A Polish-born MP received an award in Warsaw on Monday in honour of his great-uncle who sheltered seven Jewish families during the Holocaust before being discovered and killed.
Daniel Kawczynski, the MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, picked up the ‘From the Depths Zabinski Award’ on behalf of his grandfather’s brother Jan.
Speaking to Jewish News ahead of his trip, the parliamentarian said he had first heard the tragic story of Jan when he was a 12-year old boy, on his first trip back to Poland, before “secreting it away in my cognitive memory”.
Jan Kawczynski, his wife and daughter had lived on a farm and sheltered seven Jewish families in outbuildings and lofts before the Germans found out.
“He was on his way back one day when a neighbour stopped him and pleaded for him to turn around and run, because the Germans had his farm surrounded. But he continued on to the farm, because his wife and daughter were there. He knew he was going to be killed, because that was the penalty for harbouring Jews.”
The MP only recently began talking about his family’s heroic role in the Shoah after a chance conversation with Jonny Daniels, the British born founder of From The Depths Foundation, which works to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.
“I was at Jonny’s house, he’d invited me over for a kosher dinner, when I was reminded of these stories about Jan that I’d been told when I was young. I told Jonny and he was fascinated. He went off to research it, spending months talking to people to corroborate it.”
Honouring members of Kawczynski family killed by Germans during WW2 for protecting and hiding Jewish neighbours. pic.twitter.com/uAzWMjF2WQ
— Daniel Kawczynski (@DKShrewsbury) September 18, 2017
The family’s fate, recalled orally through the generations, was that Jan “was made to take his officer’s clothes off and dig graves… First the Germans shot his 12-year old daughter in front of him, then they shot his wife in front of him, then they shot Jan. Finally they torched the farm, to set an example.”
Jan, a staunch Roman Catholic, was also one of Poland’s most renowned politicians, a fact Kawczinski found out only recently, during Daniels’ research. “What’s really resonating with me,” said Kawczinski, “is that he realised that he was putting his family’s life at risk and was still prepared to do it.”
The MP attended the UK government- sponsored ceremony at Warsaw Zoo, where Jan Zambinski – who the awards are named after – hid dozens of Jews during the war. The event, hosted by Superman actor Dean Cain, was attended by six U.S. Congressmen as well as Poland’s deputy prime minister. Two other polish families who saved Jews during the Shoah were also honoured.
During the trip, Kawczinski said he intends to help Polish politicians pushing Germany to pay war reparations as “compensation for the annihilation of an entire state”.
He added: “This whole issue of killing Poles and Jews is not finished yet. I spent years listening to my grandfather talk about what happened. It is still fresh and raw in my mind. We’re the last generation who can broach this subject.”
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said: “It is hugely important that the ‘From The Depths Zabinski Awards’ continue to recognise the many quiet heroes who risked their own lives to shelter Jewish families, enabling them to find safe passage.
“The UK Government is proud to be supporting From The Depths to deliver these awards and other projects in Poland that will ensure that the personal histories of the Holocaust can never be forgotten.”
— Daniel Kawczynski (@DKShrewsbury) September 19, 2017