In Warsaw’s Belvedere Palace, “Righteous Among the Nations” medals and diplomas have been bestowed by Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Institute upon Poles who had risked their own lives to rescue Jews from the Holocaust during World War II.
In her letter read out on this solemn occasion, Polish Lower House Speaker Elżbieta Witek
conveyed her highest respect to those honored who had saved many lives from the Holocaust.
“In a symbolic way, I would like to bow down before an extremely brave and heroic attitude,” she wrote.
“Today, for generations who have not experienced wartime repression, helping another human being seems a natural impulse of the heart, an act of goodwill,” she wrote.
She noted, however, that “when Poland was under the terror imposed by the regime of the Third Reich, it was punishable by death for the slightest co-help given to Jewish fellow Jews, such as giving a slice of bread.”
The Lower House Speaker pointed out that “despite the prohibitions, many Poles decided to take this great responsibility both for their own lives and those of their loved ones and those rescued… They performed deeds that were… heroic in order to hide the persecuted in a safe place, to provide them with the basic means of existence.”
The official wrote that “they never thought of themselves in terms of heroism, for the help was an act of mercy, stemming from a commitment to Christian and humanistic values.”
“It was also an expression of opposition to evil and hatred, and at the same time allowed them to preserve their dignity and sense of humanity,” Witek wrote, adding that “sacrifice, kindness and fidelity to one’s beliefs still remain for us contemporaries a model worthy of the highest respect.”
In her letter, the Polish Lower House Speaker said that the Righteous “deserve special remembrance in our Polish collective consciousness, as well as in the consciousness of future generations. I bow my head before the Righteous among the Nations, before those known and unknown by name, before those who are still among us and those who have passed away.”
Present during the ceremony, Israeli Ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne, said that “the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem has recognized more than 7,000 Poles as worthy of the title Righteous Among the Nations.”
He stressed that “this is more than a third of the Righteous among the Nations, and Poles make up the largest number among them.”
He listed the individuals posthumously awarded on Wednesday, these being namely Karolina Bobryk, Maria and Jan Cieślak, Mieczysław Lucerski, Julia and Jan Stemporowski, and Leokadia Szalińska. “These are our common heroes of the Polish and Jewish people,” the Israeli Ambassador said.
By Wednesday, there were 7,177 Polish Righteous Among the Nations with the Poles listed above now increasing the number by seven.