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Polish citizens have the world's highest count of individuals awarded medals of Righteous among the Nations, given by the State of Israelmarker to non-Jews who saved Jews from extermination during the Holocaust. There are 6,135 Polish men and women recognized as "Righteous" to this day, amounting to over 25 per cent of the total number of 22,765 honorary titles awarded already.

It is estimated that in fact hundreds of thousands of Poles 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 of Polish resistance who was dedicated to aiding Jews—most notably, the Żegota organization.

In German-occupied Poland the task of rescuing Jews was especially difficult and dangerous. All household members were punished by death if a Jew was found concealed in their home or on their property. Estimates of the number of Poles who were killed by the Nazis for aiding Jews, among them 704 posthumously honored with medals, go as high as tens of thousands.


Before World War II, Poland's Jewish community had numbered between 3,300,000 and 3,500,000 persons or about 10 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. 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.

Announcement of death penalty for Jews captured outside the Ghetto and for Poles helping Jews (November 1941)
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 and hide in order to survive the war.
Many 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. John T. Pawlikowski, Polish Catholics and the Jews during the Holocaust, in, Google Print, p. 113 in Joshua D. Zimmerman, Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and Its Aftermath, Rutgers University Press, 2003, ISBN 0813531586

It is not exactly known how many Jews were helped by Żegota, but at one point in 1943 it had 2,500 Jewish children under its care in Warsawmarker alone. At the end of the war, Sendler attempted to return them to their parents but nearly all of them had died at Treblinkamarker. It is estimated that about half of the Jews who survived the war (thus over 50,000) were aided in some shape or form by Żegota.

Jews were saved by the entire communities with everyone engaged, such as in the villages of Markowamarker and Głuchów near Łańcutmarker, Główne, Ozorkówmarker, Borkowo near Sierpcmarker, Dąbrowica near Ulanówmarker, in Głupianka near Otwockmarker, Teresin near Chełmmarker Rudka, Jedlanka, Makoszkamarker, Tyśmienicamarker, and Bójkimarker in Parczewmarker-Ostrów Lubelskimarker area, Mętówmarker near Głusk – where "almost the entire population" rescued Jews – and in many other places. Numerous families who concealed their Jewish neighbors paid the ultimate price for doing so. Most notably, several hundred Poles were massacred in Słonimmarker. In Huta Staramarker near Buczaczmarker, all Polish Christians and the Jewish countrymen they protected, were burned alive in a church.

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. 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. Polish rescuers were fully conscious of the dangers facing them and their families not only from the Germans but also from betrayers (see:szmalcownik) within the local population.

Over 700 Polish "Righteous among the Nations" received their medals of honor posthumously, being murdered by the Germans for aiding or sheltering their Jewish neighbors.Estimates of the number of Poles who were killed for aiding Jews range in the tens of thousands.

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.


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 Vashemmarker would be full of trees and would turn into a forest."

Hans G. Furth holds that the number of Poles who helped Jews is greatly underestimated and 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 3 million" (the total prewar population of Polish citizens, including Jews, was estimated at 35,100,000, including 23,900,000 ethnic Poles).
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

Scholars still disagree on exact numbers. Father John T. Pawlikowski remarked that the hundreds of thousands of rescuers strike him as inflated. Historian Martin Gilbert has written that rescuers were an exception, albeit one that could be found in towns and villagers throughout Poland during the war.Martin Gilbert. The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust. Macmillan, 2003. pp 102-103.


After 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union (see: Operation Barbarossa), there were also some incidents of mass murder of Jews by ethnic Poles in the presence of German gendarmerie in the region of Poland earlier occupied by the Soviets, such as the Jedwabne pogrommarker and other pogroms partly triggered by Soviet war crimes against ethnic Poles. There were also a number of criminal or opportunist Poles (known as szmalcownicy) who blackmailed the Jews in hiding and their Polish rescuers or turned them over to the Germans for financial gains. Poles collaborating with the Germans in the prosecution of Jews however were few and 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 well-known collaboration stories, has contributed to a stereotype of the Polish population having been passive in regard to, or even supportive of, Jewish suffering.

