The Chief Rabbi of Poland honored 50 elderly Christians who saved Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Calling them “heroes” at the event held in what was the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, the Rabbi expressed “our deepest gratitude to these Righteous Gentiles.”
One of the oldest Christian ladies who had saved Jews from the Nazis was 100-years-old. Others present were already in their 80s and 90s. The event was organized by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR), a Jewish group currently providing monthly financial assistance to more than 500 aged and needy Christians who have saved Jews from the Holocaust.
"You are our heroes," said Stanlee Stahl the JFR executive vice president standing before the elderly group who had saved many Jews from certain death. "It is so important to acknowledge the courage and heroism of the righteous, for each of you saved the honor of humanity," she told attentive crowd.
Under Nazi occupation non-Jews and their families caught helping Jews were punished with death. Poland which was once home to Europe's largest Jewish population, about 3.3 million before the war, also has the largest number of non-Jews recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem Israel's Holocaust memorial. "You will always be remembered in our prayers for you made it possible for generations to be born and to live," Stahl said.
Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, who knows many of the rescuers personally describes them as modest people who don't consider their actions heroic. "A universal theme is that 'we did nothing special. We were just normal,’" Schudrich said. "It's a really important lesson for everyone that helping another human being is normal."
Among those gathered was Janusz Durko, a retired historian and centenarian. During the war he and his wife hid 20 Jews who escaped the Warsaw ghetto. He said it was the "obvious" thing to do and never considered himself a hero or even courageous. "You had to help a person whose life was at risk," he said.
An 86-year-old Polish Christian woman fought back tears as she remembered the Jewish woman that she and her family rescued. For decades after the war the two women were close like sisters living around the corner from each other. As she was leaving the event she approached the Rabbi and holding back tears told him that her "sister" died last year of leukemia.
She said she was thankful to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous for helping pay for the expensive medications that the woman needed before her death.
The JFR supports impoverished Christians who rescued Jews during the war. Over the past twenty years, the Foundation has awarded more than $36 million to these aging heroes. Funds are used to cover the costs of food, home heating fuel, medical care, medication, and emergency needs or to help defray funeral expenses. The JFR which is a Jewish Foundation also provides one-time grants for the purchase of food during the Christmas holiday season to rescuers living in Poland and other Eastern European countries. The Foundation is “committed to supporting these aged and needy rescuers throughout the remainder of their lives,” according to their website.
Material for this article was gleaned from the origin report published by the World Jewish Congress.
Pictured: Rescuer Janusz Durko, 100 years old