New Righteous Honoured at POLIN Museum

Mateusz Szczepaniak / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, 28 February 2020
Another eight Polish women and ten Polish men have been posthumously honoured, by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. The presentation of medals and certificates took place in a ceremony, held on 26th February 2020, at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, with the participation of these heroes' families and the descendants of Survivors of the Holocaust. Three other Righteous were also awarded Honorary Citizenship of the State of Israel.

“Recently, there has been a lot of talk in Poland about the Righteous. […] Their unique and uncommon atttude reminds us of, among other things, the poem by the Warsaw ghetto poet, Władysław Szlengel, ’Telefon’. This  moving and quite lengthy poem, written during those days, speaks of hopelessness and Jewish loneliness. It is about a man who, despite having access to a telephone and having the desire to call someone on the Aryan side, discovers that there is no one to call […] Dear RIghteous, I would like to thank you, that you were among those on the Aryan side who picked up that telephone handset. You experienced many dramatic and traumatic moments. You were alone and probably terrified and yet you were able to preserve all those universal values upon which society is based.” 

– Alexander Ben Zvi, Israeli Ambassador to Poland.

The ceremony honouring the Righteous Among the Nations was organised in POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews by the Israeli Embassy for the fourth time. Apart from the descendants of the Righteous and of the Jewish Holocaust survivors, others present included representatives of the highest levels of state and local government, the Polish Association of the Righteous Among the Nations, as well as numerous students, among them being pupils and choir from the Lauder-Morasha School in Warsaw. Guests were welcomed by POLIN’s Acting Director Zygmunt Stępiński:

“For over a decade, we have endeavoured to restore the memory of the deeds of Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. The POLIN Museum documents accounts of the witnesses to history and publiishes them on our Polish Righteous Portal. Only last year this portal was visited by over 200,000 people. This is proof of the fact that more and more peopel remember and understand how important it is for the history of both Poland and the Jews. Memory of the Righteous has returned […] Today, we honour those who displayed civic courage which, at that time, was something extraordinary.”

The Speaker of the Senate, Professor Tomasz Grodzki, said:

“There is no doubt that we all know of the many sacrifices that were required [to save Jews – ed.] [...] This gives us the hope that, in good times and in bad, Poland will always be on the side for whom humanitarian values, values based on our centuries-old tradition and customs, will remain important”.

Secretary of State from the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland, Wojciech Kolarski, spoke on behalf of the President:

“It was in this place that President Andrzej Duda initiated the National Day of Remembrance of Poles Rescuing Jews During World War II. [...] On 24th March, we remember all those who we know by name and also those whose fate, history and names we may never know.”

The Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, added:

“We should take one lesson from this – that we should always help those who are weaker and that we should always stand by those who are marginalised – because they need help and this message also applies to local government.”

Honouring the Righteous

Following on from decisions taken by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, the following people were posthumously honoured, with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, during the ceremony held on 26th February 2020: Anna and Lucjan Gąsiorowski, Stanisław and Marianna Kopeć, Stanisław Koptera, Czesław Kucharski, Franciszek Osiński and his son Tadeusz, Wiktoria Tomal and her children Stanisława, Józefa and Jan, as well as a group of Kraków-Lwów artists -Stanisław and Maria Teisseyre, Aleksander and Wanda Winnicki, Janina Włodarska-Brosz and Marian Wnuk.

Zygmunt Stępiński stressed:

“For us, arranging these ceremonies is always of special importance […] and today’s ceremony is also unique in that the decision, by the Yad Vashem Insititute, to honour more people with the title of ’Righteous" [the Gąsiorowski and Kopeć families], was based upon documentation prepared by a POLIN Museum team.”

During the ceremony, Dr. Bela Chopp shared her memories with the audience. She is the daughter of Eliasz Kohan and, together with her mother Rachela, survived the Holocaust thanks to the Righteous:

The heroic deeds of the Tomal family has become part of our family’s history which has been passed on from generation to generation. When asked why she acted in the manner she did, Józefa Tomal looked into my eyes and said, ‘Because it was something that needed to be done’”.

A letters of descendants, who could not come to Warsaw for the event, was also read out. They are Helene Albert, Hilliard Gastfriend and Efraim Piechotka.

Hilliard Gastfriend wrote:

“Just a few weeks ago, I knew almost nothing about Stanisław and Marianna Kopeć. My mother, like many others of her generation, didn’t talk much about her wartime experiences. I knew that she, my grandmother and my aunt were hidden by local Polish farmers, but I didn’t know about the details of their long 28-month torture. […] I regret that I have not been able to thank the Kopeć family personally.”

“The widespread expression by Jews after the War was ‘Never again!’ It is understandable that such a terrible experience can never be forgotten, that such atrocities should never be allowed to happen again. Unfortunately, since then, there have been other genocides. How can we, civilised people, put an end to genocide? I hope that the deeds of Stanisław and Marianna Kopeć will inspire people to make difficult, but morally correct, choices. We must recognise everyone as a human being, just as the Kopeć family did almost eighty years ago.”

Also, at the ceremony, two previously honoured Righteous – Stanisław Pokorski (awarded the title in 1983) and Jan Wyrwicz (2012) – were posthumously awarded Honorary Citizenship of the State of Israel. Also, honoured in this manner was the current Secretary of the Polish Association of the Righteous, Irena Senderska-Rzońca (2000), who was present to personallty receive her Honorary Citizenship certificate from the Israeli Ambassador to Poland. 

The New Righteous and Their Stories

Below is a list of the eighteen new Righteous Among the Nations:

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Information about the awarding of the title of Righteous Among the Nations, the highest civil honour of the State of Israel, by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, can be found here: Yad Vashe Criteria.

Reports of Ceremonies held at POLIN Museum in previous years:

2015 | 2016 | 2018