On October 25, 2023, Wanda Półtawska, a physician, psychiatrist, member of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, passed away at the age of nearly 102 years.
A close friend of Pope John Paul II and Professor Jérôme Lejeune, she tirelessly dedicated herself to the service of life and family. She used to say, When millions of people can be killed, life loses its value. Until now, we have not understood the true value of life. Life cannot be compared to anything else.
Wanda Półtawska had met Jérôme Lejeune in 1975 during a scientific congress in Poland. About her encounter with Jérôme Lejeune, she said everything he said appealed to me… He argued with genetic evidence. We became friends immediately.
She had met Karol Wojtyla when he was a chaplain, and she was studying medicine. She continued to work with him in the pastoral care of family and life as he became a young bishop and later a cardinal. In 1979, shortly after the election of Pope John Paul II, Jérôme Lejeune went to Rome for a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. After the audience and the Holy Father’s speech, Jérôme Lejeune, like all the academic, approached the Pope, who looked attentively at this Professor Lejeune, whose merits were often praised by his friend Wanda Poltawska. Later, he entrusted her with the creation of a new pontifical academy, the Pontifical Academy for Life, which led to numerous exchanges of correspondence with Wanda Półtawska.
In 1994, she was at the table with the Holy Father when Bishop Dziwisz informed her of the death of Jérôme Lejeune. Shocked, he had these words, which she reported: My God, I need him…
Unwavering Commitment to Life
The most extraordinary thing is that I am alive she explained. Her commitment to life was born during her internment in the Ravensbruck death camp when she was deported at the age of 18 due to her involvement in Catholic scouting. During those years of internment, and until the Liberation, she was one of the 73 women on whom Nazi doctors conducted experiments. I was discarded like a corpse. I heard a doctor say, ‘She is dead.’ I was alive but showed no external signs of life. Clinical death is not death… Later, a friend noticed that I moved the tip of a finger. That saved me
She witnessed so many horrors that she promised herself that if she survived, she would dedicate her life to the defense of human life. She fulfilled this promise with remarkable dedication and competence. She would sometimes say, It’s a pity that many people who engage in the service of life give up the fight at the first difficulty. Wanda, undoubtedly, never gave up.