(JTA) — U.S. Ambassador to Poland Stephen Mull called 50 Holocaust-era rescuers of Jews “a light in the darkness” at a Warsaw reception in their honor.
The reception was hosted by the New York-based Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, which provides material assistance to hundreds of people who aided Jews during the war.
“You knew that the Hitlerites killed people — sometimes entire families — for aiding Jews during the German occupation of Poland,” Mull reflected, “but at the same time you decided to help your Jewish brothers and sisters.”
The honorees are Righteous Among the Nations, a designation bestowed by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial authority on non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazi genocide.
Leszek Mikolajkow, one of the righteous gentiles who attended Sunday’s reception, said he was “slightly embarrassed” by the ceremony, although he acknowledged that he understood the need for such events, the PAP news agency reported.
“We had to save them, it was just a reflex,” he said.
Poland is home to the world’s highest number of righteous gentiles at 6,454, followed by 5,351 in the Netherlands and 3,760 in France.
In 2013, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous distributed approximately $1.7 million to some 675 needy rescuers living in 21 countries.
Among the rescuers at the reception in Warsaw was Anna Stupnicka, who at the age of 12 helped her mother smuggle 11-year-old Liliana Adler out of the Warsaw Ghetto. The mother and daughter had entered the area in 1941 to give out food and books in defiance of orders by the Nazi occupation force.