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Exhibit of the month: Poles saving Jews during World War II

Sat, 03/03/2018 - 10:32
Exhibit of the month: Poles saving Jews during World War II Fot. Mikołaj Bujak

In the Museum of the Second World War on March 3, another exhibit of the month was presented. As a part of the cycle, souvenirs related to the help that a Polish family gave to a Jewish family, risking their own lives, were presented.

Deputy Director of the Museum of the Second World War, dr. Tomasz Szturo, opened the event, emphasizing the phenomenon of the presented objects, which are the essence of the fate of the Polish and Jewish communities under the German occupation.

"A week ago, on the stage of the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk, an extraordinary concert took place, it was a performance dedicated to the Polish Righteous Among the Nations. One of the artists, Darek Malejonek, formulated the question: "Have we wondered why from all over Europe, only in Poland were people threatened with such a cruel punishment for supporting the Jewish community?". Punishment, which was ruthlessly exercised for the smallest manifestation of empathy towards persecuted Jewish brethren. He replied that "Certainly because the German occupiers knew that the Poles would not agree to the Holocaust policy, that they would not allow the persecution and extermination of the Jewish community."

"The exhibit we present today is an exemplification of the authenticity of these words. We receive a frozen history of the coexistence of two nations, over which the spectre of the Holocaust has come. A multiple perspective coincides in it: the oppressors, victims and the Righteous, and here emerges an image of a nation that did not agree to the Holocaust policy. For it turns out that for the majority of the Polish society during World War II, the evangelical rule of loving one's neighbour was not just an empty maxim. May this exhibit, which is a historical testimony, be the decisive argument in the discussion that emerged on 27 January "- summed up the Deputy Director.

The head of the Collections Department, Dr. Marcin Westphal, presented the profiles of people for whom the exhibits presented were important mementos or emblems of the occupational life.

"Almost 7 thousand people of Polish nationality have been honoured with the medal "Righteous among the nations of the world", a medal awarded for helping Jews during World War II. When we talk about the Holocaust, we are talking about millions of victims, but this is only statistics, and we would like to talk about – just like in our main exhibition – about specific people. For this reason, as the latest exhibit of the month, we present two unique objects: an ornate kilim belonging to a Jewish family hidden by a Polish family and a German announcement that helping Jews will be punished with the death penalty. "

Dr Marcin Westphal stressed that these objects present the fate of specific people: the Polish family, Jan and Jadwiga Joniuk, who ran a farm in the village of Grochów near Sokołów Podlaski and the Jewish family Sara and Abraham Jomtef. Both families knew each other well - before the war, Abraham, who was a tailor, sewed clothes for the Joniuks family. When the Second World War began, the Germans established a ghetto in Węgrów, to which the Jomtef family was sent. The Joniuks already then helped them by bringing food to the ghetto and, when the opportunity arose, they hid the Jewish family. They helped Sara and Abraham and their two children, as well as two brothers of Sara, Szmul and Szymek Walerschtein.

The eight-member Joniuk family hid a six-member Jewish family. In the attic of a utility room, a shelter was prepared for them, where they stayed for almost two years, until July 1944. In the middle of 1944, the retreating German troops set up a camp in the Joniuk's farm. German soldiers lived in the barn, officers in the Joniuks’ house, and the Polish family hid Jews in the attic. Risking their lives, the Poles protected their Jewish friends who, once the danger had passed, left for Łódź, and after 1945 to Canada and later to Israel.

Contacts of both families were maintained by their descendants until the 1980s, when the Jewish family provided help to the Poles during the martial law - they helped them materially: sending food and clothes. In 1983, the Joniuk family was honoured with the medal "Righteous Among the Nations". The grandchildren of both families have maintained contact with each other to this day.