WARSAW (Jul. 5)
Polish Christians who saved Jews from being killed during the Holocaust are being honored for the first time in Poland in a three-day conference here that is bringing together pairs of Polish rescuers and the Jews that they saved.
The conference, sponsored by an arm of the Anti-Defamation League, is also being attended by world leaders, Polish and foreign scholars and intellectuals and members of the clergy.
The conference, which opened Monday, comes less than three months after this city marked in official ceremonies the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and honored the Jews who fought against the Nazi regime.
By comparison, this First International Conference on Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust aims to publicly acknowledge the heroic deeds of the Christian rescuers.
Organized by ADL’s Jewish Foundation for Christian Rescuers, the sessions feature presentations and discussions on the implications of the Holocaust in the modern world organized under the title “Can Indifference Kill?”
In a statement to the media, Abraham Foxman, ADL national director, outlined his aims and hopes for the conference.
“It is not just because this is sacred and hallowed ground for Jews that it is a necessity to come to Poland to remember, to remind, and to mourn.
“We have also come to say thank you, to embrace and to trumpet the kindness and compassion that saved so many Jewish lives,” said Foxman, who himself survived the Holocaust as a young boy in Poland through the help of his Catholic nanny, who hid him from the Germans.
Polish President Lech Walesa sent a representative to the conference and said in a statement: “We cannot be indifferent to the silence of the world. That is what the events of 50 years ago have taught us.”
Walesa also announced he had “made a motion to nominate the Righteous Among Nations for the Nobel Peace Prize.”
SITE OF LARGEST JEWISH TRAGEDY
Before World War II, some 3.5 million Jews lived in Poland. By the end of the war in 1945, more than 90 percent of Polish Jewry had perished, including hundreds of thousands in death camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec and Chelmno.
The majority of Jews who survived emigrated to the West after the war.
The establishment of the Iron Curtain and the tension of the Cold War closed Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe to the West, and the Communist government submerged the Holocaust into the general struggle against fascism, not mentioning the Jewish aspect of the tragedy.
As a result, many of those Polish Christians who saved Jews during the war have never been publicly acknowledged in Poland, and many were hesitant to come forth with information about their actions because of the unfriendly political and social climate.
Calling on the Polish government and people to honor these rescuers, Foxman said, “Though Poland is the sight of the largest Jewish tragedy, I believe, though I cannot prove it, that Poland is also the place where the largest number of gentiles saved Jews.
“I hope this conference will help to reverse a trend and honor those righteous gentiles and write a new library telling of those national heroes,” Foxman said.
As part of the conference proceedings, the Israeli ambassador to Poland, Miron Gordon, was to issue medals from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum and confer honorary Israeli citizenship on the rescuers.
Describing the academic side of the conference, Roman Kent, conference chairman, said, “We have tried to bring together leading scholars to discuss the Holocaust and the meaning of indifference that made it possible.
“We are asking what that means today in our times with Somalia and Serbia,” said Kent.
The Jewish Foundation for Christian Rescuers was founded in the mid-1980s as an effort to honor those gentiles who saved Jews as well as provide them with financial support. Today it provides monthly grants to more than 1,200 people, 900 of them in Poland.