Poland's Dueling Holocaust Monuments to 'Righteous Gentiles' Spark Painful Debate

How To Honor Poles Who Saved Jews in Shoah?

Righteous Ribbon: A ribbon emblazoned with names of Polish ‘righteous gentiles’ would wrap around a church in a planned memorial in Warsaw.
city of warsaw
Righteous Ribbon: A ribbon emblazoned with names of Polish ‘righteous gentiles’ would wrap around a church in a planned memorial in Warsaw.

By Donald Snyder

Published April 27, 2014, issue of May 02, 2014.
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According to Grabowski, there are plans for additional memorials in other Polish cities.

“The Righteous were a desperate, hunted, tiny minority,” Grabowski protested. “They were not the norm. They were the exception.”

Architect Czeslaw Bielecki, a Jewish supporter of the Grzybowski Square monument who has been involved in the selection of its design, said Polish researchers have a higher number of rescuers than Yad Vashem, in part because they will name institutions such as convents where Jews were hidden. Most of the Jews rescued were children, said Bielecki, among them, former Polish foregn minister Adam Daniel Rotfeld.

“Polish researchers have come up with a higher figure for Righteous Gentile than the Yad Vashem number,” said Bielecki, who added that his own parents were saved by two Catholic women “who hid them at great risk.”

Today, there only 10,000 to 15,000 Jews left in a country of 38.3 million, compared with Poland’s prewar Jewish population of 3.3 million. But traditional anti-Semitic attitudes remain a reality.

A recent nationwide poll in Poland found that 63% of the respondents believe there’s a Jewish conspiracy to control international banking and the media, while 90% of these respondents have never met a Jew.

In the absence of contact with actual Jews, the gap between narratives has widened. A 2009 poll conducted by the Polish Center for Holocaust Research asked who suffered more in World War II, the Jews or the non-Jewish Poles. The majority said both suffered equally. Indeed, of the 6 million Polish citizens killed during World War II, half were non-Jews. But this perception reflects a narrative that does not account for the fact that 90% of Polish Jews were killed, compared with 10% of ethnic Poles.

“Many Poles say they suffered more than the Jews during the Holocaust,” said Barbara Engelking, the center’s director. “We are all the best in suffering.”

Contact Don Snyder at feeback@forward.com


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