The awards, named after Antonina and Jan Żabiński, a Polish couple who saved over 300 Jews during the war by sheltering them in the Warsaw zoo, were presented in the Polish capital for the second time by the From the Depths foundation, which aims to build a common future between Poles and Jews.
Award recipients included the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, who saved the lives of over 750 Jews, including children and the elderly, during WW II.
More than 100 Franciscan Sisters of Mary are estimated to have been involved in saving Jews during the war, but only a few have received Righteous Among the Nations medals from Israel’s Yad Vashem Institute. The rest were never before honoured.
A woman named Natalia Jakoniuk from the village of Przeradz Mały, some 120 km from Warsaw, was also among the award recipients. Her family hid Jewish families in the attic of their home, and Natalia, a small girl at the time, acted as the lookout, notifying people of approaching Germans.
Those honoured also included the family of a man named Jan Kawczyński, who was murdered by the Nazis, along with his wife and 10-year-old daughter, for helping Jews and hiding them in his home. British MP Daniel Kawczyński is a descendant of Jan Kawczyński.
The presentation ceremony was held at the Żabinskis' former villa on the zoo's grounds where they sheltered Jews during the war.
The Żabinski Awards are given out to Polish gentiles who have not received Righteous Among the Nations medals for procedural reasons.
Among those taking part in Monday’s ceremony were Polish Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and the head of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jarosław Kaczyński.
Those in attendance also included the deputy Speaker of Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, Yehiel Hilik Bar, who spoke of his admiration and respect for “those extraordinary Polish heroes.”
“We have come here today to honour courage – simple, ordinary, pure courage,” he said, quoting the words of Nelson Mandela that “courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
'Heroism of the highest order'
Kaczyński said that the Holocaust "was a massive crime and a manifestation of the most extreme evil that appeared in history and which in the 20th century reared its terrifying, ugly head."
He added: "But this extreme evil was opposed by something that can be safely described as extreme good, as heroism of the highest order, heroism that did not step back at the risk of torture, death, the risk of losing one’s loved ones, even one’s own children." (gs-mk/pk)
Source: IAR, PAP