President honours Poles saving Jews

Darek Delmanowicz/PAP

Andrzej Duda, the Polish president, came to a small village in the south-east of the country on Friday to honour a Polish family that was executed for sheltering Jews during World War Two.

In 1944, the Germans executed an entire Polish family for sheltering Jews. In 2018, on Duda's initiative, the Polish parliament established March 24 as the National Day of Remembrance of Poles Rescuing Jews under the German Occupation which falls on the day Wiktoria and Jozef Ulma were executed together with their six children and the Jewish fugitives in the village of Markowa.

The government also established a museum in Markowa to commemorate Polish rescuers of Jews.

"It is a very important museum," Duda said. "The museum commemorates a family who lived and died here, basically giving their lives to helping another human, their compatriots, Poles of Jewish nationality who lived alongside them on this land at a time when the German invader came here, took over the land and started, in a ruthless and brutal way, its planned operation of exterminating the Jewish nation."

The president went on to observe that in Poland, unlike in other countries occupied by Nazi Germany, helping Jews was punished with death.

"No prison, no deportation, not any other punishment, not even a concentration camp," he said. "It was the death penalty that was delivered brutally and ruthlessly.”

"Thousands of Poles, from what we estimate at about one million who helped Jews hide at that time, were murdered in that way, most often together with their Jewish neighbours who were under their care," Duda said.

"Close to six million Polish citizens, including three million of Jewish origin, were killed during World War Two," Duda continued.

"Both our nations, our state... experienced a terrible tragedy, but in the official, institutional sense it (the state - PAP) always stood in defence of its citizens," the president said, pointing out that Poland had no official or puppet government that would collaborate with the Nazis.