WARSAW, Poland (JTA) – The Museum of Poles Saving Jews opened a memorial orchard commemorating 1,500 towns and villages where Poles saved Jews during World War II.
The orchard, which was dedicated Friday in Markowa, in southeastern Poland, includes only towns where a resident was designated Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust authority.
Between trees, on glass illuminated boards, nearly 1,500 names of villages, towns and cities are listed where Polish gentiles saved Jews during the German occupation. Yad Vashem has awarded nearly 7,000 Poles with the Righteous designation.
According to Mateusz Szpytma, vice president of the Institute of National Remembrance, Poles saved tens of thousands of Jews during the war.
“Just as these trees bear fruit, your commitment and attitude will bear fruit each year because the descendants of those you have saved come into the world each year,” Szpytma said at the ceremony.
The orchard is another Polish initiative emphasizing the involvement of Poles in helping Jews during the war. Poland wants to honor them with two more monuments in Warsaw and a museum built in Torun.
A diplomatic crisis erupted between Poland and Israel earlier this year after the Polish government passed legislation that criminalizes blaming Poles for Nazi crimes.