The Polish Righteous in 2020

Mateusz Szczepaniak / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, 31st December 2020
2020 was a difficult time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But those twelve months at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews were not only marked by pandemic restrictions and be closed to the public. Most of the Museum’s program activities were transferred to the Internet and the Museum’s knowledge portals became an important part of the new online program (“POLIN Museum in Your Home”). We continued our work, documenting and disseminating the history of Polish men and women, honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations and of Jews who survived the Holocaust. We began many new projects and commemorated a number of historic anniversaries. Thanks to the interest of our readers, we recorded an increase in the audience of the Polish Righteous Portal by over 50% compared to the previous year – thank you! We present selected content published in 2020 in our annual summary. Read the most interesting stories of rescue, see selected objects from POLIN Museum collection, listen to podcasts and watch educational films. Check what we are planning for the New Year.
“Recently, in Poland, a lot has been said about the Righteous. […] We are reminded of their exceptional and uncommon stance by, among others, a poem by Warsaw Ghetto poet, Władysław Szlengel, ‘Telephone’. This moving and quite lengthy poem, written back in those days, speaks of hopelessness and Jewish loneliness. It talks of a man who at least has access to a telephone and would like to call someone on the ‘Aryan side’. He discovers that there is actually no one there to call […] Dear Righteous, I would like to thank you for being among those who, on the ‘Aryan side’, picked up the telephone receiver. You have experienced many dramatic and traumatic moments. You were alone and probably terrified. Yet you still managed to maintain those universal values upon which society is based”, Alexander Ben Zvi, Israeli Ambassador to Poland, during a ceremony awarding medals to the Righteous Among the Nations, which took place at POLIN Museum in Warsaw, 26th February 2020.

Stories of rescue, memorabilia from POLIN Museum collection, educational films – see what we published in 2020

2020 had many important, historical anniversaries relating to the aiding of Jews, in Poland, during the Holocaust. In February, we celebrated the 110th birthday of Irena Sendler, publishing a virtual exhibition in conjunction with Google Arts & Culture. On that occasion, Google also prepared a Doodle – a special graphic inspired by Irena Sendler's story which, in selected countries, temporarily replaced the logo of the world’s most popular search engine.

April marked the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Łódź Ghetto (Litzmannstadt Ghetto), the second largest ghetto in German-occupied Europe, functioning almost until the end of the War. On this occasion, we prepared the story of help given to Jews by Ryszard Lerczyński, one of the few Righteous Among the Nations from Łódź.

An important addition to our collection of rescue stories took place in June. It was the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the first transport of prisoners to KL Auschwitz. The stories of Polish men and women aiding Jews in that camp included those of Marianna Chodnikiewicz, Stanisława Grodzicka-Sierzputowska and Jerzy Pozimski. We included them into a new catalogue of rescue stories: The Righteous in Auschwitz.

July marked the 20th anniversary of the passing of Jan Karski, the legendary political emissary of the Polish Underground State and of the Polish Government-in-Exile and a Righteous Among the Nations. We have recreated his story in the light of the latest academic research. The extensive text by Dr Krzysztof Persak and an educational film (one of two this year), in the format of a guided walk through POLIN Museum’s Core Exhibition, can be found on the new tab: Jan Karski (1914–2000).

In September, we commemorated the 30th anniversary of the passing of Mieczysław Fogg. The story of the help provided to Jews by one of the most popular Polish singers and composers of the 20th century was presented, this time, in the form of a four-part programme (podcast) Radio POLIN. Distinguished participants included  documentary filmmaker Anna Mieszkowska who, in a colourful manner, talked of the life and work of Mieczysław Fogg, the artist’s great-grandson Michał Fogg and Anna Lubasińska-Tabaczniuk, curator of the temporary exhibition at the Polish Song Museum on Opole, entitled “Mieczysław Fogg – Songster of the Poles”.

The end of the year was marked by the 80th anniversary of the closing off of the Warsaw Ghetto. POLIN Museum prepared online events including the organisation of an academic conference and discussions. On the Polish Righteous portal, we recalled the fate of the Jews who survived the Warsaw Ghetto, including a new study of the saving of Elżbieta Ficowska.

