Around 250 Poles recognised by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations are still alive today, from a total of about 7,000 – the largest number from any country.
But British-born charity founder Jonny Daniels, who set up From the Depths to preserve the memory of the Shoah, was shocked to discover the organisation that brings them together was housed in a tiny office in a run-down building unbefitting of their life-saving efforts. Without a lift, some of the elderly saviours are unable to even get to the 26 square metre office and there is no space to entertain visiting groups eager to hear from the heroes.
“There is no financial support from the Polish government and hardly any from elsewhere,” he said. “The office is far from the centre of Warsaw on the second floor of an old communist block. This is where these true heroes have an opportunity to come together. One member, a 100-year-old who saved 34 people during the war, attends when he can in his wheelchair but because of the stairs, others meet him downstairs in the lobby.
“Once a year they have elections for president and secretary but they had to vote in a local church recently because there wasn’t enough space.”
Daniels has now pledged to rehouse the Righteous in Poland Association in what he says is a race against time “to do the right thing by these heroes”. A site has already been located in the centre of the Polish capital and From the Depths – which recently became a registered charity in the UK – hopes to raise £20,000 annually for rent and to put on activities for members, as well as to record the testimony of those who have not done so.
He said: “It has a big meeting room where groups coming to Poland will be able to hear the remarkable stories of people who risked their own lives to save our brothers and sisters. Groups ask to meet them but, currently, often they have to go to a hotel which isn’t easy for someone in their eighties or nineties. We are losing time to hear from these people.
“It’s easy to look for the perpetrators and be angry but there were people who did the right thing and we need to do the right thing by them.”
The campaign has already received backing from the Polish government. Speaking to Jewish News, Sebastian Rejak from the Polish Foreign Ministry said: “Supporting both survivors and rescuers is a priority for the Polish government within its policy of providing care to those victimised or oppressed during the Second World War. Should the Polish Society of Righteous Among the Nations approach designated public institutions with an official request for assistance, I am confident such a plea will be addressed with all due seriousness.”
Association president Anna Stupnicka-Bando, 87, whose family hid three people during the Shoah and helped smuggle food into the Warsaw ghetto, said: “We want to share our stories. It’s very difficult to do it without support. Each month we are not sure if we will keep our small office.”
Knowing that many have lost their spouses, Daniels also plans to send them all flowers on their birthdays. “On my first visit, I took the director some flowers for her birthday. She was so happy and grateful. I expected there to be flowers all over the place and messages of thank you from around the world. It upset me there wasn’t. I asked her on the spot for the names and birthdays of the members so we could repeat this small gesture.”
You can donate to From the Depths here: http://www.fromthedepths.org/#!donate/czr7