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Polish Righteous among the Nations

Polish citizens have the world's highest count[1] of individuals awarded medals of Righteous among the Nations, given by the State of Israel to non-Jews who saved Jews from extermination during the Holocaust. There are 6,195[2] Polish men and women recognized as "Righteous" to this day, amounting to over 25 per cent of the total number of 22,765 honorary titles awarded already.[3][4]

It is estimated that in fact hundreds of thousands of Poles concealed and aided hundreds of thousands of their Polish-Jewish neighbors.[5] Many of these initiatives were carried out by individuals, but there also existed organized networks of Polish resistance who was dedicated to aiding Jewsâmost notably, the Å»egota organization.

In German-occupied Poland the task of rescuing Jews was especially difficult and dangerous. All household members were punished by death if a Jew was found concealed in their home or on their property.[4] Estimates of the number of Poles who were killed by the Nazis for aiding Jews, among them 704 posthumously honored with medals, go as high as tens of thousands.[5][6][7]


[edit] Activities

Before World War II, Poland's Jewish community had numbered between 3,300,000[8] and 3,500,000 persons or about 10 percent of the country's total population. During the Nazi German Holocaust, millions of deportees from nearly every European country were sent to the General Government.[9] Soon after war had broken out, the Germans began their extermination of Polish Jews. Most of them were quickly rounded up and imprisoned in ghettos, which they were forbidden to leave.

Announcement of death penalty for Jews captured outside the Ghetto and for Poles helping Jews (November 1941)
Nazi German poster in German and Polish threatening death to any Pole who aided Jews (Warsaw, 1942)
the Sheltering of Escaping Jews.
  âThere is a need for a reminder, that in accordance with paragraph 3 of the decree of October 15, 1941, on the Limitation of Residence in General Government (page 595 of the GG Register) Jews leaving the Jewish Quarter without permission will incur the death penalty.
  âAccording to this decree, those knowingly helping these Jews by providing shelter, supplying food, or selling them foodstuffs are also subject to the death penalty

  âThis is a categorical warning to the non-Jewish population against:
  â   â  1) Providing shelter to Jews,
  â   â  2) Supplying them with Food,
  â   â  3) Selling them Foodstuffs.
Czästochowa 9/24/42  â  
Der Stadthauptmann
Dr. Franke

As it became apparent that not only were conditions in the ghettos terrible (hunger, diseases, etc.) but that the Jews were being singled out for extermination at Nazi concentration camps, they increasingly tried to escape and hide in order to survive the war. [10] Many Polish Gentiles concealed hundreds of thousands of their Jewish neighbors. Many of these efforts arose spontaneously from individual initiatives, but there were also organized networks dedicated to aiding the Jews.[11]

Most notably, in September 1942 a Provisional Committee to Aid Jews (Tymczasowy Komitet Pomocy Żydom) was founded on the initiative of Polish novelist Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, of the famous artistic and literary Kossak family. This body soon became the Council for Aid to Jews (Rada Pomocy Żydom), known by the codename Żegota, with Julian Grobelny as its president and Irena Sendler as head of its children's section.[12][13]

It is not exactly known how many Jews were helped by Żegota, but at one point in 1943 it had 2,500 Jewish children under its care in Warsaw alone. At the end of the war, Sendler attempted to return them to their parents but nearly all of them had died at Treblinka. It is estimated that about half of the Jews who survived the war (thus over 50,000) were aided in some shape or form by Żegota.[14]

Jews were saved by the entire communities (see their partial list) with everyone engaged, such as in the villages of Markowa[15] and GÅuchów near ÅaÅ„cut,[16] GÅówne, Ozorków, Borkowo near Sierpc, Däbrowica near Ulanów, in GÅupianka near Otwock,[17] Teresin near CheÅm[18] Rudka, Jedlanka, Makoszka, TyÅmienica, and Bójki in Parczew-Ostrów Lubelski area,[19] Mätów near GÅusk â where "almost the entire population" rescued Jews[20] â and in many other places. Numerous families who concealed their Jewish neighbors paid the ultimate price for doing so.[15] Most notably, several hundred Poles were massacred in SÅonim. In Huta Stara near Buczacz, all Polish Christians and the Jewish countrymen they protected, were burned alive in a church.[21]

