“You will not remain indifferent.” Report from the ceremony of awarding the Righteous Among the Nations medals

Written by: Przemysław Batorski
On April 6, 2022 at the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, a ceremony of awarding the Righteous Among the Nations medals and honorary diplomas was held. The awards were collected by members of Polish families who saved the lives of Jews from the German occupiers during World War II. The event was attended by the ambassadors of Israel, the USA and Germany, the Masovian voivode, and representatives of the parliament. The event was co-organised by the Israeli Embassy in Poland.
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Israeli ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne and members of the Szeląg family. Photo by Grzegorz Kwolek (JHI)


Władysława Bartkowiak (monastic name Euzebia) saved the life of Oswald Rufajzen, when he, as a 20-year-old fugitive from the police station where he worked as a translator for the Germans, knocked on the door of the convent of the Sisters of the Resurrection in Mir (now Belarus). With the help of the nuns, he was hiding there until December 1943, when, fearing increasing German searches and not wanting to endanger the monastery, he departed for a partisan unit, largely composed of Jews. After the war, he entered the Carmelite Order and took the name Daniel. As Daniel Rufeisen, he lived in a convent in Haifa from 1959 until his death in 1998. On behalf of the heroine, the award was accepted by Jacek Bartkowiak.

Marian and Halina Dworczyk from Busko Zdrój saved Matylda Engelman and her daughter Karmela Zandrou, who had escaped from the ghetto in Skarżysko-Kamienna. During the years 1943-1944 they were hiding the women in their apartment in a sanatorium. Even before accepting the Jewish women, the Dworczyks and their three sons occupied only two rooms, and German soldiers often stayed in the building for treatment. Matylda and her daughter survived the war and immigrated to Australia. Karmela started a very large family. The award was accepted by Ewa Dworczyk on behalf of the heroes.

Jan and Aniela Szeląg helped Abraham Sztybel (now Adam Shtibel). The boy came from Komarów in the Lublin region, the Germans murdered his entire family. The Szeląg family, who lived in the village of Borki near Siedlce, treated him as their own child, taught him Polish and introduced him to Catholicism. After the war, Adam left for Israel, and then to Canada, where he lives to this day. On behalf of the heroes, the award was accepted by Bohdan Szeląg.

‘You belong to the elite of this world when it comes to the message of the highest good and sacrifice that saved lives. Today, the descendants of the survivors have their children, grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. We can see how memory lasts for generations and brings out the best in a human being,’ said Monika Krawczyk, director of the Jewish Historical Institute. – ‘The partnership between Yad Vashem with the Jewish Historical Institute can be dated back to 1950. Our institutions are linked by the figure of Rachela Auerbach, who was active in the Oneg Shabbat group collecting reports and documents in the Warsaw Ghetto. After moving to Israel, she was one of the founders of the Yad Vashem Institute.’

‘This example shows that even the most monstrous evil can result in good, that a man, even in the most terrible circumstances, can behave in a way that by all means is most deserving of being called humane behaviour,’ said Konstanty Radziwiłł, voivode of Mazovia.

‘Poland was very different from many other countries,’ said the Israeli ambassador to Poland, Yacov Livne. – ‘Poles who saved Jews risked their lives and the lives of their own families. Poland should be proud of these noble, brave women and men.’

‘Today we remember Sister Władysława Bartkowiak, who, like other people of the Church, did not forget the biblical commandment: you will not remain indifferent when your neighbor's blood is shed. We remember doctor Marian and Halina Dworczyk, who knew the difference between right and wrong. We remember Aniela and Jan Szeląg. Adam Shtibel, who the Szeląg family had saved, recalls: “They were devout Catholics and I think faith gave them the strength to protect me. It was a human act of kindness that showed me that good still exists in this cruel world,”’ added Yacov Livne.

We watched a recording with a statement by Adam Shtibel, now resident of Canada, who recalled the Szeląg family:

‘I felt safe, everyone protected me, even Jan Szeląg’s father. They never asked me if I was a Jew, didn't ask too many questions so that I wouldn't feel awkward. I am so grateful to them. I wish all people were as good as they are.’

During the ceremony, Julie Mizrachi sang two songs. The first, “Eli, Eli”, was written by Hanna Szenes, a poet and British intelligence agent, who was murdered after being arrested in Hungary in 1944, where she was to save her brothers and sisters – Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz. The second, “Ha'ayara Bo'eret”, is the work of Mordechaj Gebirtig – a Polish-Jewish poet who was murdered in the Kraków Ghetto in 1942.


See the recording of the ceremony on YouTube:

The report uses materials from the Israeli Embassy in Poland.

Przemysław Batorski   JHI Web Editor