IN DEFENCE OF THE GOOD NAME OF THE POLES
Fr. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik – a grandson of a prisoner of the camp in Treblinka, who, among the others, documents help brought to the Jews by Poles during the Holocaust
FR. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: - What is the genesis of Priest’s interest in studies on Poles saving the Jewish nation?
FR. PAWEŁ RYTEL-ANDRIANIK: - The reason is very personal: our grandfather Stanisław Rytel survived the camp in Treblinka thanks to an inmate’s help. We lived near this camp and we still remember tragic events about the Jews and Poles murdered there, about burned bodies of victims and children murdered in their parents’ eyes. In such an atmosphere two desires appeared: gratitude to everybody who saved another person’s life during the second world war and the Holocaust, and deep sympathy for those who were innocently killed. Once my mum told me: ‘If you grandpa had not survived Treblinka, we would not exist’. So, how not to thank those who risked their lives to save another person’s life?
- As we notice, there is spreading opinion all over the world that the Poles, also the Polish Catholics, are allegedly anti-Semites and had a cruel attitude to the Jews during the Holocaust. This opinion brings us harm and slander. Are there any statistic data on this issue?
- Prof. Antony Polonsky born in a Jewish family and one of the greatest authorizes in the issue of the Holocaust stated that in order to save one person of the Jewish origin during the Second World War, at least two or three people were needed. So, if one assumes that thanks to the Polish help 40-60 thousand Jews were saved (between 1.2 and 1.8 per cent of the Jewish population in 1939, numbering to about 3.3 million people), it gives the number of 160-360 thousand Poles who risked their and their families’ lives in order to help the Jews save their lives.
Moreover, our studies based on interviews with 20 thousand people, show that saving the Jewish nation was proportional to Poles’ religiousness. On the areas where it was even bigger, more Jews were saved. Witnesses of those events say that faith gave them strength to such great devotions, like risking their and their families’ lives to save another person.
- So, why is there the opinion about Poles that they are anti-Semites?
– One of the reasons is the fact that we did not take care about documenting the heroic attitude of our compatriots for the current and future generations. This sin of neglecting concerns both institutions and individuals who have information about this issue, but did not report it. If the attitude towards this issue is not changed, similar accusations will reappear all the time.
- Does Priest think that the policy of the Polish authorities, Polish media sometimes contributed to the bad opinion about the Polish nation?
- Prelate Priest noticed it well, that it is useless to blame oneself but it is necessary to note what is happening in Poland. In some groups of mass media noble attitudes of Poles are not mentioned at all. It is also impossible to conceal the fact that the authorities of our Homeland have not met requirements. Facts go without saying. It is 70 years after the war since there has not been a museum devoted to Poles saving the Jewish nation (the museum in Markowa street named by the Ulmów family is still being built and mainly comprises Podkarpacie but let’s hope that it will concern Poland). Moreover, there is the lack of the world-scale film on this issue or the nationwide data base on Internet. There is not still a monument devoted to those people in the nationwide scale. Within the project of the National Remembrance Institute named ‘An index of Poles murdered and oppressed by the Nazis for helping the Jews’, since 2006 about 6 thousand records/folders have been collected, and the publication describing help to about 550 people, is being prepared. Whereas books on this issue are often in Polish, so they do not reach to a wider group of recipients.
In this context one should express respect to the Institute Yad Vash in Jerusalem which has rewarded Poles with the medal and the title ‘A just person among the Nations of the World’ for over 50 years on behalf of Israel.
- We know that studies of Priest and his cooperators brings excellent results. Gaining trustfulness of so many people who share their painful experiences with others, is also a great work. What are the results of your studies?
- Relating to the fact that these studies are very engaging, I asked my brother Artur and other people to cooperate with me. In December 2012 we started analyzing attitudes of priests in Poland towards the Jewish nation. It turned out about a thousand of them had taken part in saving people of Moses’ religion. We are also investigating engagement of nuns and generally Poles in helping the Jewish nation. To the appeal of Radio Maria we are also collecting materials to the Remembrance Chapel in Toruń where those who risked their lives to help the Jewish nation will be honoured.
During the studies a data base was created which numbers at present:
- Over 20 thousand interviews (of the total time of about 300 thousand minutes)
- About 12 thousand pages of documents
- About 1500 archive photos
- About 1500 emails
The register list ( a kind of a table of content of the collected material), containing reports about people bringing help, currently numbers to about 3 thousand pages. On the basis of collected materials one can document attitudes of over 40 thousand Poles who saved Jewish people during the Holocaust.
A very good sign is the fact that these studies supported are both by Poles and by the Jews. This is saving our common history from forgetting, which was noted during an interview with us by directors of the archives: Yad Vash – dr. Haim Gertner and the Holocaust Museum in Washington – dr. Radu Ioanid.
- What are plans for the future?
- Our list contains about a thousand people to whom we must go with a film camera and record their reports on the spot where events from before 70 years took place. Time is our enemy. We must hurry before it will be too late. Moreover, we still ask for giving us examples of heroic Poles who risked their lives to save others. Even if it was a slice of bread. We will also be grateful for a prayer and all kinds of help and cooperation in order to save noble examples of heroic compatriots from forgetting. You can contact us at the phone number: 609-498-523.
- Thank you for the interview.