2024 European Day of the Righteous

Redakcja, 6 March 2024
In 2012, the European Parliament designated 6th March as the annual European Day of the Righteous, to honour those who risked their lives, in the 20th century, to oppose totalitarian regimes. This concept is connected to the title "Righteous Among the Nations", which has been awarded by the State of Israel since 1963 - expanding the concept of "Righteous" and universalising it. Local Gardens of the Righteous were established, with committees granting this title, in many countries (including Armenia, Bosnia, Rwanda,Italy and France). The first, and so far only, Garden of the Righteous in Poland was established in 2014 in Warsaw, on Gen. Jerzego „Jura” Gorzechowskiego Square in Muranów, near the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Today, we learned the names of the next people who will be honoured there.

"This year, we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Garden of the Righteous on Generała Jana „Jura” Gorzechowskiego Square Warszaw's Muranów. To date, thirty-seven people have been honoured. The Warsaw Garden is the first in Poland and one of several Garden of the Righteous in the World" - Garden of the Righteous Foundation.

Every year, on 6th March, the European Day of the Righteous, the Garden of the Righteous Foundation announced the names of people who have demonstrated noble deeds in their lives. 

These people are honoured in Warsaw's Garden of the Righteous. Trees are planted in their honour and commemorative stones are unveiled. Annual ceremonies, honouring the new Righteous, provide an opportunity to recall and present their profiles and to further educate in the field of human rights.

The Garden of the Righteous Foundation Committee, which selects those  to be honoured as Righteous, includes outstanding individuals from the world of culture, science and education, as well as representatives of non-governmental organisations. Anyone can nominate a candidate by sending their proposal to the Garden of the Righteous Foundation.

What does the title of "Righteous" mean?

This concept is universal and serves to commemorate all people, in Europe and beyond, who saved human lives or defended human dignity and freedom - in totalitarian regimes, during genocides, mass murders and crimes against humanity during the 20th and 21st centuries. 

It is a broader concept than that awarded by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem - the Righteous Among the Nations - an honour awarded by the State of Israel to non-Jews for helping Jews during World War II.

Who are this year's "Righteous"?

On 6th March, the European Day of the Righteous, the names were announced of those who had been honoured, by the Garden of the Righteous Foundation Committee, with the title of "Righteous". They are Jacek Kuroń, Vivian Silver, Amer Abu Sabila and brothers Andrzej and Klemens Szeptycki.

Jacek Kuroń (1934–2004)

He was a politician, anti-communist opposition activist, co-founder of the Workers' Defence Committee, political prisoner, a minister if the government of the Third Polish Republic and a Knight of the Order of the White Eagle 

"I knew one thing, which my father taught me at an early age, that I had a duty to take the side of the weaker. It was a must", Jacek Kuroń repeated. 

A historian, Kuroń was, above all, a social activist. In his youth, in the 1950s, he was active in the Polish Youth Union and in the Polish Scouting Association. (He co-founded the "Walterowski Troop".) He was a member of the Polish United Workers' Party. in the 1960s, he began his opposition activities, which saw him being imprisoned on numerous occasions. 

In 1965, together with Karol Modzelewski,, he published "An Open Letter to the Members of the  Polish United Workers' Party”, pointing out the conflict between the working class and the party bureaucracy wskazujący na konflikt pomiędzy klasą robotniczą a biurokracją partyjną. In 1968, he became one of the leaders of an informal student movement and, in 1975, he was the initiator and one of the signatories or "Letter 59” to the Sejm of the Polish People's Republic, against planned changes to the constitution. 

He was a co-founder of of the Workers' Defence Committee and KSS "KOR”, as well as an advisor to NSZZ "Solidarity”. He took part in the Round Table talks and, after 1989, he served twice as the Minister of Employment and Social Policy. 

Throughout his life, he fought for the rights of the weak, the discriminated against and those victimised. he was a man of dialogue and sought reconciliation. Polish-Ukrainian relations and mutual understanding of a difficult history were particularly important to him. As chairman of the parliamentary committee on national and ethnice minorities, he guided through a law ensuring civil rights for minorities.

Vivian Silver (1949–2023)

She was a Canadian-Israeli activist for women's right and for peace in the Middle East, who was murdered in the Hamas terrorist attack on 7th October 2023. 