One postwar Polish source that studied the subject estimated that "the number of Jews hiding in Poland â most of them helped in some way by Gentiles â ran into the hundreds of thousands." Another informed Polish source estimated that "the number of Jews sheltered by Poles" at one time might have been "as high as 450,000."[5] However, concealment was no guarantee of safety. Estimates of Jewish survivors of the war in Poland are lower, since many Poles and Jews were caught by the Germans, and range from about 40,000 to 200,000.[5]

[edit] Risk

Capital punishment of entire families, for aiding Jews, was the most draconian such Nazi practice against any nation in occupied Europe.[4][22][23] On November 10, 1941, the death penalty was expanded by Hans Frank to apply to Poles who helped Jews "in any way: by taking them in for the night, giving them a lift in a vehicle of any kind" or "feed[ing] runaway Jews or sell[ing] them foodstuffs." The law was made public by posters distributed in all major cities. Polish rescuers were fully conscious of the dangers facing them and their families not only from the Germans but also from betrayers (see:szmalcownik) within the local population.[24]

Over 700 Polish "Righteous among the Nations" received their medals of honor posthumously, being murdered by the Germans for aiding or sheltering their Jewish neighbors.[6] Estimates of the number of Poles who were killed for aiding Jews range in the tens of thousands.[5][6]

Gunnar S. Paulsson, in his work on the Jews of Warsaw, has demonstrated that, despite the much harsher conditions, Warsaw's Polish residents managed to support and conceal the same percentage of Jews as did the residents of cities in safer, supposedly less antisemitic countries of Western Europe.[25]

[edit] Numbers

As of 2008, there were 6,066 officially recognized Polish Righteousâthe highest count among nations of the world.[4] At a 1979 international historical conference dedicated to Holocaust rescuers, J. Friedman said in reference to Poland: "If we knew the names of all the noble people who risked their lives to save the Jews, the area around Yad Vashem would be full of trees and would turn into a forest."[26]

Hans G. Furth holds that the number of Poles who helped Jews is greatly underestimated and there might have been as many as 1,200,000 Polish rescuers.[26] WÅadysÅaw Bartoszewski, a wartime member of Å»egota, estimates that "at least several hundred thousand Poles... participated in various ways and forms in the rescue action."[5] Recent research supports estimates that about a million Poles were involved in such rescue efforts,[5] "but some estimates go as high as 3 million"[5] (the total prewar population of Polish citizens, including Jews, was estimated at 35,100,000, including 23,900,000 ethnic Poles[8]).

How many people in Poland rescued Jews? Of those that meet Yad Vashem's criteriaâperhaps 100,000. Of those that offered minor forms of helpâperhaps two or three times as many. Of those who were passively protectiveâundoubtedly the majority of the population. â Gunnar S. Paulsson [27]

Scholars still disagree on exact numbers. Father John T. Pawlikowski remarked that the hundreds of thousands of rescuers strike him as inflated.[28] Historian Martin Gilbert has written that rescuers were an exception, albeit one that could be found in towns and villagers throughout Poland during the war.[29][verification needed]

[edit] Misconception

Prior to 1941 German invasion of the USSR (see: Operation Barbarossa), local population in Soviet occupied Poland had witnessed the repressions and mass deportation of up to 1.5 million ethnic Poles to Siberia, conducted by the NKVD,[30] with some of the local Jews collaborating with them and forming armed militias. There were also incidents of Jewish Communists betraying Polish victims to the NKVD.[31][32] The Anti-Semitic attitudes in those areas had been exploited by the Nazi Einsatzgruppen who induced anti-Jewish pogroms on the order of Reinhard Heydrich,[33][34] such as the Jedwabne pogrom, an atrocity committed by a group of ethnic Poles in the presence of German gendarmerie.[35] There were also a number of criminal or opportunist Poles (known as szmalcownicy) who blackmailed the Jews in hiding and their Polish rescuers or turned them over to the Germans for financial gains. Poles collaborating with the Germans in the prosecution of Jews however were few and estimates speak of several thousand[5] (see World War II collaboration and Poland for details). As Paulsson notes, "a single hooligan or blackmailer could wreak severe damage on Jews in hiding, but it took the silent passivity of a whole crowd to maintain their cover."[25]

