Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wladyslaw Kowalski: Another Quiet Hero

Wladyslaw Kowalski. Source: Ha'aretz

Vered Bar-Semech, director of the Yad Mordechai Museum, next to Kowalski's grave.
Photo: Eliyahu Hershkowitz. Source: Ha'aretz.


Polish Colonel Wladyslaw Kowalski was born in Kiev in 1896. He earned a degree in agronomic engineering. He fought for Poland's freedom during World War One. His parents were killed by the Russians. When Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Kowalski headed the brigade that defended Warsaw. He was arrested by the SS. Because he worked for Philips electronics, he was released. During the war, Kowalski rescued forty-nine Jews.

From Ha'aretz:

"The first of them was Borel Bruno, a sick and hungry 17 year-old, who was wandering the streets of Warsaw outside the ghetto. In the summer of 1940 he encountered Kowalski and said: 'I am a Jew.' Kowalski took him home, looked after him and acquired a forged Polish passport for Bruno, as well as arranging a place for him to live and a job at the Philips plant. Because of this assistance, Bruno survived; after the war he moved to Belgium.

In August of 1941 Kowalski heard moans as he walked past a ruined building in Warsaw. From the building emerged a lawyer named Phillip Rubin, starving and frightened, who begged for help; his brother and sister were also inside the building. Kowalski took them all to his home…

In November 1943, he brought the Rosen family of four out of the ghetto in the city of Izbica, in the east of Poland, and brought them to safe haven with a friend in Warsaw. He also hid Jews in his own home and provided financial assistance to 12 to 15 others, for whom he organized hiding places in homes of acquaintances. Kowalski was interrogated by the Gestapo several times on suspicion of having helped Jews, but he never divulged information about those whom he helped. During the four months prior to the end of the war, Kowalski himself hid with 49 Jews in a bunker, with barely any food and water…

'I admit I saved only 49 Jews,' said Kowalski in 1961, when he addressed a conference of immigrants from Poland in Tel Aviv. 'I did not do anything special for the Jews and I do not consider myself a hero. I only did my duty as a human being toward people who were persecuted and tortured. I did not do this only because they are Jewish, but rather I helped every persecuted person without regard to race and origin.'

In 1963 he was awarded the title Righteous Among the Nations. One of the testimonies submitted to Yad Vashem supporting his candidacy stated: 'Mr. Kowalski saved many people through supreme personal sacrifice, of course without any monetary or other recompense. He worked and he devoted his salary to feeding or clothing the Jews he hid in his home. As the director of a firm in Warsaw, during the whole course of the war he did not allow himself to buy new clothes, he walked in torn shoes and he preferred to devote his income to saving people.'"

At age 61, Kowalski and his Jewish wife, whom he had saved during the war, immigrated to Israel. He worked at a grocery store. One of his final requests was that he be buried among Jews.

From Ha'aretz:

"The body of Polish Col. Wladyslaw Kowalski lay in the morgue of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv for five days. Nowhere in the country could a cemetery be found that would agree to his final request to be buried 'alongside Jews.' The rabbinate was unwilling to compromise on its principles so that a Christian could be buried in a Jewish cemetery. The fact that he had been declared one of the 'Righteous Among the Nations,' who had saved some 50 Jews during the Holocaust, among them his future wife, was not sufficient to change that decision - nor was the fact that during World War II he had himself circumcised as a sign of identification with the Jewish people."

Finally, a kibbutz agreed to bury Kowalski.

From Ha'aretz:

"The anger felt by Artek Weineman, secretary of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, over Kowalski's treatment after his death by the state and authorities was evident in the eulogy he gave:

'With mixed feelings we agreed to the request (to bury him at the kibbutz). On the one hand we saw this as our obligation toward this individual to agree to this request. On the other hand, we asked the hurtful and insulting question: Why has this person, who did so much for the Jews, not been laid to rest in a central locale where the survivors can visit him and honor the memory of this man? They have been too small to appreciate and understand the sublime motivations of this man, who risked his life in order to save the lives of tens of Jews from the preying claws of the Nazi animals. However, we are angry at those whose obligation it was to pay full respects to this person after his death and who saw it as an appropriate time to humiliate him in the eyes of the civilized world and his family.

'It is an honor to us that Kowalski's body rests in the cemetery of our kibbutz. His wonderful character and his great deeds will serve us and our children as a symbol of the good and the pure in the human race and will reinforce in us the belief and the hope that brotherhood of nations will ultimately overcome racial hatred and brutal nationalism.'"

From: "Mystery surrounds Righteous Gentile who saved dozens of Jews. Since Kibbutz Yad Mordechai agreed to bury Wladyslaw Kowalski - a Righteous Gentile who saved 49 Polish Jews in the war - in its cemetery in 1971, virtually no one has visited his grave and mysteries surrounding his life abound."
Ha'aretz April 20, 2012
By Ofer Aderet. Link to story on Ha'aretz.

4 comments:

  1. Thought provoking--at several levels.

    ReplyDelete
  2. By an amazing coincidence I read this post then later today happened to listen to this BBC podcast
    http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/worldservice/docarchive/docarchive_20120224-1419b.mp3
    about a charitable hospital in Jerusalem with a Jewish doctor who told of being saved from Auschwitz by poles (starts at around 20:00)
    So it seems this may have been common

    ReplyDelete
  3. Really this is a strong provoking article and great source of information one must know. Thanks a lot for sharing.

    ReplyDelete

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