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"Polish heroism". Recipients of Antonina and Jan Żabiński awards have been announced

TVN24 News in English

tvn24“Ssimple, plain, pure courage”

“We came here to honour courage – simple, plain, pure courage,” the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Yehiel Hilik Bar said on Monday in Warsaw. During the official ceremony at the Warsaw zoo, Antonina and Jan Żabiński awards were bestowed on Poles who saved Jews during World War II. This time, the recipients were the Franciscan nuns from the Convent of St. Mary, Natalia Jakoniuk with her family and – posthumously – members of the Kawczyński family.

The From the Depths Foundation awards the distinction to Poles, who, for formal reasons, have never received recognition from Yad Vashem.

The official ceremony, presided over by the American actor Dean Cain, known for his role as Superman, was held at the Warsaw zoo, where the Żabińskis hid and saved over 300 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto from 1943 to 1945.

“Polish heroism”

The event was attended by, among others, Polish and Israeli rabbis, a delegation of four congressmen from the United States, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Yehiel Hilik Bar, Polish and foreign parliamentarians, government officials, as well as recipients of the Righteous Among the Nations medal, awarded by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.

“By bestowing the Antonina and Jan Żabiński award, we express our gratitude to the Polish heroes and tell the whole world about Polish heroism during World War II,” said Jonny Daniels, president of the From the Depths Foundation.

The awards

This year, the recipients of the award include Franciscan nuns from the Convent of St. Mary, who saved the lives of over 750 Jews, both children and adults. The number of Jews saved by the nuns or their families keeps growing, as survivors are still being discovered. From the 120 nuns involved in efforts to save Jews, only four were awarded the Yad Vashem medals, while the rest were never recognized.

mong the recipients of this year's award are Natalia Jakoniuk and her family. The nun and her siblings, parents and many other families in the village of Przeradz Mały, about 120 km from Warsaw, hid Jews during the war. The third award will be bestowed posthumously on the family of Daniel Kawczyński, a member of the British Parliament. The brother of his grandfather Jan Kawczyński, his wife Helena and their 10-year old daughter Magdalena were murdered for helping Jews. The family never received any recognition for their deeds.

Due to ill health, Natalia Jakoniuk could not accept the award in person. The award ceremony was attended by her sister and her daughter, who said that her mother “understood the value of the lives of her neighbours.”

“Triumph over fear”

Stanisław Karczewski, speaker of the Senate present at the ceremony, thanked all those who risked their lives and the lives of their families, so as to help others. “I bow low to them and thank them for being among us,” said the speaker of the Senate. 

urning to the president of the From the Depths Foundation Jonny Daniels, Karczewski said: “What you are doing is great, magnificent, and deserves the highest praise. I am deeply grateful to you for probing the past to discover those who should have been honoured long ago. You are doing so much to bring our two nations – Polish and Jewish – closer together,” said Karczewski.

“We have gathered here in deep admiration and respect for these extraordinary Polish heroes,” stressed the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Yehiel Hilik Bar. He added that today Poland is serious about “learning about its own history, and wants to respect this history.”

“The courage of the righteous heroes we are about to honour today is part of this history. It is also the very purpose of our presence here today to honour courage – simple, plain, pure courage,” said the deputy speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

nvoking the words of Nelson Mandela, he stressed that courage is not the “absence of fear”, the “triumph over fear”.

“Ultimate good”

Chairman of the Law and Justice party Jarosław Kaczyński, who also attended the ceremony, said that the Holocaust “was the arch crime and an expression of the ultimate evil present in history, which showed its most terrible face once again in the 20th century.”

“However, this ultimate evil was confronted by something that can well be described as ultimate good, as heroism of the highest level, heroism that did not waver in the face of torture, death, the death of one's family or even one's own children. And this heroism, just as the horrific crime of the Holocaust, must be remembered, must be present in our thoughts and must be celebrated,” he said.

he Government of the United Kingdom and the president of Warsaw Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz were honorary patrons of the award ceremony.

Last year, the first Antonina and Jan Żabiński awards were bestowed on Ryszard Żabiński, the Skoczylas family and Natalia Borkiewicz.

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