Distinguishing one Bernese Group member over others raises questions

Konstanty Rokicki was posthumously awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations earlier in April. But the descendants of the other Poles who were members of the group, Ambassador Aleksander Ładoś and his deputy Stefan Ryniewicz, only received letters of appreciation.

“The recognition, of course, is a great honour,” Małgorzata Sadkowska, whose great grandfather was the brother of the father of Mr Rokicki, told Israeli daily newspaper “Israel Hayom”. However, she added that "It is Aleksander Ładoś - the first person who had to receive recognition was Mr Ładoś, who headed the diplomatic mission and headed the rescue operation.".

According to Poland’s daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna (DGP) and the dziennik.pl news website, it remains unknown whether Ms Sadkowska will participate in the commemorative ceremony scheduled for May 27 in Warsaw or June 28 in Kraków, given Yad Vashem’s decision not to decorate the other two non-Jewish members of the Bernese Group.

“The Yad Vashem decision is difficult for me to comprehend. I started asking myself, why Ładoś is not on the list of people to be awarded and why Stefan Ryniewicz is also missing from it,” Ms Sadowska told DGP and dziennik.pl, adding that “for me and for my family it is important that the rest of the Bernese Group members’ role is recognised. The group’s activity was not Konstanty Rokicki’s doing alone. I will try to explain that because this is also important for the families of the two other diplomats.”

Critical inaccuracies on Yad Vashem’s part

Yad Vashem has issued a statement in English and Hebrew regarding the recognition of Mr Rokicki. The former version presents Aleksander Ładoś as a consul of the Polish Embassy in Bern, while his actual position was that of an ambassador and the mastermind of the whole operation. In the Hebrew version of the statement, both Aleksander Ładoś and Stefan Ryniewicz are described as “the Embassy’s employees”, a description that falls short of appropriate historical precision.

On top of that, not only has Yad Vashem misrepresented Aleksander Ładoś and Stefan Ryniewicz’s role in the operation that saved many Jewish lives but it has also committed errors in the writing of the former diplomat’s name calling him “Lados Alksander”.

Not the first controversial decision

This is not the only time that Yad Vashem’s decisions raise questions and controversy. In 2009, it was only after angry reactions by Dutch Holocaust survivors and 230 petitions that Yad Vashem decided to honour two families, the Hollebrands and the Eggings, that during the Holocaust hid the Jewish children converted to Christianity by their parents. Unfortunately, the Nazis later caught and murdered the children.

The Ładoś Group operated in the Polish embassy in Switzerland during WWII and saved at least 800 Jews from the Holocaust, by providing them with forged Latin American passports.