Żegota was founded in December 1942 as a continuation of an ealier secret committee set up to help the Jews, the Provisional Committee for Aid to Jews (Tymczasowy Komitet Pomocy Zydom), founded in September 1942 by Zofia Kossak-Szczucka and Wanda Krahelska-Filipowicz. Another well-known member was Władysław Bartosewski, who became Polish Foreign Minister in 1995. Made up of democratic Catholic activists, the Provisional Committee had 180 persons under its care within a short time.
The German occupying forces made concealing Jews a crime punishable by death for all the persons living in the house where they were discovered. A difficult problem therefore was to find hiding places for persons who looked Jewish. Żegota was on a constant lookout for suitable accommodations. No estimate can be given of the magnitude of this form of aid by Zegota, but it appears to have been great.
Children were put in the care of foster families, into public orphanages or similar institutions maintained by convents. The foster families were told that the children were relatives, distant or close, and they were paid by Żegota for the children's maintenance. In Warsaw alone, Żegota had 2,500 Jewish children registered whom it looked after in this way. Medical attention for the Jews in hiding was also made available. Żegota had ties with many ghettos and camps. It also made numerous efforts to induce the Polish government-in-exile and the Delegatura to appeal to the Polish population to help the persecuted Jews.
During the war, Żegota was the only underground organization that was run jointly by Jews and non-Jews from a wide range of political movements, and the only one that, despite the arrests of some of its members, was able to operate for a considerable length of time and to extend help to Jews in so many different ways.