Warsaw Chooses Design for 'Righteous Gentiles' Memorial

Curled ribbon with names represents heroism in the face of violence and death, says judge.

Israel calls them "righteous among the nations," referring to people who saved Jews during the Holocaust, sometimes hiding them in their homes for years. Now the city of Warsaw has chosen the design for a monument to honor the thousands of Poles who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust: a giant curling ribbon inscribed with the names of the people and organizations that rescued Jews, reports the Polish Radio website.

The monument, funded by the city of Warsaw and national government, will stand on Grzybowski Square, which was a part of the Jewish Ghetto that the Nazi German occupiers created. It was designed by Piotr Musialowski, Paulina Pankiewicz and Michal Adamczyk.

Marek Mikos, chairman of the committee that chose the winning design, explained that the winning design "makes a gesture into the space of the square," representing heroism in the face of violence and death.

The location of the monument had been the subject a political struggle with nationalist forces in Poland. After the city rejected a proposal by several Jewish organizations to situate it near the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw officials decided on the 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.

"In a world of total moral collapse there was a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values. These were the Righteous Among the Nations," writes Yad Vashem on its website, adding that most rescuers were "ordinary people." More than 6,300 of these – also called "Righteous Gentiles" - were Polish, who faced an extreme sanction for helping Jews: death. The Nazis did not routinely impose the death penalty on people of other nationalities who were caught helping Jews.

The new edifice is the first to celebrate the people who helped the Jews in Poland. Memorials in Poland to the Holocaust itself are sometimes targeted by anti-Semitic groups. For instance in 2010, vandals defaced a memorial on the site of the Nazi forced-labor camp in Plaszow on the outskirts of Krakow, painting slogans such as "Jude Raus" (Jews out) and "Hitler Good."