WARSAW – Israel’s Ambassador to Poland Zvi Rav-Ner awarded Righteous Among the Nations certificates to the descendants of six Polish families that risked their lives without recompense to help Jews during the Nazi occupation. The ceremony took place Tuesday at the Prime Minister’s Office in Warsaw.
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One of the most shocking stories is that of Stanislawa Olewnik, a farm woman and the mother of two young daughters from a remote village near Makow Mazowiecki, who gave shelter to a Jewish family of five and equipped them with her identity card so they could survive outside the ghetto walls. However, the Gestapo discovered the family in the forests near her home and they made one of the girls, under harsh interrogation and blindfolded, reveal the truth about what Olewnik had done. The savior and the survivors were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp and documentation that has been preserved shows that all of them perished in 1944.
Among the recipients of the honor is Princess Woroniecka-Czartoryski who built a secret hiding place in the building where she lived in the heart of Warsaw through which innumerable survivors passed. One of them, Dr. Edward Reicher, wrote about her: “The princess devoted her life to the persecuted. She was the best person I have ever known.”
On the basis of Reicher’s memoirs, Yad Vashem also decided to award a certificate to Roza Chmielewska, a Warsaw prostitute, who sheltered him for two months in her small apartment. Reicher wrote that when Chmielewska received clients he had to go down into a special hiding place she had prepared for that purpose. The prostitute also gave financial support to his wife, who thanks to her non-Jewish appearance, survived on the Aryan side of the city. Despite many efforts, Chmielewska was not found at the war’s end.
The couple Helena and Leon Godlewski, who were also awarded the title, spirited the child Masha Bornstein out of the ghetto in a knapsack and adopted her into their family. In 1943 the father of the family was arrested for his activity in the underground and executed at Auschwitz. Helena, who was left with her three daughters, continued to care for Bornstein until the end of the war. In 1956, Masha Bornstein immigrated to Israel and changed her name to Miriam Adika. Other recipients of the Righteous among the Nations award are Maria and Micha Golba and Leokadia and Antoni Jastrzab.
The ceremony took place under the auspices of Prof. Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, the State Secretary in the office of Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Bartoszewski, himself a Righteous Gentile, is also an honorary citizen of the state of Israel. The ceremony is of unique importance because it is taking place while a fierce discussion is raging about a series of wartime pogroms committed by farmers and inhabitants of small towns against their Jewish neighbors.
The discussion was sparked by a feature film about two brothers who, after 65 years, discovered that their father, a farmer in the Bialystok province, murdered Jewish inhabitants and stole their property. Polish nationalist circles are condemning the filmmakers for disseminating propaganda damaging to Poland’s image and are demanding that it be banned.