"May the memory of them remain”
Of the twenty-six thousand people who have been awarded
the “Righteous Among the Nations” medal for saving Jews,
Poles constitute twenty-five percent of that total...
From the beginning of the German occupation of Polish territory in 1939, the Germans began to persecute Jews. From November 1939, a regulation was introduced according to which all Jews over 10 years had to wear a band with the Star of David. Belongings were being confiscated, ghettos were being created (the Germans built more than 400 ghettos), people were being transported to labour and death camps. In 1941 a decision about “the final solution of the Jewish question” was made which planned the mass extermination of this community. The Government of the Republic of Poland in exile as well as the Polish Underground State took intensive measures to save the endangered Jewish community.
In February 1942 a unit responsible for helping Jews was created within the scope of the Union of Armed Struggle and later on with the Home Army. On the 4th of December 1942 the "Żegota" Council for Aid to Jews was constituted. Its units tell us a lot about its activities: housing, field, children and medical unit. The involvement of Catholic-national communities was significant (the example of Zofia Kossak-Szczucka is worth mentioning) as well as the activity of other communities and various people e.g. Irena Sendlerowa who saved about 2500 Jewish children.
Apart from institutional help, Polish people also helped Jews individually. Polish monastic orders and priests played a crucial role. It is estimated that, thanks to their help, about a hundred thousand Jews were saved. Under the conditions of the regulation of governor-general, Hans Frank, from the 15th of October 1941, people who were directly helping Jews, their families and even their neighbours were to be punished by death. The regulation reads as follows: “The Jews who leave their assigned district without the authorisation will be punished with death. The same punishment concerns any person who consciously give such Jews shelter. Instigators and helpers are subject to the same punishment as the perpetrator, an attempted act shall be punished as a performed act”. It meant that people who were putting Jews up, giving them food or even giving a ride to a Jew fleeing from a ghetto could face the death penalty. The best known example of Polish heroes who were killed by occupiers for helping Jews is the Ulma family from the village of Markowa near Łańcut. They were hiding eight Jews: five men and three women. On the 24th of March 1944 German officers from Łańcut murdered Józef Ulma, his wife Wiktoria, who was heavily pregnant at the time, and their six children (the eldest one was 8 and the youngest one was 1.5 years old). Eight Jews who were hiding were killed as well. In 2003 the Przemyska Diocese began the beatification process of the Ulma family.
The Ulma family was not the only family who was helping Jews. In the village of Markowa other peasants saved the lives of seventeen people of Jewish origin. Thousands of Polish villages and towns have such nameless heroes. No comprehensive research on Poles who helped Jews during the times of occupation has been conducted yet. We can say that this task is extremely important both on account of simple justice (honouring thousands of Polish heroes) and for national reasons. Many false accusations against the Polish nation – allegedly partly responsible for the tragedy of Holocaust – can be refuted by showing the facts. The most important state award for helping Jews during the occupation is the title “Righteous Among the Nations”. This title is awarded by the World Holocaust Remembrance Center Yad Vashem. Among the twenty-six thousand people given this award, Poles constitute twenty-five percent (more than six and a half thousand people).
In 2006 the Institute of National Remembrance began working on a project “Poles saving Jews”. More recently, the Radio Maryja community has been putting in a lot of effort to show the unknown heroes who did not hesitate to risk their lives in order to save thousands of Jews in the name of love of neighbour to the world. As a result, the Chapel of Remembrance was created. It is an unusual work, not only because of its cognitive but also artistic values. Thousands of Polish citizens became involved in this project and lengthy documentation was gathered. A chapel was built, which commemorates thousands of heroes.
Associate Professor Mieczysław Ryba, Catholic University of Lublin, lecturer at WSKSiM
The virtual chapel design makes it possible to access its interiors using your web browser on the Internet. The visualisation makes it possible to transform the Chapel of Remembrance into virtual reality. The project will be continually developed alongside the evolving development of this technology.
The design for the virtual Chapel of Remembrance is only a visualisation. No technical or building documentation was used to create it. The design is based entirely on the photographs of the chapel and its archive materials. Online visualisation is subject to a number of factors that can distort the real picture of the Chapel of Remembrance. These factors result from the project’s online optimization that is meant to enable its presentation solely with the use of a web browser and without any additional applications.
If you have VR glasses, you can enjoy an extended reality view of the facility. Detailed advice on how to utilise this feature will be available on the visualisation level.
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During the occupation, the Dec family helped Jews both in Hadle and in Pantalowice. Władysław lent a Jewish woman a pair of shoes so that she could get to his uncle’s home in Biadoliny. His surname was Bogusz and he was Maria Dec’s brother. Thanks to his efforts, the Jewish woman emigrated to America. Apart from that, Władysław Dec and Anna Dec took a Jewish boy under their roof. The boy helped them in everyday duties.
Three of the Dec brothers had prepared a bunker in the forest in Hadle Szklarskie, in which seven Jews were hiding: Juda, Jankiel, Chana, Józef, Brand, Berek and Małka Szinfeld. The brothers also secretly provided them with food. Their father – Józef Dec – did not know anything about their activities. Władysław was helping his brothers. Other residents of Hadle, Pantalowice and Grzegorzówka, who were also hiding some Jews for short periods of time, got involved as well. The Jews were hiding in the bunker from the summer until November 1942.
In November, a hunt was organised in the forest. One of the participants noticed the bunker and reported it to the Germans. The Jewish men managed to flee, but two Jewish women remained. When German officers led by Anton Hachmann reached the place, they found a well-organized hideaway with food...
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The historical data about these people has been gathered and verified in detail starting in August 2013. The testimonies concerning their fate were verified from numerous sources (including contact with living family members – if there was such a possibility, IPN sources concerning a given case, church archives, and other publications).
The archival records continue to be expanded. Entering all the materials into the new website is now in progress.
Gathering testimonies from people who contacted us via telephone began in August 2013. At the same time we contacted witnesses to the stories already described in many publications in order to clarify inconsistent facts (for example, many publications contained contradictory information concerning dates, names or circumstances, etc.).
About two weeks later a database of records was started containing audio records and letters.
The conversations with people who responded to our appeal were organized on the basis of a questionnaire prepared by sociologists.
Concurrently, we gathered information from witnesses, participants, or relatives of the people memorialised, as well as information from other available sources such as books, publications available online, and archives of research institutes.
Once the unique archives at the Chapel of Remembrance in Toruń were collected, a number of international Holocaust research organisations, including the Yad Vashem Institute from Jerusalem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, expressed their interest in cooperation.
The publication solely expresses the opinions of its author and cannot be identified
with the official stance of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
God’s blessings to all those who made the testimonies reported in this memorial. It is now possible to pay tribute and homage to those brave Poles who helped Jews during World War II and suffered the ultimate price. The works of this memorial will be ongoing in an effort to extend the archives knowledge, so anyone who would like to report new facts is invited to contact us by phone:
+48 609 002 482
or by e-mail: