The President of the Republic of Poland - Bronisław Komorowski

The Holocaust was the most horrible atrocity ever committed by man. Never before had people been murdered on such a scale only because they belonged to a nation. 

Women, babies, children, men, cripples, the infirm, the healthy, the old and the young – all perished in extermination camps, in executions in the woods and in the streets – sentenced to death to put the mad principles of Nazi German ideology into practice. Not only people were being killed. The memory of Jewish culture, customs and language was also being annihilated. Cemeteries were destroyed, synagogues burned. Ghetto walls, crematoriums and gas chambers were built in their place. Man invented the most cruel ways of inflicting pain on another man. But it was also man who constructed a hiding place in a barn or cowshed, extended a helping hand, gave his cloak to the needy and served a bowl of soup. The murderers stood on the side of darkness, and the Righteous on the side of light.

A great deal has already been said and written about the heroism of the Righteous Among the Nations. We know about the achievements of Irena Sendler, Jan Karski, Henryk Sławik, Władysław Bartoszewski and the Żegota Council to Aid Jews. We know the stories of the Ulma family of Markowa and the Kowalski family of Ciepielów. More and more schools are being named after people who behaved with dignity in a time of contempt. But there are thousands of names. They need to be recalled. No one must be omitted. Each of the Righteous has their own story of sacrifice, fear, heroism and ordinary anxiety for themselves and their family. It was only in Nazi-occupied Poland and Ukraine that hiding Jews was punishable by death. Historians write of more than eight hundred Poles murdered for helping Jews. The discovery of the hiding place meant death not only for the rescuers and rescued, but sometimes also for the residents of the village or tenement house where the hidingwas taking place. Sometimes the Righteous lived in double fear: that of the occupying forces and that of their neighbours. Anybody could denounce them, for various reasons. The public had an equivocal attitude towards hiding Jews. We should all the more appreciate those who decided to share the fate of the persecuted.

God wanted to save the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of ten righteous men. They were to be the ones to save human honour in the midst of corruption and wickedness. They could not be found. During the Second World War, individuals choosing life, against death, emerged as the guardians of values. While they were not a majority, their presence saved the world from collapse. The Righteous are modest. They do not use great words; they give their accounts – focussed, quiet. They unfold their stories slowly. They often repeat that they saved others because that is what they had been taught at home: how could you refuse to help somebody in need? Let us take a look at these portraits, a careful look at the people who saved the world. Each of them has something of his or her own to tell us. We will hear memories of the Nazi occupation, but also tales about ourselves, about our choices, questions and dilemmas. Let every encounter with a Righteous strengthen our certainty that we tread the same path.

As the President of the Republic of Poland, I wish to pay tribute to the Righteous Among the Nations. I am thus continuing the work initiated four years ago by the late Lech Kaczyński. We need knowledge about the attitudes of individuals honoured in this manner in order to understand our mutual relations. Let us remember the deeds that saved human lives. Let us pay reverence – to use the words of John Paul II from the homily he delivered at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in 1979 – to “each of these victories, each revelation of humanity which negated a system that was a systematic negation of humanity”. I believe that by promoting models of dignified conduct we will steer clear of misunderstandings and stereotypes. The Righteous remind us that even in the most extreme of circumstances decency has the power to confront evil. Everything depends on us.

From the album "Poles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. Recalling Forgotten History", Warszawa 2013