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Poland for the first time officially honored its citizens who aided Jews during the Holocaust.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski paid tribute Wednesday to 50 Catholic Poles at a ceremony attended by some 1,800 people at the National Opera in Warsaw.

Most of the honored are recognized by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem as Righteous Among the Nations, gentiles who risked their lives to help save Jews from the Nazis.

Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev thanked awardees on behalf of Israel. Each walked to the stage in the company of two Polish children, one Jewish and one Catholic.

“You were lonely and isolated and frightened,” Shalev said. “You have proven to us that it is within each of us to fight evil. The Jewish people will forever remember you and the lessons you have taught us.”

Some 6,000 Poles are recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, more than in any other country. Before World War II Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe, 3 million, of which 90 percent perished during the Holocaust.

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