The fact that the Polish Jewish community was decimated during World War II, coupled with well-known collaboration stories, has contributed to a stereotype of the Polish population having been passive in regard to, or even supportive of, Jewish suffering.[27][36]

[edit] Notable persons

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Righteous Among the Nations - per Country & Ethnic Origin January 1, 2008
  2. ^ Yad Vashem actual statistic by country
  3. ^ "First Arab Nominated for Holocaust Honor". Associated Press. 2007-01-30. Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
  4. ^ a b c d âRighteous Among the Nationsâ by country at Jewish Virtual Library
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Richard C. Lukas, Out of the Inferno: Poles Remember the Holocaust University Press of Kentucky 1989 - 201 pages. Page 13; also in Richard C. Lukas, The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-1944, University Press of Kentucky 1986 - 300 pages.
  6. ^ a b c Holocaustforgotten Web site. Righteous of the World: Polish citizens killed while helping Jews During the Holocaust
  7. ^ Gunnar S. Paulsson. Secret City. The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945. Yale University Press, 2002.
  8. ^ a b London Nakl. Stowarzyszenia Prawników Polskich w Zjednoczonym Królestwie [1941] ,Polska w liczbach. Poland in numbers. Zebrali i opracowali Jan Jankowski i Antoni Serafinski. Przedmowa zaopatrzyl Stanislaw Szurlej.
  9. ^ Piper, Franciszek Piper. "The Number of Victims" in Gutman, Yisrael & Berenbaum, Michael. Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, Indiana University Press, 1994; this edition 1998, p. 62.
  10. ^ Martin Gilbert. The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust. Macmillan, 2003. pp 101.
  11. ^ Tadeusz Piotrowski (1997). "Assistance to Jews". Poland's Holocaust. McFarland & Company. pp. 117. ISBN 0-7864-0371-3. 
  12. ^ John T. Pawlikowski, Polish Catholics and the Jews during the Holocaust, in, Google Print, p. 113 in Joshua D. Zimmerman, Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and Its Aftermath, Rutgers University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8135-3158-6
  13. ^ Andrzej SÅawiÅ„ski, Those who helped Polish Jews during WWII. Translated from Polish by Antoni Bohdanowicz. Article on the pages of the London Branch of the Polish Home Army Ex-Servicemen Association. Last accessed on March 14, 2008.
  14. ^ Tadeusz Piotrowski (1997). "Assistance to Jews". Poland's Holocaust. McFarland & Company. pp. 118. ISBN 0-7864-0371-3. 
  15. ^ a b The Righteous and their world. Markowa through the lens of Józef Ulma, by Mateusz Szpytma, Institute of National Rememberance
  16. ^ (Polish) Instytut Pamiäci Narodowej, Wystawa âžSprawiedliwi wÅród Narodów Åšwiataââ 15 czerwca 2004 r., Rzeszów. âžPolacy pomagali Å»ydom podczas wojny, choä groziÅa za to kara Åmierci â o tym wie wiäkszoÅä z nas.â (Exhibition "Righteous among the Nations." Rzeszów, June 15, 2004. Subtitled: "The Poles were helping Jews during the war - most of us already know that.") Last actualization November 8, 2008.
  17. ^ (Polish) Jolanta Chodorska, ed., "Godni synowie naszej Ojczyzny: Åšwiadectwa," Warsaw, Wydawnictwo Sióstr Loretanek, 2002, Part Two, pp.161â62. ISBN 83-7257-103-1
  18. ^ Kalmen Wawryk, To Sobibor and Back: An Eyewitness Account (Montreal: The Concordia University Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies, and The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, 1999), pp.66â68, 71.
  19. ^ Bartoszewski and Lewinówna, Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Znak, 1969, pp.533â34.
