other ladies who attended Ain-Karem. They are all  highly valuable individuals, and living proof of  the utter  commitment and success of their teachers. Tonight's talk is dedicated  to the members  of the Ain-Karem team who fully committed themselves to saving our Polish youth.
 

Initially, I hoped that this talk would be given by one of our local graduates of the Ce nter for Polish Girls in Ain-Karem. Unfortunately, none of them was up to that task. However, they all agreed to sit on this panel, provided that I would give an introduction. The tricky  part is that I was not there at the time. But as luck would have it, in 1988 the Ain-Karem Association published an excellent commemorative book, which I read cover to cover  about a month ago while on vacation on Margarita Is land, as I worked on gathering all relevant information. The text I prepared is mostly based on that book, with some of the sentences literally copied from there.  I simply believed that it would be hard to express certain things better than the authors of  hat publication.  Most of the photos I am about to show you also come from that book.

 

Evacuation {Jewish - Arab war)

After the Firs t World War, Great Britain took Palestine from Turkey, and the United Nations established the British Mandate for Pales tine. At the time, Palestine was populated mainly by Arabs and Jews. Most residents of Ain-Karem were Arabic, and they were on great terms with the Poles. The Arabs quickly picked up basic Polish vocabulary to communicate enough to be able to  trade. The book mentions Mr. Jan Abis, the chairman of the Arabic Youth Association, whose speech to celebrate the Independence Day of 1945, was given in such beautiful Polish that it was met with a round of applause, and he was later approached by the attendees who congratulated him on the speech.

 

The  book  also  mentions Jussuf, a young son of  the boardinghouse janitor, who              became fluent in Polish while he helped the girls with their chores, and played with them. Jussuf got a Polish eagle pin from one of the cadets, which he wore with pride, and  claimed:  "When I grow up I am going to become a Polish soldier."  But all that changed in 1946 when the Jews began fighting for creation of lsrael as a place where all the  European Jews who survived the holocaust could come to. Their attacks were first  directed against the British,. who captured illegal Jewish immigrants.  A prime example of such acts of terror was the bombing of the King David hotel, a  primary place of residence for British officers, by the soon to be prime minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, and his companions. While on vacation on Margarita Island, I was told by Leszek Gałko that his father had been at the hotel when the bomb exploded,  fortunately in another part of the  building.  The relationships in Palestine were slowly deteriorating, until the breakout of the Jewish-Arab war. In December 1947, the Ain-Karem school was officially shut down, and  the remaining Polish population of Ain-Karem was evacuated.

 

 

The Ain-Karem Assodation

Same of the Ain-Karem girls returned to Poland, but most of them found their way to Great Britain, and from there they scattered all over the world. The idea to set up the  Ain-Karem Association wasn't hatched until the 1970s. The main proponents of that idea were Lidka Cionkówna-Kawecka and Wanda Panfic-Kogut.. The objective of the organization was to rekindle friendships, and to publish a commemorative book on the Center for Girls in Ain-Karem.

 

Father Kwolek provided  a list of 385 names of farmer students, teachers, and boarding house staff members.  As a  result  of extensive networking, over 200 current addresses were identified. The process of collecting commemorative materials was started, and several local meetings were organized. In 1978,  a successful mini-reunion was held in London. On its dovetails, the first Global General Convention of farmer students and teachers was organized in London in 1979, with over 70 people from all over the world in attendance, including commandant Julia Masłoń-Kicińska. The Convention adopted the statutes of the association, and resolved to publish the commemorative album. The 472 page long, generously-illustrated book carne out in 1988.

 

The Association publishes three or more newsletters per year, and distributes them among members. The newsletter includes recollections, poems, invitations to local meetings, as well as updates on members and their families.  So far, 79 newsletters have been released. Finally, thanks to the efforts of the Ain-Karem Association, commemorative plaques were placed at Saint Andrew Bobola Church in London, St. John Church in Ain -Karem, and Saint Jack Church in Wa rsaw, to commemorate the odyssey of the Polish children during the Second World War, and to thank God for the received blessings.