Nine people from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine who helped Polish citizens in the 20th century during totalitarian regimes were presented with the Virtus et Fraternitas (from Latin: Virtue and Brotherhood) medals by Poland’s President Andrzej Duda.
“When people living in this part of Europe encountered two terrible totalitarianisms - the German Nazi and Soviet Stalinist ideologies hostile to man, despite all fears and rationality which would suggest that staying hidden is the safest way, there were those who were able to reach out to other people,” the President said.
“They knew how to help, regardless of their nationality and own sympathies, they simply saw humanity as a value in itself,” he added.
This year, among the recipients of Virtus et Fraternitas medals are Petro Bazelyuk and Maria Bazelyuk from Ukraine, who hid Poles - Mieczysław Słojewski and his 7-year-old son Edward - from the slaughter carried out by the Ukrainian Uprising Army during WWII.
Other laureates are the Romanian aristocrat and philanthropist Ecclesiastes Olimpia Caradja, who organised help for the children of Polish refugees in 1939, and the mayor of the Hungarian town Esztergom Jeno Etter, who made it easier for Poles to escape from the local internment camp to the West and the Middle East, where they joined the Polish Armed Forces.
The Polish president also honored Petro Hrudzewycz, who in 1986 opposed Soviet officials who demanded that he remove the cross from the grave of almost 100 soldiers of the Polish Army who died in the fight against the Bolsheviks in 1920; the Czech pastor Jan Jelinek and his wife Anna, who during the war in Volhynia helped Jews threatened with German extermination, as well as Poles who were victims of attacks by Ukrainian nationalists.
Virtus et Fraternitas medals were also awarded to Jozef Lach and Zofia Lachova from Slovakia, who in the fall of 1939 in Poprad helped Polish refugees.
The Virtus et Fraternitas medals are awarded to foreigners merited in helping Poles or Polish citizens who were victims of totalitarian crimes in the years 1917-1990. This distinction is also presented to people who cherish the memory of Polish victims of crime.