Friday, December 13, 2002

Holocaust Museum honors Polish dissident and Holocaust rescuer

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski has seen it all.

At 80, he has outlived most of the friends who shared his intense experiences, those miraculous moments of carving life out of the wreckage of war, while risking death.

Twice the foreign minister of Poland, an author and historian, an anti-Communist dissident and ideologue of the Solidarity movement, a prisoner in Communist jails for seven years, an activist in the Polish underground, a survivor of eight months at Auschwitz, Bartoszewski is also the last prominent founder of a movement that clandestinely rescued, hid and smuggled Jews to safety in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Members and organizers of Zegota, or the Council for Aid to Jews, set up in Poland in 1942, operated under Nazi occupation laws that promised instant execution for any Poles -- and their families -- helping Jewish citizens, even for just sneaking in a piece of bread to a Jewish fugitive.

...Zegota was financed by and functioned as an agency of the Polish government-in-exile. It saved and helped 4,000 Jews, including 2,500 children. The goal of the group, he explained, was to arrange for escapes, secure forged documents, find overnight shelters and ensure fugitives were fed.

..."I did not know I was doing anything great," said Bartoszewski, who became involved in Polish exile groups and intelligence work. "I am a Catholic, raised in a Catholic school. We were taught to love our neighbors. It was one of the Ten Commandments; I simply took it for real.

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