In 2020, we have not forgotten the birthdays of the Righteous. In May, Anna Koźmińska, the oldest living female Polish Righteous, celebrated here 101st birthday, whose story we told to mark this amazing milestone. New texts also appeared on the 90th birthday of Stanisław Leszczyński, the 95th birthday of Władysław Misiuna and also on the 65th anniversary of the passing of Aleksander Zelwerowicz. In April, we also rememmbered Władysław Bartoszewski, a friend of POLIN Museum, on the 5th anniversary of his passing.

On the Polish Righteous portal, we have published the ten most interesting items in a special catalogue. To read the most interesting stories of aid, listen to podcasts and watch educational films, click on the banner below ().

Grafika na temat podsumowania roku 2020 na Portalu Polscy Sprawiedliwi w formie kolażu zdjęć

Our content is always accompanied by carefully selected iconographic material – archival family photographs, contemporary portraits and photographs of historical everyday objects 

A selection of these unique artefacts, donated to POLIN Museum Collection by the descendants of the Righteous and Survivors, from Polish and foreign archives and cultural institutions can be seen in the photo gallery at the top of this page (⤻).

The 2020 Polish Righteous – View Reports from the Ceremony

SARS-CoV-2 prevented the Izraeli Embassy in Poland from organisaing the majority of 2020 Righteous Among the Nations awards ceremonies. Only three such ceremonies were held: in Strzyżów (20th February), in Warsaw (26th February) and in Gliwice (15th October).

Ten Polish men and fouteen Polish women were posthumously honoured. Of these, eight people helped Jews in towns and villages today located the the Małopolskie Province, six in the Mazowieckie Province, four in the Podkarpackie Province and six in the Ukraine (Lviv region). According to available source material, these people aided some thirty-three Jews, but the exact number of those rescued is difficult to establish.

Read reports on two of the ceremonies. It is worth noting that, during the ceremony at POLIN Museum, those honoured with the title of RIghteous Among the Nations included the Gąsiorowski and Kopeć, based on documentation prepared by our Museum staff.

Information on those honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations in 2020 is presented below in alphabetical order. Information on the procedure for awarding this title by the Yad Vashem Institute can be found in our guide: Cryteria Yad Vashem.

  1. Jan Buchała
  2. Stefania Buchała
  3. Anna Gąsiorowska
  4. Lucjan Gąsiorowski
  5. Marianna Kopeć
  6. Stanisław Kopeć
  7. Stanisław Koptera
  8. Czesław Kucharski
  9. Franciszek Osiński
  10. Tadeusz Osiński
  11. Bronisław Świętoń
  12. Michał Świętoń
  13. Piotr Świętoń
  14. Zofia Szczygielska
  15. Jan Tomal
  16. Józefa Tomal
  17. Stanisława Tomal
  18. Wiktoria Tomal
  19. Maria Teisseyre
  20. Stanisław Teisseyre
  21. Aleksander Winnicki
  22. Wanda Winnicka
  23. Janina Włodarska-Brosz
  24. Marian Wnuk

2021 Publications

June 2021 will mark the 80th anniversary of the Third Reich’s attck on the USSR. This event had a decisive influence on the fate of Jews in the occupied territories of the Second Polish Republic. We will devote space to tell of their experiences, so different from those of central Poland.

Marking the 80th anniversary of the introduction, by the Germans, of the death penalty for illegally leaving a ghetto in occupied Poland, we will supplement the pages of the Polish Righteous portal with new articles by Holocaust researchers, expanding upon the topic of hiding on the “Aryan side”. We will also write about short-term and long-term wartime hiding-places and of external camouflage used by Jews to hide in towns an provinces.

In the new year, we wil lalso publish the series entitled: Jews Helping Other Jews on the “Aryan Side”. Their stories will further expand on the topic of the saving of Jews by the Righteous Among the Nations (non-Jews) which are presented on this site. Stories of help provided by Jews will include those of Stanisław Gombiński, Maurycy Herling-Grudziński, Maria Hochberg (Miriam Peleg) and Feiga Peltel-Międzyrzecka (Vladka Meed), with an introduction by Professor Barbara Engelking.

In 2021, there will be no shartage of new stories of aid and of educational films.

» Read summaries of previous years: 2019 | 2018