76th Anniversary of the Establishment of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews

Mateusz Szczepaniak / English translation: Andrew Rajcher 8 December 2018
To mark the occasion, POLIN Museum hosted an event for students to meet Elżbieta Ficowska, who told her story of survival from the Holocaust. This annual educational event was preceded by a lecture delivered by POLIN Museum Director, Professor Dariusz Stola, on the circumstances surrounding the establishment and operations of “Żegota”.

When it is said that Poland is an antisemitic country, this is not true, although there are antisemites in Poland. When it is said that Poland is a country of heroes, this is also not true, even though we had and we have heroes in Poland. Stories of Poles saving Jews are often invoked. This was not a common attitude. It could not have been, because it came with the risk of the death penalty. Not everyone must be or can be a hero. But everyone can be and should be a decent person. As Professor Władysław Bartoszewski said, “It's worthwhile being decent” 

– Elżbieta Ficowska told the students.

The “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews was established seventy six years ago – on 4th December 1942. It was the only state-run organisation in Europe specifically established to save Jews. It continued on the work of the Provisional Committee to Aid Jews which was established on 27th September 1942, through the Government Delegation for Poland, by Zofia Kossak and Wanda Krahelska-Filipowiczowa. Help provided by “Żegota” mainly consisted of financial support, the organisation of hiding-places and the provision of false documents for Jewish children and adults in the ghettoes and on the “Aryan side”. Władysław Bartoszewski wrote,

It was the first organisation in which Zionists, Bundists, Catholics, Polish Democrats, Polish Socialists, peasants – Jews and Poles – all sat together at the same table in underground activity against the Germans.

Read about the history of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews »

Here, we present the story of the Council's members, its structure, its methods of operation, commemorations and memorabilia from POLIN Museum's collections.

Each year, on the anniversary of the establishment of “Żegota”, POLIN Museum has arranged educational events aimed at youth. Initially, these featured Władysław Bartoszewski, a member of “Żegota” and, from 2015, they have featured Elżbieta Ficowska who, in 1942, as a six-month-old child, was rescued from the Warsaw ghetto. Into the box, which was used to carry her to the “Aryan side”, was also placed a silver spoon engraved with her name and date of birth. A replica of this unique, and most cherished by her, item can be found in POLIN Museum collection.

This year's event, featuring Elżbieta Ficowska, took place on 5th December with 350 students from Warsaw schools, who also heard POLIN Museum Director, Professor Dariusz Stola, speak about the history of the Holocaust and the circumstances surrounding the establishment and operations of “Żegota”. This was followed by a screening of the film Łyżeczka życia (The Spoon of Life), directed by Michał Nekanda-Trepka, will tells the story of Elżbieta Ficowska's rescue.

The event concluded with the laying of floral wreaths at the “Żegota” monument, located near the entrance to POLIN Museum. 

Read the story of Elżbieta Ficowska »

The event was organisaed as part of “The Polish Righteous – Recalling Forgotten History” project in conjunction with POLIN Museum's Education Centre. Meet other witnesses to history »