Controversy Over Location of Righteous Gentiles Memorial in Warsaw Settled

But claims of politicking remain as experts dispute the number of 'good Poles’ organizers plan to honor for saving Polish Jews in the Holocaust.

Roman Frister
Roman Frister
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Roman Frister
Roman Frister

WARSAW, Poland - A controversy has been settled over where in this city to place a memorial to individuals honored as “Righteous Among the Nations,” for saving Jews during the Holocaust. The issue had become part of a political struggle with nationalist forces in Poland.

After the city rejected a proposal by several Jewish organizations to situate the memorial near the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which opened in April, Warsaw officials decided on a site near Grzybowski Square. The square is in the city center, adjacent to All Saints’ Church, which during World War II was within the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto. Marceli Godlewski, the parish priest of the church, aided the Jewish population. Grzybowski Square is also home to the Jewish Theatre, the renovated Nozyk Synagogue and the offices of the Jewish community.

The city and the Council for the Protection of the Memory of Struggle and Martyrdom will fund the estimated $1 million cost of the memorial. While the tender for the memorial only closes in February 2014, it is already common knowledge that it will include plaques with the names of 10,000 Righteous Among the Nations, or Righteous Gentiles as they are also known - 3,000 more than at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem. Several Polish historians have already questioned who will check the authenticity of the list.

The project’s organizers claim to have their own “sources,” based on the archives of the Institute of National Remembrance, a government organization, and documents from individuals associated with the Catholic Church.

But some of the Catholic institutions and underground organizations that will be honored have drawn fire. Prof. Wladyslaw Bartoszewski is an advisor to the Polish prime minister and a former chairman of Zegota, an underground organization that aided Jews during the Nazi occupation. He is among the critics who say that increasing the number of “good Poles” is politically motivated, that its sole purpose is to improve Poland’s international image.

This purpose is also served by declaring 2014 “Jan Karski Year,” in memory of the emissary of the Polish underground who was the first person to reach the West and inform British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt of what was happening in the ghettoes and the concentration camps. His courageous mission did not manage to grab the attention of the Allies.

The organizers of the memorial want more time to field proposals from local and foreign architects and artists.

People gather in Grzybowski square, Warsaw, Poland, to watch the lightning of the first candle of Hanukkah, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012.Credit: AP

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