Notable persons

See also


  1. Righteous Among the Nations - per Country & Ethnic Origin January 1, 2008
  2. “Righteous Among the Nations” by country at Jewish Virtual Library
  3. Gunnar S. Paulsson. Secret City. The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945. Yale University Press, 2002.
  4. 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.
  5. Martin Gilbert. The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust. Macmillan, 2003. pp 101.
  6. Andrzej Sławiński, Those who helped Polish Jews during WWII. Translated from Polish by Antoni Bohdanowicz. Article on the pages of the London Branch of the Polish Home Army Ex-Servicemen Association. Last accessed on March 14, 2008.
  7. The Righteous and their world. Markowa through the lens of Józef Ulma, by Mateusz Szpytma, Institute of National Rememberance
  8. Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, Wystawa „Sprawiedliwi wśród Narodów Świata”– 15 czerwca 2004 r., Rzeszów. „Polacy pomagali Żydom podczas wojny, choć groziła za to kara śmierci – o tym wie większość z nas.” (Exhibition "Righteous among the Nations." Rzeszów, June 15, 2004. Subtitled: "The Poles were helping Jews during the war - most of us already know that.") Last actualization November 8, 2008.
  9. Jolanta Chodorska, ed., "Godni synowie naszej Ojczyzny: Świadectwa," Warsaw, Wydawnictwo Sióstr Loretanek, 2002, Part Two, pp.161–62. ISBN 8372571031
  10. Kalmen Wawryk, To Sobibor and Back: An Eyewitness Account (Montreal: The Concordia University Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies, and The Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, 1999), pp.66–68, 71.
  11. Bartoszewski and Lewinówna, Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Znak, 1969, pp.533–34.
  12. Dariusz Libionka, "Polska ludność chrześcijańska wobec eksterminacji Żydów—dystrykt lubelski," in Dariusz Libionka, Akcja Reinhardt: Zagłada Żydów w Generalnym Gubernatorstwie (Warsaw: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej–Komisja Ścigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu, 2004), p.325.
  13. Moroz and Datko, Męczennicy za wiarę 1939–1945, pp.385–86 and 390–91. Stanisław Łukomski, “Wspomnienia,” in Rozporządzenia urzędowe Łomżyńskiej Kurii Diecezjalnej, no. 5–7 (May–July) 1974: p.62; Witold Jemielity, “Martyrologium księży diecezji łomżyńskiej 1939–1945,” in Rozporządzenia urzędowe Łomżyńskiej Kurii Diecezjalnej, no. 8–9 (August-September) 1974: p.55; Jan Żaryn, “Przez pomyłkę: Ziemia łomżyńska w latach 1939–1945.” Conversation with Rev. Kazimierz Łupiński from Szumowo parish, Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, no. 8–9 (September–October 2002): pp.112–17. In Mark Paul, Wartime Rescue of Jews. Page 252.
  14. Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project: Poland
  15. Robert Cherry, Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, ISBN 0742546667, Google Print, p.5
  16. Mordecai Paldiel, The Path of the Righteous: Gentile Rescuers of Jews, page 184. Published by KTAV Publishing House Inc.
  17. Holocaustforgotten Web site. Righteous of the World: Polish citizens killed while helping Jews During the Holocaust
  18. Unveiling the Secret City H-Net Review: John Radzilowski
  19. Furth, Hans G. One million Polish rescuers of hunted Jews?. Journal of Genocide Research, Jun99, Vol. 1 Issue 2, p227, 6p; (AN 6025705)
  20. Richard C. Lukas, 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.
  21. 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 Stanislaw Szurlej.
  22. Gunnar S. Paulsson, “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
  23. John T. Pawlikowski. Polish Catholics and the Jews during the Holocaust. In: Joshua D. Zimmerman, Contested Memories: Poles and Jews During the Holocaust and Its Aftermath, Rutgers University Press, 2003.
  24. Tomasz Strzembosz, “Inny obraz sąsiadów” archived by Internet Wayback Machine
  25. Robert Cherry, Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, Rethinking Poles and Jews, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, ISBN 0742546667, Google Print, p.25
