The museum. Photo: wikipedia
Held at the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and co-organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the exhibition explores the quandaries faced by those who decided to help Jews.
“The Germans held executions on the market square,” recalls Ryszard Ciszewski, who helped shelter Jews at his family home in in Stanislawow (now Ivano Frankivsk, Ukraine).
“Poles and Jews were hanged side by side, and that's how the Germans demonstrated what was in store for Poles who helped Jews,” he said.
A quarter of the over 28,000 'Righteous Gentiles' recognised by Israel's Yad Vashem Institute are Poles.
Individual stories are evoked in the exhibition, as well as the Polish government-in-exile's efforts, which included backing the Council of Aid to Jews (Zegota), which was set up as part of the official Polish Underground State.
Stains on Poland's wartime treatment of Jews have been highlighted in recent years, owing to books such as Jan Gross's Neighbours (2001), which focused on what had been a largely forgotten massacre of Jews by Polish Catholics in Jedwabne.
US-based historian Jan Grabowski, the son of a Holocaust survivor, has said that although “for many parts of Polish society it is very difficult,” Poland has done "the most" of its former Eastern bloc neighbours in attempting to reconcile with its Jewish past.
Nevertheless, a survey this year by the Centre for Research on Prejudice at Warsaw University found that 23 percent of respondents still maintain religion-based prejudices against Jews, such as blaming them for the death of Christ.
'They risked their lives: Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust' is a free exhibition which runs until 24 March. Meanwhile, work on the museum's permanent exhibition is approaching completion and the grand opening is scheduled for 28 October. (nh)