In addition to her exhaustion and malnourishment, the barracks at Auschwitz had nothing by way of antiseptics, dressings or tools. This meant that Stanislawa had nothing to give women for the pain of childbirth, and all her practices were carefully monitored by Nazi physicians.
There were many other Auschwitz medical professionals besides Stanislawa, and they cared for the sick and injured under Nazi guidance. These doctors were instructed to give progress updates on patients, and when a person was not apt to recover, they were immediately taken to the gas chamber.
Many who were in Auschwitz contracted Typhus, and though there was a fairly good chance they wouldn’t recover, the doctors often lied to the Nazis in order to buy them enough time to heal. If they succumbed to Typhus, at least they hadn’t been sent to the incinerator. Likewise, Stanislawa was immediately told to drown all the surviving infants she delivered.
The Nazis assumed that the babies would never survive to term–let alone labor and delivery, but when they acquired Stanislawa’s progress reports they realized that she had not lost a single baby — or mother — since she had begun practicing midwifery in the camp.
They were immediately incredulous, and instructed her to drown the newborns in a barrel in the barracks. Stanislawa Leszczyńska refused, and risked her life by doing so. Instead, the task was given to an imprisoned German midwife who had been convicted of infanticide.
As Stanislawa continued to successfully bring thousands of babies into the world despite the camp’s treacherous conditions, the Nazis began to take any children born with Aryan features, sending them to orphanages to be adopted by German families.
The mothers were devastated, and together with Stanislawa they found a way to surreptitiously tattoo the tiny babies in a subtle manner, with the hope that one day mother and child would be reunited.
Though she was able to help over 3,000 babies enter the world while imprisoned at Auschwitz, Stanislawa rarely spoke publicly of her time there.
One story that she did regale to her children — who have subsequently told it on her behalf— involved a young mother whom she had assisted during labor. Within a few hours, the young mother’s number was called to go to the chamber. The woman bundled her up and wrapped the baby in damp paper fluttering around the barracks. Knowing that she was about to die, the woman clutched her newborn to breast and walked out of the barracks.
Obviously, the women at the camp understood Stanislawa’s incredible presence–as did those responsible for placing her there in the first place.
Dr. Menegle visited the “maternity ward” in the women’s barracks and was furious that the midwife was allowing the babies to survive. She orchestrated wet-nurses within the barracks who would suckle the babies whose mothers were so malnourished their milk never came in, and thus, babies who were born close to the camp’s liberation survived.
Even though Menegle was clearly opposed to Stanislawa’s saving of Jewish infants and their mothers, he did remark to the other Nazi physicians that not only was she an exceptionally skilled midwife, but that she was the personification of hope prisoners clung to that they may, eventually, escape the camp.