  26. Anna Poray, ibidem: Irena Adamowicz
  27. Saving Jews: Polish Righteous
  28. Anna Poray, ibidem, Ferdynand Arczynski
  29. W. Bartoszewski and Z. Lewinowna, Appeal by the Polish Underground Association For Aid to the Jews, Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority, 2004.
  30. Anna Poray, Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives; Władysław Bartoszewski
  31. Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority 2008, The Righteous: Anna Borkowska, Poland
  32. Saving Jews. Polish Righteous: Banasiewicz family including Franciszek, Magdalena, Maria, Tadeusz and Jerzy
  33. Anna Poray, Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives; Bradlo family
  34. Kystyna Danko, Poland
  35. Anna Poray, ibidem; Dobraczyński, Jan
  36. About Maria Fedecka at, 2005
  37. Anna Poray, ibidem; Maria Fedecki, 2004.
  38. Saving Jews: Polish Righteous
  39. Saving Jews: Andrzej Garbuliński, Polish Righteous
  40. The Righteous Among the Nations
  41. Sylwia Kesler, Halina and Julian Grobelny as Rigteous Among the Nations
  42. Curtis M. Urness, Sr., edited by Terese Pencak Schwartz, Irene Gut Opdyke: She Hid Polish Jews Inside a German Officers' Villa, at
  43. Holocaust Memorial Center, 1988 - 2007, Opdyke, Irene; Righteous Gentile
  44. Anna Poray, ibidem; Henryk Iwanski alias Bystry, Armia Krajowa mayor.
  45. Stefan Jagodzinski at the
  46. Anna Poray, ibidem
  47. Poles Honoured by Israel
  48. Anna Poray, Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives
  49. Michael T. Kaufman, Jan Karski warns the West about Holocaust, The New York Times, July 15, 2000
  50. Anna Poray, Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives; Jan Karski
  51. Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority, The Tree in Honor of Zegota, 2008
  52. Maria Kotarba at
  53. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2008, The Righteous Among the Nations, 28 Jun 2003
  54. Peggy Curran, "Pole to be honoured for sheltering Jews from Gestapo," Reprinted by the Canadian Foundation of Polish-Jewish Heritage, Montreal Chapter. Station Cote St.Luc, C. 284, Montreal QC, Canada H4V 2Y4. First published: Montreal Gazette, August 5, 2003, and: Montreal Gazette, December 10, 1994.
  55. Jerzy Jan Lerski. Short bio based on biography featured in Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945
  56. March of the Living International, The Warsaw Ghetto
  57. Anna Poray, Polish Righteous, Those Who Risked Their Lives: Igor Newerly
  58. Saving Jews: Polish Righteous
  59. David M. Crowe, The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath. Published by Westview Press. Page 180.
  60. Wartime Rescue of Jews, edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in North America, Toronto 2007. "Collective Rescue Efforts of the Poles", (pdf file: 1.44 MB).
  61. Stefania and her younger sister Helena Podgorska, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C., 2008
  62. Anna Poray, Three Puchalski families: Jan Puchalski (1879-1946), Anna (1894-1994), and Stanisław (1920-2000), the Polish Righteous
  63. - interview with Konrad Rudnicki (Polish)
  64. Monika Scislowska, Associated Press, May 12, 2008,
  65. Grzegorz Łubczyk, FKCh "ZNAK" 1999-2008, Henryk Slawik - Our Raoul Wallenberg, Trybuna 120 (3717), May 24, 2002, p. Aneks 204, p. A, F.
  66. Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, „Sprawiedliwi wśród Narodów Świata” – Warszawa, 7 stycznia 2004
  67. Saving Jews: Polish Righteous
  69. FKCh "ZNAK" - 1999-2008, Righteous from Wroclaw (incl. Professor Rudolf Wiegl) 24.07.2003, from the Internet Archive
  70. Anna Poray, ibidem; Henryk Wolinski alias Waclaw
  71. Anna Poray, ibidem; Zagorski Jerzy & Maria. 2004
  72. Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority, 2008, Hiding in Zoo Cages; Jan & Antonina Zabinski, Poland
  73. Saving Jews: Polish Righteous

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