Code Name: Zegota

Rescuing Jews in Occupied Poland, 1942-1945: The Most Dangerous Conspiracy in Wartime Europe

by Irene Tomaszewski and Tecia Werbowski
Foreword by Norman Davies


More than a thousand people in Nazi-occupied Poland were executed for helping Jews: men and women, young and old, grandparents, teenagers, and school children. What inspired courage such as that demonstrated by the Zegota member who reasoned, "To save a Jew could cost you your life. So for the same life, why not save ten?"

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Cover image for Code Name: Zegota

May 2010


Pages 184
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics World History/Conflict

An inspiring story of unarmed civilians of all ages who took on the Gestapo, the SS, and the Wehrmacht—and outwitted them at least 20,000 times.

Code Name: Zegota: Rescuing Jews in Occupied Poland, 1942-1945: The Most Dangerous Conspiracy in Wartime Europe tells the story of the only secret organization in occupied Europe set up for the sole purpose of saving Jews. The first book on the subject in English, it details the danger and complexity behind Zegota rescue attempts, clarifying the relationship of the Germans, who had total control; the Poles, who were relegated to sub-human status and treated as slave labor; and the Jews, designated nonhuman and collectively condemned to death.

Illuminating the moral dilemmas that arose as one life was pitted against another under the lawless apartheid conditions created by the Nazis, Code Name: Zegota explores the critical situation in occupied Poland and the personalities that responded to desperate conditions with a mix of courage and creativity. It profiles the key players and the network behind them and describes the sophisticated organization and its mode of operation. The cast of characters ranges from members of prewar Poland's cultural and political elite to Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, who worked as couriers. As this inspiring book shows, all of these brave souls risked torture, concentration camps, and death—and many paid the price.


  • Individual profiles of and insights from the rescued and the rescuers
  • 28 photographs including the Warsaw ghetto, a prisoner's letter from the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, and Nazi posters issuing regulations in occupied Poland
  • Primary sources such as archival documents, first person memoirs, including unpublished testimonies of the period, and interviews with both rescuers and rescued
  • Early interviews with Irena Sendler the subject of the Hallmark film, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, which was watched by 10 million viewers
  • A map of Poland showing areas annexed or occupied and partitioned for administrative purposes by Germany


  • Raises issues of fundamental ethics and provides unmatched role models—people who, armed only with brains and courage, defied one of the most brutal regimes of the 20th century
  • Details the strategy and logistics used by the Zegota to secretly help Jews escape from, and remain in hiding from, the German authorities
  • Covers the five years of World War II least known in Western historiography—the occupation of Poland from 1939-45—describing the conditions Germany imposed upon the citizens of Poland
  • Reveals the little-known fact that most of the Zegota heroes, including Irena Sendler, were later persecuted by the Communist regime installed by the Soviet Union
Author Info

Irene Tomaszewski is the program director of an international symposium on Polish Studies in Canmore, Alberta, Canada, and founding president of the Montreal-based Canadian Foundation for Polish Studies. Her published works include Inside a Gestapo Prison: The Letters of Krystyna Wituska, 1942-1944.

Tecia Werbowski has written eight novels. Her work has been translated into several languages and adapted for the stage, radio, and television. Born in Poland and a child of the Holocaust, she now divides her time between Montreal, the Laurentians, and Prague.



"Recommended for parish, high school, and college and university libraries."Catholic Library World


"Codename: Zegota is the story of extraordinary heroism amidst unique depravity—compelling in its human as well as historical dimensions. It is a particularly valuable addition to our understanding of the many facets of the Holocaust because Zegota as an organized effort was tantamount to 'Schindler's list' multiplied a hundred-fold."—Zbigniew Brzezinski, Center for Strategic and International Studies

"The story of Zegota is one of courage and valor in the midst of great chaos during the Holocaust. Zegota's legacy is intertwined with the beautiful legacy of Irena Sendler."—Norm Conard, Director of Life in a Jar/the Irena Sendler Project

"This book restores one's faith in mankind. It reveals the little known story of Zegota, an underground organization in Poland dedicated to the rescue of Jews during World War II. Organized by Gentile Poles who themselves were starved and enslaved, they risked their own and their children's lives in order to snatch Jews from the Nazi killing machine. Thousands of Poles perished in this intrepid quest. Written in an exciting style and meticulously documented, the book is fascinating from beginning to end and affords insight into this little known heroism."—Dorit Whiteman, author of The Uprooted: A Hitler Legacy: Voices of Those Who Escaped Before the "Final Solution" and Lonek's Journey: the True Story of a Boy's Escape to Freedom

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