Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Walking on Heroes’ Ground in Poland

December 27, 2012 3:34 am 1 comment

Left to right, 91-year-old Wladyslaw Barposezewski, one of the founders of the Polish Council to Aid Jews, on Dec. 4 in Warsaw with Israel's ambassador to Poland, H. E. Zvi Rav-Ner. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

WARSAW—”Zegota,” the official unit of the Polish Underground Army tasked with helping Jews in German-occupied Poland from 1942-1945, was commemorated on the occasion of its 70th anniversary earlier this month in Warsaw.

Codename for the Polish Council to Aid Jews, Zegota was honored for its dedication to the protection of the Jewish population mainly in Warsaw and Krakow. Ninety-one-year-old Wladyslaw Barposezewski, one of its founders, received the honor on behalf of his comrades at a momentous event in the auditorium of the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Office in Warsaw.

Honoring the “Righteous among the Nations”—one of the highest honors bestowed by the Israeli government, given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust—raises a plethora of emotions, for both the benefactor and the beneficiary. Walking on the streets where such heroes stepped in Warsaw itself, those emotions are fully realized.

The Righteous among the Nations title has been awarded since 1965. Most of those recognized have been Poles. At the Dec. 4 ceremony in which Zegota was honored, Israel’s ambassador to Poland, H. E. Zvi Rav-Ner, directly addressed the unit’s co-founder, Barposezewski.

“So many people, so many different worlds saved,” the ambassador said, calling the group’s activities “a holy mission,” one to which Israel “will continue to pay tribute.”

“We have to ask who would do that,” Rav-Ner said of the Zegota unit’s actions. “Would I be able to take the risk for myself, my family or my neighbor?”

The ambassador emphasized that Poland was only country where the penalty for those who supported or saved Jews was death. The diplomat noted that Zegota was a government organization—an organization of individuals who made the decision to be humane to the other. Members of the unit “made a most important and difficult decision: to save someone else, even people they did not know,” Rav-Ner said.

“This is a decision made by a human being, a representative of mankind,” he said. “It is our holy mission in Israel—a fundamental thing to remember—and important not only for the Jews but for Poland and the Poles, and people globally. The main message to be communicated from here is that as long as there is such an organization such as this, as long as there are people like this—all just ordinary people—as long as we will have such people, we might continue to hope in the most difficult and challenging situations.”

Barposzewski is the Secretary of State for International Dialogue in the Chancellery of the Chairman of Ministers Council. At the beginning of World War II, he was interred in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and remained there as a political prisoner for almost a year. As the only living co-founder of Zegota, he accepted the award and vowed that he is “determined to assure that what happened is remembered by the younger generation.” In 1963, he journeyed to Israel with a wartime compatriot, Maria Kann, to plant a tree along the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

“This was a tree not for ourselves but for the concept of Zegota,” Barposzewski said.

“Some,” recalled the elderly veteran, “were simple fighters for freedom, amateurs, very young people who had only one single program: humanity.”

Barposzewski, who was a university professor, delivered a forceful and vigorous address, even amid his 90-plus years.

“I was lucky to live to see what I have seen,” he said. “What is extraordinary is the State of Israel. No other state in the world would honor the aid provided to those entitled to hold Israeli citizenship. No other state would give honorary citizenship, as awarded by Israel’s 87th resolution of the Knesset. No other country has paid tribute to the noble deeds of Poles—not only those involved in Zegota; more than 7,000 others have received the title of ‘righteous.'”

“I have great pride and respect for the bravery and courage of the State of Israel… great satisfaction that young people can recall these wonderful things,” said Barposzewski.  “In the unique case of Zegota, we forgot about all internal divisions… I recall the years when people respected each other regardless of their ideology. Only the idea of who is from my homeland and who is a human being were important.”

“He who saves a single life,” quoted the professor from the Mishnah, “saves the whole world—this is the significance of the moral order of the whole world.”

The presentation of a short, intense film on the history of Polish Jews at the ceremony noted that occupied Poland had about 400 ghettos. Once transports started, and information about the fate awaiting Jews at the end of their journey became known, escapes intensified. Seventy years ago, a coalitions of activists formed Zegota. They existed in an atmosphere of terror, always fearful of blackmailers and spies.

During this afternoon in Warsaw, an additional group of Righteous among the Nations was recognized. Several families had traveled from Israel to honor the individuals or their descendants who had been their saviors. Helena Godlewska’s honor was received by her son, Leon Godlewski; the award to Micah and Maria Golba, who saved the parents of Rami Safri and Nechama Lind, was received by their grandson Stefan Spala; Liliana Wierzbinska received the honor bestowed on her parents, Antoni and Leokadia Jastrzab; Stanisalwa Olewnik’s award was received by Jan Olewnik, Mayor of Grodzisk Mazowiecki; Aniela Woronieckia and Roza Chimielewski’s awards were received by five of their nephews, Adam, Gustaw, Juliusz, Tytus, and Zynmunt Czartoryski.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features Has Shia LaBeouf Reached the End of the Line?

    Has Shia LaBeouf Reached the End of the Line?

    Was Shia LaBeouf’s performance art piece at Manhattan’s Angelica Film Center (where he spent three days watching his own films) a sign of madness or genius? Judging from the lines and the fans, it was the latter. Shortly before 6 a.m. on Thursday, approximately 140 people were on line for the last day of the live-streamed event at Angelica Film Center. Fans who waited were happy to give their opinions. “I don’t think he’s crazy,” said Elliot Quartz, an 18-year-old student at the New School, who waited […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Jewish Artists From New York Release New Rap Album in English, Hebrew, Aramaic

    Jewish Artists From New York Release New Rap Album in English, Hebrew, Aramaic

    Eden Pearlstein freely admits that he has an addiction. But his brings people up instead of bringing them down. “I am a chronic collaborator,” says Pearlstein, a 35-year-old rapper who goes by the moniker of Eprhyme, and has released several solo albums. “Deeper and Higher” — his new album — is a collaboration with Shir Yakov Feit, who co-writes the songs and music. The friends and fellow artists both explore the relationship between man and God, and the benefit and emotional weight of introspection. With lyrics in English, Hebrew, and Aramaic, the artists stress […]

    Read more →