  20. ^ (Polish) Dariusz Libionka, "Polska ludnoÅä chrzeÅcijaÅ„ska wobec eksterminacji Å»ydówâdystrykt lubelski," in Dariusz Libionka, Akcja Reinhardt: ZagÅada Å»ydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie (Warsaw: Instytut Pamiäci NarodowejâKomisja Åšcigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu, 2004), p.325.
  21. ^ Moroz and Datko, Mäczennicy za wiarä 1939â1945, pp.385â86 and 390â91. StanisÅaw Åukomski, âWspomnienia,â in Rozporzädzenia urzädowe ÅomÅyÅ„skiej Kurii Diecezjalnej, no. 5â7 (MayâJuly) 1974: p.62; Witold Jemielity, âMartyrologium ksiäÅy diecezji ÅomÅyÅ„skiej 1939â1945,â in Rozporzädzenia urzädowe ÅomÅyÅ„skiej Kurii Diecezjalnej, no. 8â9 (August-September) 1974: p.55; Jan Å»aryn, âPrzez pomyÅkä: Ziemia ÅomÅyÅ„ska w latach 1939â1945.â Conversation with Rev. Kazimierz ÅupiÅ„ski from Szumowo parish, Biuletyn Instytutu Pamiäci Narodowej, no. 8â9 (SeptemberâOctober 2002): pp.112â17. In Mark Paul, Wartime Rescue of Jews. Page 252.
  22. ^ Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project: Poland
  23. ^ Robert Cherry, Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, ISBN 0-7425-4666-7, Google Print, p.5
  24. ^ Mordecai Paldiel, The Path of the Righteous: Gentile Rescuers of Jews, page 184. Published by KTAV Publishing House Inc.
  25. ^ a b Unveiling the Secret City H-Net Review: John Radzilowski
  26. ^ a b Furth, Hans G. One million Polish rescuers of hunted Jews?. Journal of Genocide Research, Jun99, Vol. 1 Issue 2, p227, 6p; (AN 6025705)
  27. ^ a b Gunnar S. Paulsson, âThe Rescue of Jews by Non-Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland,â published in The Journal of Holocaust Education, volume 7, nos. 1 & 2 (summer/autumn 1998): pp.19â44. Reprinted in "Collective Rescue Efforts of the Poles," p. 256
  28. ^ John T. Pawlikowski. Polish Catholics and the Jews during the Holocaust. In: Joshua D. Zimmerman, Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and Its Aftermath, Rutgers University Press, 2003.
  29. ^ Martin Gilbert. The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust. Macmillan, 2003. pp 102-103.
  30. ^ Jerzy Jan Lerski, Piotr Wróbel, Richard J. Kozicki, Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996, ISBN 0-313-26007-9, Google Print, 538
  31. ^ Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski, "Jedwabne: The Politics of Apology", presented at the Panel Jedwabne â A Scientific Analysis, Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, Inc., June 8, 2002, Georgetown University, Washington DC.
  32. ^ Tomasz Strzembosz, âInny obraz säsiadówâ archived by Internet Wayback Machine
  33. ^ Christopher R. Browning, Jurgen Matthaus, The Origins of the Final Solution, page 262 Publisher University of Nebraska Press, 2007. ISBN 0-8032-5979-4
  34. ^ Michael C. Steinlauf. Bondage to the Dead. Syracuse University Press, p. 30.
  35. ^ Tomasz Strzembosz, âInny obraz säsiadówâ archived by Internet Wayback Machine
  36. ^ Robert Cherry, Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, Rethinking Poles and Jews, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, ISBN 0-7425-4666-7, Google Print, p.25
  37. ^ a b Saving Jews: Polish Righteous
  38. ^ Anna Poray, ibidem: Irena Adamowicz
  39. ^ Anna Poray, ibidem, Ferdynand Arczynski
  40. ^ W. Bartoszewski and Z. Lewinowna, Appeal by the Polish Underground Association For Aid to the Jews, Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority, 2004.
  41. ^ Anna Poray, Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives; WÅadysÅaw Bartoszewski
  42. ^ Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority 2008, The Righteous: Anna Borkowska, Poland
