(JTA) — Holocaust-commemoration activists in Poland launched with British government funding a last-ditch effort to interview witnesses to attempts to rescue Jews during from the genocide.
The campaign, titled “Silent Heroes,” was announced Thursday at a news conference in Warsaw that was organized by the From the Depths organization and attended by the United Kingdom’s Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, Eric Pickles, and the head of Poland’s largest Jewish organization, TSKZ President Artur Hoffman.
One witness who was interviewed last month, Natalia Jakoniuk, suffered a debilitating stroke the following week, demonstrating how “time is of the essence and not on our side,” From the Depths founder Jonny Daniels said.
Under the new campaign, in which journalists and researchers conduct filmed interviews with witnesses, posters asking witnesses to step forward will be placed in government offices with nationwide distribution.
In her testimony, Jakoniuk, who was a child younger than 10 during World War II, said she recalls people living in the attic of her home in the village of Przeradz Maly outside Warsaw. “They didn’t tell us, the children,” she said of her parents. But they did instruct her to be “on the lookout, to see if the German gendarmerie who invaded Poland were coming.”
One time, when she was six years old, she was told to run to neighboring village to warn the residents that the Germans were coming, she said. “That was my job,” she recalled in the interview. That year, a German soldier inspected their house and complimented her mother on how tidy it was, not knowing there were Jews hiding in the attic.
“If he had taken a ladder and climbed up to the attic, we would have all been killed,” she said.