Polish Righteous among the Nations

Polish Righteous among the Nations

Polish citizens have the world's highest count of individuals who have been awarded "Righteous among the Nations" recognition by the State of Israel, given to non-Jews who saved Jews from extermination during the Holocaust.

In actual fact, hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens concealed and aided hundreds of thousands of their Polish-Jewish neighbors. Many of these initiatives were carried out by individuals, but there also existed organized networks dedicated to aiding Jews—most notably, the "Żegota" organization.

A total of 6,066 Polish "Righteous" are officially recognized by Israel, [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/righteous1.html “Righteous Among the Nations” by country] at Jewish Virtual Library] even though in German-occupied Poland "all household members" were punished by death if a Jew were found concealed in their home or on their property. Thousands of Poles, including 704 of the "Righteous," died for aiding Jews.


Before World War II, Poland's Jewish community had numbered between 3,300,000 and 3,500,000 persons—about ten percent of the country's total population. During the Nazi German Holocaust, millions of deportees from nearly every European country were sent to the "General Government".Piper, Franciszek Piper. "The Number of Victims" in Gutman, Yisrael & Berenbaum, Michael. "Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp", Indiana University Press, 1994; this edition 1998, p. 62.] Soon after war had broken out, the Germans began their extermination of Polish Jews. Most of them were quickly rounded up and imprisoned in ghettos, which they were forbidden to leave.

As it became apparent that not only were conditions in the ghettos terrible (hunger, diseases, etc.) but that the Jews were being singled out for extermination at Nazi concentration camps, they increasingly tried to escape the Nazi net and hide in order to survive the war. Hundreds of thousands of Polish Gentiles concealed hundreds of thousands of their Jewish neighbors. Many of these efforts arose spontaneously from individual initiatives, but there were also organized networks dedicated to aiding the Jews.

Most notably, in September 1942 a Provisional Committee to Aid Jews ("Tymczasowy Komitet Pomocy Żydom") was founded on the initiative of Polish novelist Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, of the famous artistic and literary Kossak family. This body soon became the Council for Aid to Jews ("Rada Pomocy Żydom"), known by the codename "Żegota", with Julian Grobelny as its president and Irena Sendler as head of its children's section.

It is not known how many Jews were helped by "Żegota", but at one point in 1943 it had 2,500 Jewish children under its care in Warsaw alone. At war's end, Sendler attempted to return them to their parents; but nearly all of them had died at Treblinka. An example of an entire Polish village that helped Jews was Markowa, near Łańcut, where many families concealed their Jewish neighbors and some paid the ultimate price for doing so.

One postwar Polish source that studied the subject estimated that "the number of Jews hiding in Poland—most of them helped in some way by Gentiles—ran into the hundreds of thousands." Another informed Polish source estimated that "the number of Jews sheltered by Poles" at one time might have been "as high as 450,000." However, concealment was no guarantee of safety. Estimates of Jewish survivors of the war in Poland are lower, since many Poles and Jews were caught by the Germans, and range from about 40,000 to 200,000.


Capital punishment of entire families, for aiding Jews, was the most draconian such Nazi practice against any nation in occupied Europe. [Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project: [http://isurvived.org/Frameset4References-3/-PolishRighteous.html Poland] ] [Robert Cherry, Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, "Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future", Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, ISBN 0742546667, [http://books.google.com/books?id=vkLTSB7NHwgC&pg=PA5&dq=%22Armia+Krajowa%22+largest&lr=&as_brr=3&ei=dscASPzyLZjWyASY5pi1DA&sig=nedPlTyt1ENbsExRcqoi_ZeaIbI Google Print, p.5] ] On November 10, 1941, the death penalty was expanded by Hans Frank to apply to Poles who helped Jews "in any way: by taking them in for the night, giving them a lift in a vehicle of any kind" or "feed [ing] runaway Jews or sell [ing] them foodstuffs." The law was made public by posters distributed in all major cities. [Mordecai Paldiel, [http://books.google.ca/books?id=YCz0J-8HIIMC&pg=PA184&dq=%22the+death+penalty+was+enlarged+to+apply+to+those+who+help+Jews+in+any+way%22&sig=g0KFOm4ABbDgPp_kGYVMuHAz-bA "The Path of the Righteous: Gentile Rescuers of Jews"] , page 184. Published by KTAV Publishing House Inc.]

The 704 Polish "Righteous" reportedly murdered by the Nazis were only a small percentage of the thousands of Poles known to have been executed for aiding Jews. [Ron Riesenbach, [http://www.riesenbach.com/riesenbachstory.html The Story of the Survival of the Riesenbach Family] ] Estimates of the number of Poles who died at the hands of the Germans for helping Jews vary from a few thousand to fifty thousand.

