POLIN Museum Hosts Righteous Medal Award Ceremony

Mateusz Szczepaniak, 16 November 2016
Sabina Irena Czerkies, as well as Halina and Jerzy Wesołowski, have been posthumously honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. The ceremony, in the presence of the heroes' families and survivor Ruth Haberman, took place on 15th June 2016 at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews during the gala finale of the "Restoring Memory" educational program. Almost five hundred students and teachers from around Poland witnessed the ceremony.

The educational program has been operated, since 2005, by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland. Thirty seven of the fifty six schools and cultural institutions taking part in the program during the 2015/2016 school year were represented at the gala event. Students presented the results of their endeavours, during which they learned about the culture and history of Jewish communities in their own towns and cities, and then tried to restore memory of those communities through local projects.

The highlight of this year's gala was the posthumous awarding of the title of Righteous Among the Nations to Sabina Irena Czerkies and to Halina and Jerzy Wesołowski. The medals and certificates were presented by the Israeli Deputy Ambassador to Poland Ruth Cohen-Dar. The were accepted by Ireneusz Czerkies, Halina Nowak-Konopka and Mariusz Wesołowski.

Ruth Haberman, through her daughter who spoke of her behalf, said, "Irena Czerkies smuggled me out of the ghetto on 20th June 1942. I was five years old and thought we were going off on a short visit. Death camp deportations began two days later. My father used to visit me. Those visits lasted for one month. Then the visits stopped and I never saw him again'.

Sabina Irena Czerkies took two Jewish children into her home. They were Ruth Haberman and Zdzisława Dynlachta. They were cousins of her husband Jakub who, because of his Jewish beakground, ended up with the children inside the Warsaw ghetto. Alone, Sabina took charge of hiding the children.

One day, she began being threatened by szmalcownicy (blackmailers), amongst whom were Polish police and Gestapo personnel. In fear of them, in May 1943, she moved to the country but, while in Puławy, she was arrested. The locals authorities placed the children into a convent orphanage while Sabina ended up in a Lublin prison. Through bribery, she was released after three months. In June 1944, she was asked to remove the children from the convent. Ruth was placed into the home of friends in Puławy (for payment), while she took Zdzisława with her to Warsaw where, together, they survived the Warsaw Uprising.

After the War, Czerkies found Ruth in an orphanage in Pietroleś. She sent the children to the Jewish Committee, after which they were adopted by families in the United States.

"There are no words with which I can express the gratitude that I feel towards Sabina Irena Czerkies", added Ruth Haberman. "However, what is important is not the fact that she saved the two of us and two of her own children, but the fact that, in the darkest of times, she embodied the best that one human being can give to another."

Halina and Jerzy Wesołowski lived in Tarnów. During World War II, they hid pediatrician Dr Augusta Mandel in their home.

"In my memory, there's this sort of auntie, whom I've never seen, but who, for a certain time, lived in our home", said Halina Nowak-Konopka, daughter of the Righteous.

Dr Mandel remained in the Wesołowski home until the time she realised that there were neighbourhood children who could recognise her. Using false papers, she left for Kraków, where she found work in a hospital as a nurse. After the War, she located the Wesołowski couple and, for many years, she maintained correspondence contact with them. In 1946, she left Poland, first for France, and then later for Israel.

"In their everyday lives, it cannot be said that my parents were friends of Jews", said Halina Nowak-Konopka. "But when the critical moment came, during which someone's life needed to be saved, they did not hesitate to risk their own lives and the lives of their children. This is what their faith taught my parents - their Christianity".