Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Poland Awards Dozens for Saving Jews During WWII

Dozens of Poles were awarded medals Monday for risking their lives during World War II to save Jews from the Holocaust.

President Lech Kaczynski awarded state medals — many posthumously — to around 70 people from across Poland. First lady Maria Kaczynska presented them to the people or their relatives in a gala ceremony at Warsaw's National Theater.

Among those awarded was Zofia Brusikiewicz, 81, whose parents hid 13 Jews in an apartment in Warsaw and Irena Gut-Opdyke, whose dramatic story is narrated in a one-act play, "Irena's Vow," that opened Off Broadway in September.

Gut-Opdyke hid 12 Jews in the basement of an SS officer's house, where she served as a housekeeper. She died, aged 85, in 2003 in New York, where her family recently received her medal.

Poland was the only country under Nazi occupation where helping Jews was punished with summary execution of the entire family.

Most of the recipients are already among the 6,000 Poles holding the title of the Righteous Among the Nations from Israel's Yad Vashem. They were largely found thanks to testimony deposited with the institute.

About 3.5 million Jews, or 10 percent of the country's population, lived in Poland before World War II. Most were killed in death camps, like Auschwitz-Birkenau, that the Nazis built when they occupied Poland between 1939 and 1945.

Around 200,000 survived, but many left for Israel or other countries amid anti-Semitic purges of the 1960s. Jewish life is being slowly rekindled since Poland shed communism in 1989. (Source: AP)

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