Poland commemorates National Day of Remembrance of Poles Rescuing Jews

The Ładoś Group of Polish diplomats and Jewish activists who, by issuing around 10,000 fake Latin-American passports saved over 2,000 Jews from the Holocaust, and the Ulma family who for almost two years were giving shelter to 8 Jews in the attic of their home in Markowa during the German occupation of Poland, together with nearly 7,000 Righteous Among the Nations, are those whose exemplary courage and humanity is celebrated on Tuesday, March 24, during the National Day of Remembrance of Poles Rescuing Jews under Nazi German occupation.

It is perhaps the March 6, 2018 resolution that best expresses the purpose for which the national day was established: it was to “honour heroes, namely Polish Citizens, who in an act of courage, unparalleled bravery, compassion and human solidarity stayed true to the highest ethical values, the imperative of Christian mercy and the ethos of sovereign Republic of Poland, by saving their Jewish brethren from the Shoa,, designed and carried out by the German occupiers.”

The event was established on March 24 to commemorate the tragic consequences of the act of kindness performed by Józef Ulma and his expecting wife Wiktoria Ulma who, together with their six children, were murdered by the Nazi German occupiers of Poland in 1944, for hiding eight Jews in the attic of their home in Markowa, southeastern Poland. The Jews who found shelter in the Ulma family’s house were also executed.

The head of the Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression, Jan Józef Kasprzyk, speaking to Polish radio on Tuesday recalled that Poland was the only country in the German-occupied Europe where helping Jews carried the death penalty.

“The Germans were very well aware of the fact that Jews in Poland could count on help, that Poles would prove their humanity, solidarity and [that they would stay true] to Christian values,” said Mr Kasprzyk, adding that current estimates were that around a million Poles were engaged in saving Jews directly or indirectly.

Apart from the Ulma family, the underground Polish resistance organization Polish Council to Aid Jews with the Government Delegation for Poland “Żegota”, a member of which was the famous Righteous Among the Nations Irena Sendlerowa, Poles helped Jews also while staying abroad, which often meant violating local laws.

Such was the case of the Ładoś Group which, headed by Polish Ambassador Aleksander Ładoś, undertook a large-scale operation of forging Latin-American passports and distributing them among Jews to save them from the Holocaust.

“Overall, it is estimated the whole Ładoś Group headed by Aleksander Ładoś, Polish Ambassador to Switzerland, and consisting of Poles and Jews, fabricated Latin American documents for 8-10 thousand Jews to rescue them from the Holocaust,” former Polish Ambassador to Bern, Switzerland, Jakub Kumoch and co-author of the Ładoś List, which is a book telling the stories of Holocaust survivors saved by the Ładoś Group thanks to the frged passports, tweeted.

In view of coronavirus, celebrations go online

Ever since its establishment in 2017, at the initiative of Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, the marking of “the National Day of Remembrance of Poles Rescuing Jews under German occupation” has been followed by a number of educational and official activities undertaken by a number of institutions. This year, however, due to the epidemiological threat, the commemorations will be limited to wreath-laying on the grave of the Ulma family at the parish cemetery in Markowa, at the monument of the Ulma family in the the Orchard of Remembrance, and the monument dedicated to the memory of Jewish victims of the Holocaust and their anonymous Polish helpers on the museum’ square. The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in WWII has prepared a short film, “many unusual stories, including biographies of the next Righteous from Podkarpackie region, which the Museum uncovered in its research, and whose names were to be unveiled at the Museum Wall of Remembrance during this year’s celebrations, on March 24.” These activities can be followed at the museum’s Facebook profile, click here to learn more. The museum‘s short film will be shown on 680 screens placed on trains operating in four provinces: Podkarpackie, Lubelskie, Świętokrzyskie and Małopolskie, until March 24th, 2020. The short will also be broadcast by Poland’s public broadcaster TVP. The museum has also prepared a new exhibition entitled “Was there any way to help them in this solitude?” Devoted to helping Jews in occupied Poland, the exhibition can be watched online. Meanwhile, the Pilecki Institute, which is also the publisher of the Ładoś List, has prepared an online screening of the Passprots to Paraguay, which tells the story of the Ładoś Group.

For its part, The Museum of the History of Polish Jews POLIN, decided to commemorate Poles Rescuing Jews by publishing nearly 1,000 stories of Poles who, while risking their own lives, extended a helping hand to Jews during WWII. And, as confirmed by the Yad Vashem Institute, Poles were the most numerous national group providing aid and rescue to Jews. The institute’s database includes 27,362 heroic individuals, out of whom 6,992 were granted the title of Righteous Among the Nations.