THEY WERE SAVING THE JEWS WHEN RISKING THEIR OWN LIVES
Media informed the whole world about Polish death camps very quickly, whereas information that the main purpose of the Polish Underground Country was helping the Jews by Poles did not get into the public space. There is no other country in the world whose purpose would be this kind of commitment
A conference was devoted to Poles saving the Jews during the Second World War, and was held on 23 November 2016 in the House of the Polish Diaspora in Warsaw by the Association ‘Polish Community’. Among lecturers were: politicians, historians, a nun and people awarded with the medal the Righteous among the Nations of the World.
Let’s fight for the truth
Returning the truth is our priority. It is required by the interest of the Polish country. It is not only paying tribute to those heroic Poles who gave their lives for freedom of our Homeland – speaking about the past is, mainly, an investment into the future – said Jan Dziedziczak, a Foreign vice-minister of the Polish Republic. He noted that the essential element of the interests of the Polish country is presenting our country according to the truth. – If we are perceived as a noble country abroad, which said ‘no’ to communism, the country which has always stood by freedom, our country will take advantage of it. Whereas if ‘pedagogy of shame’ wins, it will not arouse any positive attitude to our Nation – said Dziedziczak. As an example of good historical policy he pointed to Germany, France and England. He emphasized that after 50 years of communism, in Poland there is time for strengthening actions in relation to historical policy.
A phenomenon on the world scale
Prof. Jan Żaryn, a senator of the Polish Republic, spoke about the attitude of the authorities of the Polish country towards death of the Jews during the Second World War. He noted an interesting phenomenon of the Polish Underground Country. – A lot of Polish groups created the bottom-up conspiracy structures. Among them there were headteachers, teachers, both from the right and left sides of the political stage. This is a phenomenon of continuance of the country having its own structure. It was not ‘the top social sphere’ but an enormous structure reaching to the deep of a group – noted prof. Żaryn. – No money which was devoted to help the Jews, would have been available, if it had not been for the Polish Underground Country. It was – together with the Government of the Polish Republic in exile – a phenomenon which was unusual on the world scale – emphasized prof. Żaryn.
Institute and distinction
Bringing back memory about Poles saving the Jews was not so obvious in the Polish history. – Soon after the war, a lot was said about martyrdom of the Jewish nation, later – at Stalin’s times – very little was mentioned about it. The initiative of paying tribute to those who were saving Jews was suggested by the Israel State which in 1953 established the Institute Yad Vashem and 10 years later it established the title ‘Righteous among the Nations of the World’- reported dr. Mateusz Szpytma, a vice-president of the National Remembrance Institute. Also after 1989 in Poland it was still a niche matter. It had not changed until the National Remembrance Institute was established and during presidency of prof. Janusz Kurtyka.
They live thanks to Polish nuns
The Catholic Church was strongly engaged in the process of saving the Jews in Poland. A particular role was played by convents. – The Franciscan Sisters of Mary’s Family in the years of the German occupation were hiding a lot of Jewish children and elderly people, both men and women, in their orphanages or convents houses – says s. Teresa Antonietta Frącek RM. Her convent had 160 convent houses in Poland, worked in 60 schools, ran 44 orphanages, 58 hostels, boarding houses and care facilities. During the war occupation nuns set up 7 new orphanages assigned for Polish children in half, and for the Jewish ones – in half.
Death for a glass of water
Poles were saving not only Jewish children but also Jewish adults. They risked their own life. Only in Poland, from the mid of October 1941, was there a death penalty assigned by the Germans, for any kind of help given to the Jews. – One could be killed for giving a glass of water. And not only the person who was saving was killed, but also his whole family, and, sometimes, also his neighbours who did not report on the Jews which was Poles’ duty – says Anna Stupnicka – Bando, from the Management of the Main Polish Society of the Righteous among the Nations of the World. Józef Walaszczyk was hiding three young Jewish women in Warsaw during the war occupation. One of them was caught and imprisoned by Gestapo on Szucha. – I went there. I found out that she had not been passed over to the ‘top’ and there was a chance to save her, provided that during 5 hours a kilo of gold would be gained from jewelery. I managed to do it and the girl was saved – a Polish hero, who had saved 55 Jews in the war, told me about that.
The appeal for commemorating heroic acts began in June 2013. At that time we were working within the project ‘Priests for the Jews’. To maintain these and other stories in memory, the Foundation ‘Righteous for the World’ was established, dealing with documentation of heroism of Poles saving the Jews. Its chairman - Artur Rytel-Adrianik had a few dozen thousand applications during two years of the functioning of the organization. Appeals were broadcast on Radio Maryja a few times a day. - During one day I answered 150-200 phone calls. I managed to register even 70 interviews a day. A lot of those stories were extremely touching – said Artur Rytel-Adrianik.
At the turn of November and December an online service pomagali.pl appears, co-financed by the Foreign Ministry of the Polish Republic. Information about Poles saving the Jews can be given to the address: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 609-002-482 and 609-498-523.