Gunnar S. Paulsson, in his work on the Jews of Warsaw, has demonstrated that, despite the much harsher conditions, Warsaw's Polish residents managed to support and conceal the same percentage of Jews as did the residents of cities in safer, supposedly less antisemitic countries of Western Europe. [http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=252691081495762 Unveiling the Secret City] H-Net Review: John Radzilowski]

Over 700 Polish "Righteous among the Nations" were murdered by the Germans for aiding or sheltering their Jewish neighbors.Chaim Chefer, [http://www.holocaustforgotten.com/list.htm Righteous of the World: Polish citizens killed while helping Jews During the Holocaust] ]


As of 2008, there were 6,066 officially recognized Polish Righteous—the highest count among nations of the world. At a 1979 international historical conference dedicated to Holocaust rescuers, J. Friedman said in reference to Poland: "If we knew the names of all the noble people who risked their lives to save the Jews, the area around Yad Vashem would be full of trees and would turn into a forest."Furth, Hans G. "One million Polish rescuers of hunted Jews?". Journal of Genocide Research, Jun99, Vol. 1 Issue 2, p227, 6p; (AN 6025705)]

In 1999, Hans G. Furth, a scholar of the Holocaust, noted that the number of Poles who helped their Jewish neighbors is greatly underestimated, and that there might have been as many as 1,200,000 Polish rescuers. Władysław Bartoszewski, a wartime member of "Żegota", estimates that "at least several hundred thousand Poles... participated in various ways and forms in the rescue action." Recent research supports estimates that about a million Poles were involved in such rescue efforts, "but some estimates go as high as three million"Richard C. Lukas, [http://books.google.ca/books?id=lz9obsxmuW4C&pg=PA13&dq=%22&sig=ACfU3U0SGgyvqSbL4bypepYoO_CbYc_N_w "Out of the Inferno: Poles Remember the Holocaust"] University Press of Kentucky 1989 - 201 pages. Page 13; also in Richard C. Lukas, "The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-1944", University Press of Kentucky 1986 - 300 pages.] (the total prewar population of Polish citizens, including Jews, was estimated at 35,100,000, including 23,900,000 ethnic Poles London Nakl. Stowarzyszenia Prawników Polskich w Zjednoczonym Królestwie [1941] ,"Polska w liczbach. Poland in numbers". Zebrali i opracowali Jan Jankowski i Antoni Serafinski. Przedmowa zaopatrzyl Stainslaw Szurlej.] ).

How many people in Poland rescued Jews? Of those that meet Yad Vashem’s criteria—perhaps 100,000. Of those that offered minor forms of help—perhaps two or three times as many. Of those who were passively protective—undoubtedly the majority of the population. — "Gunnar S. Paulsson" Gunnar S. Paulsson, [http://www.savingjews.org/docs/clergy_rescue.pdf “The Rescue of Jews by Non-Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland,”] published in "The Journal of Holocaust Education", volume 7, nos. 1 & 2 (summer/autumn 1998): pp.19–44. Reprinted in “Collective Rescue Efforts of the Poles,” p. 256]


There were a small number of opportunist Poles who blackmailed the hiding Jews, turned them over to the Nazis or even murdered them (see Jedwabne pogrom for the most infamous example). But Poles collaborating with the Nazis were very few—estimates speak of several thousand (see World War II collaboration and Poland for details). As Paulsson notes, "a single hooligan or blackmailer could wreak severe damage on Jews in hiding, but it took the silent passivity of a whole crowd to maintain their cover."

The fact that the Polish Jewish community was decimated during World War II, coupled with stories about Polish collaborators, has created, particularly among some Jews, an unfair stereotype of the Polish population having been passive in regard to, or even supportive of, Jewish suffering. [Robert Cherry, Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, "Rethinking Poles and Jews", Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, ISBN 0742546667, [http://books.google.ca/books?id=vkLTSB7NHwgC&pg=PA25&vq=&source=gbs_search_s&sig=ACfU3U2sWjHTt3nh2IfTooI-YzXtvM-KwA Google Print, p.25] ]

Notable persons

ee also

*Holocaust in Poland
*Polish death camp controversy
*History of the Jews in Poland



* Anna Poray, [http://www.savingjews.org Polish Righteous: Those Who Risked Their Lives] , with photographs and bibliography, 2004. Lists 5,400 Poles recognized as "Righteous among the Nations" by Israel's Yad Vashem (December 31, 1999), including 704 who paid with their lives for saving Jews.

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