President pays tribute to Polish rescuers of Jews

Paweł Supernak/PAP

President Andrzej Duda has commemorated in a letter Poles those who risked their lives to save Jews in Poland during the Second World War.

The letter was published on the President's Office's website as March 24 marks the National Day of Remembrance of Poles Rescuing Jews under German occupation.

"Today we pay tribute to the heroes who resisted the Nazi Holocaust and, heedless of the danger to their own lives and safety, offered a hiding place and supported their Jewish neighbours and fellow citizens," Duda wrote.

He noted that this year Poland is marking for the fifth time this official public holiday whose purpose was to recall the sacrifice and heroism of Poles who, on their own initiative and with the support of the structures of the underground Polish state, saved Jews from Holocaust.

"Despite the deadly threat from the German occupiers, Poles rescued Jews as individuals, moved by the kindness of heart, and also engaged in the systematic effort under the auspices of underground Polish state and the Polish authorities in exile," Duda wrote.

According to the president, it is the duty of modern generations of Poles to cultivate the memory of Poles' efforts to save their Jewish fellow citizens.

"Through their courage and sacrifice they bore witness to Christian mercy and universal solidarity, standing as a timeless role model demonstrating how to act for the victims of terror and extermination. An attitude which is an example to us, the contemporary people, and – I firmly believe – will never cease to inspire also future generations," he wrote.

The president said that it is still necessary to conduct research on the merits of Poles who saved Jews and to promote this knowledge on the international arena.

"Although almost 80 years have passed since the Shoah, new facts are still being discovered and new stories are coming to light of which, until now, researchers have known little or nothing at all. I trust that in time this will contribute to a more accurate and fairer picture of the era of crematory ovens formed in the eyes of the free world," the letter read.

In 2018, on the initative of President Andrzej Duda, Poland's parliament established March 24 as the National Day of Remembrance of Poles Rescuing Jews under German occupation. This official public holiday was instituted to commemorate the day in 1944 when Nazi Germans executed an entire Polish family in the village of Markowa, southern Poland, for sheltering Jews. Wiktoria and Jozef Ulma hid eight Jews in their home during World War Two, for which in March 1944 they were executed together with their six children and the Jewish fugitives. At the time of her execution, Wiktoria Ulma was eight months pregnant; her eldest daughter was eight years old.

In 1995, Józef and Wiktoria were posthumously awarded with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. The medals are awarded by the Jerusalem-based Yad Vashem Institute to individuals and families who risked their own lives and the lives of their loved ones to rescue Jews from the Holocaust. In 2010, late President Lech Kaczyński distinguished them with the Commander's Cross of the Polonia Restituta Order.

On March 17, 2016, the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II, the first Polish museum of Poles rescuing Jews, was opened in Markowa.