The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Tuesday awarded a posthumous medal for heroism to three Poles who risked their lives to protect Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust.
Piotr Kozlowski, charge d’affaires at Poland’s embassy in Israel, spoke at the Jerusalem ceremony without mentioning a diplomatic row over the Polish role in the mass murder of the country’s Jews.
Kozlowski was summoned by Israel’s Foreign Ministry Sunday after Poland’s right-wing-dominated parliament adopted legislation setting fines or up to three years in jail for anyone who accuses the Polish nation or state of complicity with Nazi crimes or refers to Nazi death camps as Polish.
Poland was attacked and occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II, losing six million of its citizens including three million Jews.
Yad Vashem opposed the Polish bill, which has yet to become law, saying it “is liable to blur the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust.”
But it added that to refer to the extermination camps the Nazis built in Poland as Polish is “a historical misrepresentation.”
Still, the legislation has sparked outrage in Israel, with some lawmakers accusing the Polish government of outright Holocaust denial.
“Everybody knows that many, many thousands of Poles killed or betrayed their Jewish neighbors to the Germans, causing them to be murdered,” said Efraim Zuroff, a prominent historian on the Holocaust and the Eastern Europe director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “The Polish state was not complicit in the Holocaust, but many Poles were.”
At Tuesday’s ceremony, Jan Dziadosz, his wife Sabina and their son Aleksandr were honored as “Righteous Among the Nations,” the title Yad Vashem applies to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
The family sheltered two Jews on their farm near Modliborzyce, a village in southeastern Poland. Both later made their way out of the country, Yad Vashem said.
The family’s medal and certificate were accepted by the couple’s daughter Alicja Mularska.
Also at the ceremony was their grandson Zbigniew Mularski, who had submitted the application to have his grandparents honored.
He acknowledged that there was also bad behavior among the Poles during the war.
“There were also in our country people who were not righteous,” he said in English.
“I think the majority were concentrated on themselves, how to survive.”
Yad Vashem says it has recognized more than 26,500 people who saved Jews from the Holocaust, including more than 6,700 Poles.