30th Anniversary of the Polish Association of the Righteous Among the Nations

Mateusz Szczepaniak, 16 November 2016
Of the more than 6,600 Poles honoured with the title of "Righteous Among the Nations", only a handful are still alive - only a few more than 200. As many as sixty of them took part in an event celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Polish Association of the Righteous Among the Nations which took place on 16th October 2016 at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This gathering was the first ever held which brought these Holocaust-era heroes together from around Poland. The event also celebrated the honouring of the Righteous with state awards presented at the Presidential Palace.

"Once a month, sometimes even once a week, another one leaves us. Soon, none of us will remain and so we want to celebrate our Association", said Association Vice-President Józef Walaszczyk, during an interview with the Polish Press Agency.

Those who took part in the event included Minister Jan Józef Kasprzyk, Deputy Israeli Ambassador Ruth Cohen-Dar, Association President Anna Bando, Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Vice-President of the Institute of National Remembrance Dr Mateusz Szpytma, Chairperson of the Jewish Community Council Anna Chipczyńska and Irena Sendler's daughter, Janina Zgrzembska.

Reporting on Thirty Years of Acivity

Addressing the Righteous directly, POLIN Museum Deputy Director Jolanta Gumula said, "During that horrendous period of the Holocaust, during that horrendous period of wartime turmoil, in a large country as was Poland, you represented exceptional examples of heroism which words cannot sufficiently describe. In contract to the extreme attitudes of other Poles, what you did deserves huge admiration".

"You are the light showing the way. You are the moral compasses for other people who, during that horrible time of war, lost their dignity. You, the Righteous, are living proof that good exists and that, together, evil can be overcome", said Deputy Ambassador Ruth Cohen-Dar. Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich added that, "The Righteous are the best examples to be emulated."

In a letter read out to the gathering, Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz warned that "We cannot be indifferent to the appearance of rising nationalism, antisemitism or race hatred. (...) Each of us must feel responsible to ensure that this does not happen”.

During the event, President Anna Bando read a report of the Association's 30 years activity, above all, promoting knowledge and education about the occupation, the Holocaust and the Righteous, as well as fighting antisemitism and xenophobia. In recognition of their work for the Association, the Association's Board granted ten people medals and honorary membership of t he Association. 

The celebrations concluded with a concert by the Polish Army Choir.

This historic event was organised by the Polish Association of the Righteous, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the Council of Veterans and Oppressed and the Warsaw Jewish Community Council.

Honours Presented by the Polish President

Another event was held that evening at the Presidential Palace during which members of the Association were presented with state awards Presidential Under-Secretary Wojciech Kolarski. 

Following a service in the Presidential chapel, the Commander's Cross of the Order of Polish Revival was presented to Jan Adamczyk, Józefa Czekaj, Ludomir Jagiełło, Łucja Jurczak, Krystyna Kowalska, Anna Koźmińska, Anna Krzyżowska, Andrzej i Leszek Mikołajków, Irena Senderska-Rzońca, Halina Szaszkiewicz, Jadwiga Szczeszak, Stanisława Śliwińska, Józef Tomala and Janina Zwolicka.

"As stars in the darkness of occupation, you decided to help your Jewish neighbours, even though the penalty could have been death to you and to those you were hiding", said President Andrzej Duda, in a letter to those present.

The previous day, the Council of Veterans and Oppressed also organised a dinner for the Righteous and a service in the Polish Army cathedral.