At the age of twenty-five, Silver immigrated tto Israel and joined the women's rights movement. From 1990, she lived on Kibbutz Be'eri, located on the border with the Gaza Strip. She worked for the rights of Gazans and Arab Bedouins from the Negev Desert. In 1999, together with Bedouin feminist Amal Elsaną Alh'jooj, she founded the Arab-Jewish Equality Centre. She was a board member of B'Tselem, the most important Israeli human rights organisation. She was the founderof the inter-faith peace organisation "Women Wage Peace". 

She died in the Hamas attack on Kibbutz Be'eri.

Amer Abu Sabila (1998–2023)

He was an Israeli Arab from Abu Talul in the Negev Desert, a construction worker, who died while trying to help a Jewish family who were fleeing the Hamas attach on 7th October 2023. 

During the attack on the town of Sederot, Sabila helped the family of Dolev Swis, who had been murdered by Hamas moments earlier. In his car, Sabila took his wife Odia and two daughters to the police station, unaware that the building had been taken over by the terrorists. He died, like Odia, in Hamas shelling. The little girls survived. In the Maariv newspaper, his cousin, Ali Abu Sabila said that "he was a wonderful man who loved to help others".

Andrzej Szeptycki (1865–1944) and Klemens Szeptycki (1869–1951)

Both were Greek Catholic clergy. Andrzej was Bishop of Sanisławów (1899–1900), Metropolitan of  Lwów and Halych (1900–1944).  Klemens was a Studite and Ihumen (1926–1944), and the Archimandrite of the monastery in Uniów (1944–1951).

Coming for a polonised family in Eastern Galicia, the Szeptycki brothers, at the beginning of the 20th century, devoted themselves to activities for the Ukrainian community and counteracting the Polish-Ukrainian conflict. 

Andrzej, as Metropolitan of Lwów, supported Ukrainian evelopment and independence aspirations, while condemning the crimes of the nationalists. Klemens was his closest collaborator. 

During WOrld War II, Andrzej was very critical of communist aznd national socialist ideology, informing the Vatican about Soviet and German crimes. he also sought to establish a modus vivendi with the occupiers, which would allow for the survival of the Greek Catholic Church and its faithful. 

He openly defended Jews. Thanks to the help provided by monasteries and coordinated by Klemens, at least 150 Jews were saved, mainly children, one of who was Adam Daniel Rotfeld, who later became Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs. 

"Theyhad the courage to face the evil which prevailed, not only amongst the occupiers. […] In today's Ukrain, their lives, full of sacrifices, is set as an example and role model that, even if difficult and dramatic times, it is possible and worthwhile being decent”, wrote a Holocaust survivor about the Szeptycki brothers.

The Garden of the RIghteous Foundation conducts activitiesin the field of human rights , in particular honouring and promoting the attitudes and biographies oof the Righteous who, in Poland and beyond, saved the lives of others or defended human freedom and dignity – during Nazism and communism, genocides, mass murders and crimes against humanity committed in the 20th century and which are still taking place today. 

The Foundation works to democratise the world by supporting and conducting educational activities which serve to build an atmosphere of understanding, trust and respect across national, religious and cultural divisions.

The Foundation cares for the Garden of the Righteous in Warsaw (Gen. Jerzego „Jura” Gorzechowskiego Square ), which was established in 2014 at the initiative of the History Meeting House and the GARIWO Foundation, with the support of the Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki and the Wola District Council in Warsaw. A partner of the Garden is the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

* * *

To date, the following have been honoured in Warsaw's Garden of the Righteous: 

Władysław Bartoszewski, Mosze Bejski, Hrant Dink, Marek Edelman, Bronisław Geremek, Natalia Gorbaniewska, Magdalena Grodzka-Gużkowska, Wilhelm Hosenfeld, Petro Hryhorenko, Julia Ilisińska, Jan Jelinek, Gareth Jones, Jan Karski, Siergiej Adamowicz Kowalow, Roberto Kozak, Rafał Lemkin, Ewelina Lipko-Lipczyńska, Antonia Locatelli, Nelson Mandela, Alfreda Markowska, Hasan Mazhar, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Karol Modzelewski, Stanisław Pietrow, Witold Pilecki, Anna Politkowska, Emanuel Ringelblum, Arsienij Borisowicz Roginski, Raoul Wallenberg, Armin Wegner, Antonina and Aleksander Wyrzykowski, Liu Xiaobo, Jan Zieja, Adalbert Wojciech Zink, Antonina and Jan Żabiński.

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