Honourable Recipients of the Distinctions,
Esteemed Madam Minister,
Despite these difficult conditions, despite the pandemic, I am delighted that we are able to meet today on this important day, important to me as the initiator of setting this date as the one dedicated especially to all my compatriots who during World War II risked their own lives and those of their families to help their Jewish fellow citizens to survive, to overcome that time which was so horrendous for the Jewish nation – the time of the Holocaust, the time of the German-planned extermination of the entire nation.
The Jewish nation has survived thanks to i.a. the great sacrifice of those who showed their exceptional humanity, exceptional faith, exceptional heroism. I wish to make a very strong point: it was a personal heroism, as well as the heroism of the entire communities, entire families. For a family always knew and was well aware of the risk connected with that great work which was being accomplished at the time.
Although the ones who were involved in it did not probably perceive it as a great deed at all. They saw it as a duty, they simply felt that they had to do it for another human being. Not always for their neighbour, not always for a man they had met, sometimes they did it for somebody who they knew needed help. That help would, often times, last for many years of the German occupation here in Poland and throughout the whole duration of WWII.
I am deeply grateful for your arrival here, at the Presidential Palace, despite difficult conditions, to collect this distinction, and also to receive the distinction – so that I can personally decorate you with it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. This is a vitally important part of our history – a vitally important part of the crucially significant history of our nation. Precisely because our compatriots have the biggest number of trees in the Yad Vashem Institute. The biggest number of those who indeed carried help and assistance were Poles.
I always stress, whenever and wherever I give my speeches, be it in Poland or around the world, but first and foremost in the international arena, including during my visit to Israel, that we were one of few nations who faced death for helping Jews. It was not about prison, not about a concentration camp – it was about death. And that was the fate of the Ulma Family to give one example, the family hopefully well known to everybody these days.
I am very glad that there are more and more such testimonies and places of remembrance, that we are showing what we have an absolute right to show. Especially in a situation in which we are very frequently accused in an unfair way. Since we know that such situations also take place. I can imagine how much it must hurt you – the ones who participated in that great work and who ran that risk back then. How painful the accusations must be of Poles as a nation who in its majority was the nation of decent people or even heroic people as demonstrated by your example.
I am happy with your presence and I am happy with the existence the Ulma Family Museum in Markowa which myself and my spouse had an honour to inaugurate. I am delighted that such a strenuous, calm work is being carried out by the Pilecki Institute, by the Institute of National Remembrance and by the Polish Institute of International Affairs, that this work is also being done by the Polish diplomats today.
I am bringing up this point since I have just concluded a meeting with the Director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs. We were discussing the work of saving Jews which was carried out by the Polish diplomats.
I also wish to use this opportunity to recall the wonderful work done in Switzerland by our Ambassador Mr. Jakub Kumoch who showed the history of the so called Ładoś group – a group of Polish diplomats who while in charge of the Polish diplomatic mission in the country were peacefully and consistently issuing documents to Poles of Jewish origin, and subsequently also to persons of Jewish descent from various countries in order to save their lives.
There are few testimonies to that in Polish diplomatic papers as it was an illegal activity – they were forging documents to save those people. So, they were not really willing to admit that fact, they did not write about it in an unambiguous way. Ambassador Kumoch came up with an idea to look for traces of the activity in Swiss police records and he found them in the archives kept by the Swiss services, especially by the Swiss police. That type of activity was prosecuted by the law enforcement bodies in Switzerland as it violated the law.
I am glad that so many similar efforts are currently being undertaken precisely with the aim to show the history as it was, and the history of us, Poles, as we were back then. To show that it was the Republic of Poland where Poles and Jews lived next to each other and they lived together. That it was one society, though composed of various nationalities, with various origins, but still it constituted a broadly understood community. That it is not only the graves of Polish soldiers of Jewish descent in the cemeteries which bear a great testimony to the fact that Jews were Polish patriots, but also that Poles knew how to help their fellow citizens, their compatriots, in the most difficult of times.
Let me thank once again for your presence here. I wish to reiterate my gratefulness and reassure you that I will be resolute in fighting, in my work, not only as President but also afterwards, after concluding my term in office, all demonstrations of antisemitism in our country. Because they tarnish the memory of your loved ones.
Just as I said in Markowa: all demonstrations of antisemitism in Poland are equal to the trampling on the grave of the Ulma Family. Yes, they are! Because the actions of the Family stemmed from love. Whereas antisemitism equals hatred. These are two opposites. And we must never accept that, we must not remain indifferent.
It is precisely us, Poles, due to our solidarity with Jews and remembrance about those who perished, who were murdered, of both Jewish and non-Jewish descent, who must never tolerate any symbols of Nazi Germany in our country, any gestures. Never, even in a marginal form. There is no acceptance for it in the public sphere in any form whatsoever. There is no acceptance for it and there will never be! We must be absolutely principled on this one since we owe this solidarity to the victims. Especially us, who right from the start of WWII were occupied by the Nazis, by Germans.
Our nation, our society, both those of Jewish and Polish descent, suffered huge, gigantic losses in WWII. And this constitutes an immensely important part of the memory which calls for honesty and justice. Hence, we have the right to demand the honesty and justice in the international arena.
Once again, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your testimony. Thank you for your presence as each tiniest trace, each such presence, each ceremony of this kind demonstrates the truth about those events and those times. It is a beautiful and simultaneously an extremely patriotic stance. It is what we and Poland need so much today.
Thank you very much.