  43. ^ Saving Jews. Polish Righteous: Banasiewicz family including Franciszek, Magdalena, Maria, Tadeusz and Jerzy
  44. ^ Anna Poray, Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives; Bradlo family
  45. ^ Kystyna Danko, Poland
  46. ^ Anna Poray, ibidem; Dobraczyński, Jan
  47. ^ About Maria Fedecka at, 2005
  48. ^ Anna Poray, ibidem; Maria Fedecki, 2004.
  49. ^ Saving Jews: Polish Righteous
  50. ^ Saving Jews: Andrzej Garbuliński, Polish Righteous
  51. ^ The Righteous Among the Nations
  52. ^ Sylwia Kesler, Halina and Julian Grobelny as Righteous Among the Nations
  53. ^ Curtis M. Urness, Sr., edited by Terese Pencak Schwartz, Irene Gut Opdyke: She Hid Polish Jews Inside a German Officers' Villa, at
  54. ^ Holocaust Memorial Center, 1988 - 2007, Opdyke, Irene; Righteous Gentile
  55. ^ Anna Poray, ibidem; Henryk Iwanski alias Bystry, Armia Krajowa mayor.
  56. ^ Stefan Jagodzinski at the
  57. ^ Anna Poray, ibidem
  58. ^ Poles Honoured by Israel
  59. ^ a b Anna Poray, Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives
  60. ^ Michael T. Kaufman, Jan Karski warns the West about Holocaust, The New York Times, July 15, 2000
  61. ^ Anna Poray, Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives; Jan Karski
  62. ^ Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority, The Tree in Honor of Zegota, 2008
  63. ^ Maria Kotarba at
  64. ^ Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2008, The Righteous Among the Nations, 28 Jun 2003
  65. ^ Peggy Curran, "Pole to be honoured for sheltering Jews from Gestapo," Reprinted by the Canadian Foundation of Polish-Jewish Heritage, Montreal Chapter. Station Cote St.Luc, C. 284, Montreal QC, Canada H4V 2Y4. First published: Montreal Gazette, August 5, 2003, and: Montreal Gazette, December 10, 1994.
  66. ^ Jerzy Jan Lerski. Short bio based on biography featured in Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945
  67. ^ March of the Living International, The Warsaw Ghetto
  68. ^ Anna Poray, Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives: Igor Newerly
  69. ^ Saving Jews: Polish Righteous
  70. ^ David M. Crowe, The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath. Published by Westview Press. Page 180.
  71. ^ Wartime Rescue of Jews, edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in North America, Toronto 2007. "Collective Rescue Efforts of the Poles", (pdf file: 1.44 MB).
  72. ^ Stefania and her younger sister Helena Podgorska, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., 2008
  73. ^ Anna Poray, Three Puchalski families: Jan Puchalski (1879-1946), Anna (1894-1994), and StanisÅaw (1920-2000), the Polish Righteous
  74. ^ - interview with Konrad Rudnicki (Polish)
  75. ^ Monika Scislowska, Associated Press, May 12, 2008, "Irena Sendler, Holocaust hero". Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  76. ^ Grzegorz Åubczyk, FKCh "ZNAK" 1999-2008, Henryk Slawik - Our Raoul Wallenberg, Trybuna 120 (3717), May 24, 2002, p. Aneks 204, p. A, F.
  77. ^ Instytut Pamiäci Narodowej, âžSprawiedliwi wÅród Narodów Åšwiataâ â Warszawa, 7 stycznia 2004
  78. ^ Saving Jews: Polish Righteous
  79. ^
  80. ^ FKCh "ZNAK" - 1999-2008, Righteous from Wroclaw (incl. Professor Rudolf Wiegl) 24.07.2003, from the Internet Archive
  81. ^ Anna Poray, ibidem; Henryk Wolinski alias Waclaw
  82. ^ Anna Poray, ibidem; Zagorski Jerzy & Maria. 2004
  83. ^ Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority, 2008, Hiding in Zoo Cages; Jan & Antonina Zabinski, Poland
  84. ^ Saving Jews: Polish Righteous

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