Poland’s PM honors citizens who helped Jews during Holocaust

As part of nationwide observances, Duda praises those whose ‘Christian values and ethics were stronger than the fear of death, not only theirs, but also of their families’

Members of a foundation supporting Poles who saved Jews from the Holocaust honour resistance emissary Jan Karski, who informed western leaders about mass killings of Jews by Nazi Germans, during national day of remembrance of Poles who risked their lives to save Jews, in Warsaw, Poland, on March 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Members of a foundation supporting Poles who saved Jews from the Holocaust honour resistance emissary Jan Karski, who informed western leaders about mass killings of Jews by Nazi Germans, during national day of remembrance of Poles who risked their lives to save Jews, in Warsaw, Poland, on March 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland — Polish President Andrzej Duda took part in nationwide observances Friday to honor Poles who risked — and often lost — their lives trying to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Duda spoke at a memorial site in Markowa, a village in southeastern Poland where on March 24, 1944, Nazi forces shot and killed a farmer, his pregnant wife and their six children along with eight Jews the family was hiding at their farm.

Pope Francis has declared the members of the Ulma family as martyrs. In Poland, they are a symbol of the bravery of the Poles who took the utmost risk while helping Jews during WWII.

Speaking at the Markowa Museum of Poles Saving Jews During World War II, Duda noted there were many families in the region and across Poland who hid Jews, in many cases ensuring they survived.

The names of the Ulmas and of other families engraved on plaques testify that there were many people who “behaved in a decent way, whose love of their brethren, Christian values and ethics were stronger than the fear of death, not only theirs, but also of their families,” Duda said.

After invading Poland on September 1, 1939, Nazi Germans punished any form of assisting Jews by killing the helpers and their families.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda speaks at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, October 19, 2021. (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

Still, more than 7,200 Poles are listed by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, as having taken risks to save Jews.

Publications by historians in recent years have also led to bitter debates about those Poles who turned in their Jewish neighbors, or participated in the killing or victimization of Jews.

Disagreements over aspects of Polish behavior during the Holocaust have created tensions between Poland and Israel over the years.

However, the two countries took a major step toward ending a multi-faceted diplomatic crisis on Wednesday, as the two countries’ foreign ministers signed an agreement to immediately allow for the resumption of Israeli youth Holocaust trips to Poland. No details were given on the contents of the agreement.

Some three million of the estimated 3.3 million Jews who lived in Poland before World War II were killed during the Holocaust, as well as almost three million Polish non-Jews.

The Nazis built major death camps, including Auschwitz, in Poland.

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