KRAKOW, Poland — Wanda Półtawska is one of the greatest living testimonies of the 20th century. She experienced firsthand the atrocities of Nazi and communist totalitarianisms and is the last survivor of the 74 Polish women who were transported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp during World War II and subjected to pseudo-medical experiments.
This unspeakable ordeal that she lived at the age of 20 for assisting the Polish resistance (and that she recounts in her book And I Am Afraid of My Dreams) turned her into an untiring defender of life and human dignity. It is a fight that she fought through her long career as a psychiatrist.
And as the personal friend of St. John Paul II — who gave her spiritual support during the difficult years following the war and who she influenced on questions related to the family and marital life — she has followed closely Church affairs of the recent decades. She has also been a prominent member of various Vatican dicasteries, in particular the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Pontifical Council for the Family.
Born under the name of Wanda Wojtasik on Nov. 2, 1921, in Lublin, Poland, she received her medical degree at the Jagiellonian University of Krakow in 1951 and her doctorate in psychiatry in 1964. A few years later, she took part in the establishment of the Institute of Theology of the Family at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow (which would later become the Pontifical University of John Paul II), an institute that she ran for more than 30 years. She also worked as auniversity lecturer in pastoral medicine at the John Paul II Institute of Rome.
On the occasion of her 100th birthday, the Register sat with her in her apartment in Krakow, seeking her perspective about the current state of the world. She also looked back at her fond memories of some of the greatest events of the 20th century and her friendship with the holy Polish Pope.
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