Poland to Mark New Holiday Honoring Poles Who Saved Jews During Holocaust

The new commemoration is marked for March 24 and follows the passage of a controversial Polish law which outlaws publicly attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish nation

The grave of the Ulma family in Markowa, Poland

Polish lawmakers approved a new bill on Wednesday that would make March 24 a national holiday of remembrance honoring Poles who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. On that date in 1944, members of the Polish Ulma family, a father, pregnant mother and their six children, were summarily executed by the Nazis in the village of Markowa after it was discovered that they were hiding Jews in their home.

According to the Polish news agency, the new holiday is designed to commemorate the memory of Poles who saved their Jewish neighbors from extermination during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The bill states that the holiday will honor Poles who displayed courage and compassion and were "faithful to the highest moral values." Polish President Andrzej Duda is expected to soon sign the bill, which he himself initiated.

The legislation is the latest in number of initiatives designed to commemorate the acts of Poles who saved Jews during World War II, commemorations spearheaded by Poland's right-wing government, which came to power in 2015. In addition, earlier this year, the Polish parliament passed a controversial law that outlaws publicly and falsely attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish nation. 

In 2016 a museum honoring Poles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust was established in Markowa. Poland also plans to erect a monument in Warsaw on the same subject.

In recent years, the Polish government has bestowed honors on Poles who rescued Jews, including some who have not been designated as Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem, which has conferred recognition on some 6,700 Poles who saved Jews. Poland's Institute of National Remembrance, which studies the crimes committed by Nazis and communists in the country, has estimated that between 700 and 1,100 Poles, including members of the Ulma family, were killed by the Nazis for trying to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

Critics of the Polish government say the new holiday, along with other moves taken to commemorate Poles who saved Jews, is intended to serve political and ideological goals, notably including obscuring the part that many Poles played in Nazi crimes and exaggerating the real role that Poles played in saving Jews.