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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    Hamas Commander Reportedly Urges Hezbollah to Join Forces Against Israel

    JNS.org – Five months after Israeli forces tried to assassinate Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif in Gaza, Deif appears to have signed a letter that the terrorist group claims he wrote in hiding. The letter, addressed to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, expressed Deif’s condolences for the death of Hezbollah terrorists during Sunday’s reported Israeli airstrike in Syria. Deif is said to have survived multiple assassination attempts, but he has not been seen in public for years. According to the Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    Shlomo Carlebach Musical Has the Soul to Heal Frayed Race Relations

    JNS.org – The cracks that had been simply painted over for so long began to show in Ferguson, Mo., in November 2014, but in truth they had begun to open wide much earlier—on Saturday, July 13, 2013. That is when a jury in Sanford, Fla., acquitted George Zimmerman of culpability for the death of a 17-year-old black man, Trayvon Martin. The cracks receded from view over time, as other news obscured them. Then came the evening of Aug. 9, 2014, [...]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    ‘Homeland’ Season Finale Stirs Controversy After Comparing Menachem Begin to Taliban Leader

    A controversial scene in the season finale of Homeland sparked outrage by comparing former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to a fictional Taliban leader, the UK’s Daily Mail reported. In the season 4 finale episode, which aired on Dec. 21, CIA black ops director Dar Adal, played by F. Murray Abraham, justifies a deal he made with a Taliban leader by referencing Begin. He makes the remarks in a conversation with former CIA director Saul Berenson, a Jewish character played by Mandy [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Placing Matisyahu Back Within a Life of Observance

    Shining Light on Fiction During the North Korea-Sony saga, we learned two important lessons. The first is that there are two sides to this story, and neither of them are correct because ultimately we should have neither inappropriate movies nor dictators. The second is that we cannot remain entirely fixed on the religious world, but we also must see beyond the external, secular view of reality. It’s important to ground our Torah-based thoughts into real-life activism. To view our act [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    Nine Decades of Moses at the Movies

    JNS.org – Hollywood has had its share of big-budget biblical flops, but until now, the Exodus narrative has not been among them. Studios have brought Moses to the big screen sparingly, but in ways that defined the image and character of Moses for each generation of audiences. The first biblical epic In 1923, director Cecil B. DeMille left it to the American public to decide the subject of his next movie for Paramount. DeMille received a letter from a mechanic [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    Exodus on Screen (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – The story of the Exodus from Egypt is a tale as old as time itself, to borrow a turn of phrase. It’s retold every Passover, both at the seder table and whenever “The Ten Commandments” is aired on television. But the latest adaptation—Ridley Scott’s epic film, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”—fails to meet expectations. Scott’s “Exodus” alters the source material to service the story and ground the tale, but the attempt to reinvent the biblical narrative becomes laughable. Moses [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Lifestyle ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    ‘Jewish Food Movement’ Comes of Age

    JNS.org - In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” which has since been characterized by the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Education Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    Seeds of ‘Start-Up Nation’ Cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

    JNS.org – Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of beyond-their-years access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. More than 300 students (250 on the high school level and 68 at a two-year vocational academy) get hands-on training in the disciplines of aviation mechanics, electricity and energy control, and unmanned air [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.