Thanks to the hundreds of thousands of Poles who saved Jews during World War Two the Polish people were able to survive in dignity and can stand proud today, President Andrzej Duda said on Thursday in Lancut, southeast Poland.
Andrzej Duda, in Lancut to hand state distinctions to wartime Jew savers, reminded that Poles and Jews lived together in Poland for centuries and that Jews frequently spilt blood for Poland. Their symbiosis, Duda said, ended with the attack on Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and the ensuing Jewish Holocaust.
"The symbiosis between Poles and Jews lasted for centuries on these territories. They shared neighbourhood life, the pursuit after daily needs, did business, built their private and family lives (...)", AndDuda said, but noted that during World War Two the Polish state disappeared from the map and was unable to protect its inhabitants.
"There was no Polish state in the institutional and geographical sense, and there was no one to (...) protect the people who lived here", the president recounted, reminding that the Nazis regarded Poles as slaves and decided to exterminate the Jews.
In this context he recounted the Polish underground's non-acceptance of the Holocaust and ensuing formation of a Council to Aid Jews. He also reminded about the Polish underground's courier Jan Karski, who was the first to inform the West about the fate of Jews in Poland. Andrzej Duda stressed that hundreds of thousands of Poles helped Jews during the Holocaust despite the risks involved, proving equally heroic as those who fought Poland's occupants on battlefields. It is thanks to them that the Polish people could survive in dignity, the president said.
President Duda also remarked that Poles carried the most Righteous Among the Nations titles awarded by Israel's Yad Vashem Institute to persons who helped Jews during World War Two.
In Lancut Duda awarded distinctions to 53 persons, most of them posthumously.
Later in the day in nearby Markowa Duda attended the opening of an Ulma Family Museum of Poles Who Saved Jews, named after Wiktoria and Jozef Ulma, a Polish couple from Markowa who hid eight Jews in their home, for which in March 1944 they were executed by the Nazis together with their six children and the Jewish fugitives. At the time of her execution Wiktoria Ulma was eight months pregnant, her eldest daughter was eight years old.
The museum tributes Poles who helped Jews escape the Holocaust despite the fact that Poland was the only Nazi-occupied country where aiding Jews was punished by death. Among others it contains a reconstruction of the Ulma home and an exhibition room with, among others, photographs of pre-war and wartime Markowa by Jozef Ulma.
In his address at the opening Duda called the museum "extremely moving" and expressed thanks to all who contributed to its construction. He also reminded that there were "tens, hundreds, thousands" of Poles who saved Jews during the war, many paying for it with their lives. (PAP)