|Henryk Slawik with his daughter Krystyna|
“It is not necessary to pursue life, it comes to a man by itself. But it is necessary to pay for life’s secrets with pain and tears.” – Henryk Sławik
"Henryk Sławik (1894 – 1944) was a Polish politician in the interwar period, social worker, activist, and diplomat, who during World War II helped save over 30,000 Polish refugees, including 5,000 Polish Jews in Budapest, Hungary by giving them false Polish passports with Catholic designation. He was executed with some of his fellow Polish activists on order of Reichsführer SS in concentration camp Gusen on 23 August 1944." – Wikipedia.
Lukasz Klimek shares more, below. Thank you to Lukasz for this guest blog post.
In 1939, Henryk Slawik he fought with distinction against German invaders. He did his patriotic duty. He showed physical courage.
But it was his moral courage that made him a hero.
In the Miskolc refugee camp in Hungary Sławik met József Antall, the representative of the Hungarian government, responsible for the organization of relief. The Pole’s attitude impressed Antall. "We don't need pity. It is necessary to establish conditions for labour, courses and schools for children and youth " - said Sławik. Antall proposed a cooperation and took him to Budapest.
Soon Sławik led the Civil Committee which was supposed to deal with the organisation of life of Polish refugees in Hungary.
He provided safe shelters in the countryside for refugees. He helped to transfer soldiers to France, where they joined the Polish army. For thousands of Jews he issued false documents, confirming their Polish identity. Jews could choose their new names. Hungarian police officers and border guards were puzzled by the fact that so many Poles are named “Mickiewicz” or “Sienkiewicz”. Soon Sławik was forced to prohibit this practice. For the sake of conspiracy.
“For us every Jewish refugee is the same kind of citizen as everyone else. We are divided however into good and bad Poles.” – Henryk Sławik
But the apple in Sławik’s eye was “Orphanage for Children of Polish Officers” in Vác. That name was a ruse. In reality it was a shelter for almost a hundred Jewish children, hidden amidst Christian ones. Children in that orphanage could attend a kindergarten and a school with Polish curriculum. However Jewish children were not deprived of their identity. After the official participation in the Holy Mass, they were secretly taught the Hebrew language and the Old Testament by their Jewish caretakers. They all survived the war.
In March 1944 Nazis took control of Budapest and Gestapo started to look for him. He was hiding for almost three months. In June 1944 his wife was arrested. After some time in Gestapo prison she was taken to a concentration camp in Ravensbrück.
During the last meeting , organized under cover of the night, 14-year old Krysia asked her father: “Dad, why won’t we leave for Switzerland?
Sławik responded: “Daughter, but what would these children do without me?”
Soon after he was betrayed to the Germans by a fellow Pole.
The Gestapo arrested Sławik on July 16, 1944. They also arrested Antall. Sławik was maltreated and tortured. His wife was imprisoned in the same building. She had heard him scream. During the interrogation he took entire "fault" on himself, but it was clear that Nazis were very interested in blaming Antall. The two men saw each other for the last time in Gestapo’s prison truck. "In the darkness I sought out his hand, I touched it and I said: Thank You" - recalled Antall.
Antall was released, but he was in hiding for the rest of the war. After the war ended, he found and took care of Krystyna Sławik. Jadwiga Sławik has survived and, after liberation of Ravensbrück, reunited with her daughter.
Henryk Sławik was transported to Mauthausen concentration camp, where he was hanged with some of his associates on August 23, 1944. His body was either cremated or buried in unknown location.
The name of Henryk Sławik, erased by communists from history, unexpectedly appeared after March 1968, in the middle of anti-Semitic witch-hunt. In 1969 authorities revealed his story for a moment, just to show the ingratitude of Jews and to justify regime’s anti-Semitic policy. And once again, for a long time, the curtain of silence has fallen.
But someone hasn’t forgotten him.
At the end of 1988 a very curious announcement was published by the Cracov’s weekly “Przegląd”: "Henryk Zimmermann from Israel is seeking Mr. Sławik, Polish consul in Budapest in the years 1943-44, who assisted in rescuing many Poles and Jews".
This message was Mr. Zimmermann’s latest attempt to find his wartime associate. Earlier he sought him through Polish diplomatic posts and veterans institutions. No one had heard of Henryk Sławik. Or maybe people were afraid to speak? Poland didn't maintain diplomatic relations with Israel then. It was safer to simply brush some stubborn Jew off. But this time the answer came.
Sometime after that announcement Mr. Zimmermann was contacted by Sławik’s wife and daughter.
In the autumn of 1990 in Yad Vashem Krystyna Sławik-Kutermak accepted the medal of the Righteous on behalf of her late father. Henryk Zimmermann said then :"Nazi prisoner No. 68220, is testifying, that Henryk Sławik contributed to the rescue of thousands of Jews from certain death".
Twenty years later he was posthumously decorated with the Order of the White Eagle.
Now his story is becoming better known in Poland. Writers wrote books about him. Filmmakers made documentary movies. Schools were named after him. There are even twin monuments of Sławik and Antall in Warsaw and Budapest. His story was saved.
Thanks to one stubborn Jew who remembered.
“He paid for his noble conduct with his life. In his deeds and character we found support and hope in those fateful days of darkness and lawlessness. We teach our children and everyone on this earth, that there are good people, like Henryk Sławik, that there is a more beautiful world and a better future is awaiting us.” – Henryk Zwi Zimmermann