New Award to Recognise Jewish Contribution to Poland

October 15, 2011 by J-Wire
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The inaugural award ceremony hosted by the Australian Society of Polish Jews and Their Descendants to honour an individual or organisation contributing to a greater understanding of the unique and dynamic contribution by the Polish Jewish community to Polish culture and ethos will be held in Melbourne later this month.

 

Henryk Slawik

The award known as the Henryk Slawik Award, has been dedicated in memory of the great Polish diplomat, politician and humanitarian who saved several thousand Jews between 1940 and 1944, and was subsequently murdered in the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria.

The inaugural recipient of this award is Dr George Luke-Kozika, Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Poland.  Dr Luke-Kozika has worked tirelessly to build strong bridges with the Jewish community. He has initiated and collaborated in projects with the Jewish Holocaust Centre, The Australian Society of Polish Jews and Their Descendants, has been a regular attendee at Yom Hashoa and Yom Ha’atzmaut events.  Dr Luk-Kozika has also helped to facilitate dialogue and greater involvement with the Polish community.

Their Excellencies, Andrzej Jaroszynski, Polish Ambassador and Yuval Rotem, Israeli Ambassador, will present Dr Luk-Kozika with the award. The presentation will be held at the Jewish Cultural Centre and National Library Kadimah, 7 Selwyn Street Elsternwick 3185 on Thursday the 27th of October 2011 at 7:30pm.

Henryk Sławik was a Polish politician, diplomat, and social worker who during World War II helped save 5,000 Hungarian and Polish Jews from Budapest by giving them false Polish passports.

At the outbreak of the German invasion of Poland in 1939 Sławik joined the Polish mobilised police battalion attached to the Kraków Army. He fought with distinction during the retreat along the northern Carpathians. His battalion was attached to the 2nd Mountain Brigade, with which he defended mountain passes leading to Slovakia.

Dr George Luke-Kozika

On September 15 Sławik and his men were ordered to retreat towards the newly established border with Hungary. On September 17, after the Soviet Union joined the war against Poland, Sławik crossed the border and was interned as a prisoner of war. József Antall (Senior), a member of the ministry of internal affairs responsible for the civilian refugees and the father of the future prime minister József Antall (Junior), spotted Sławik in one of the camps. Thanks to his fluent knowledge of German, Sławik was brought to Budapest and allowed to create the Citizen’s Committee for Help for Polish Refugees. Together with József Antall he organised jobs for the POWs and displaced persons, schools and orphanages. He also clandestinely created an organisation whose purpose was to help the exiled Poles leave the camps of internment and travel to France or the Middle East to join the Polish Army. Sławik also became a delegate of the Polish Government in Exile.

After the Hungarian government issued racial decrees and separated Polish refugees of Jewish descent from their colleagues, Sławik started to issue false documents confirming their Polish roots and Roman Catholic faith. He also helped several hundred Polish Jews to reach Yugoslav partisans. One of his initiatives was the creation of an orphanage for Jewish children (officially named School for Children of Polish Officers) in Vác. To help disguise the true nature of the orphanage, the children were visited by Catholic Church authorities, most notably by nuncio Angelo Rotta.

After the Nazis took over Hungary in March 1944, Sławik went underground and ordered as many of the refugees as were under his command to leave Hungary. Because he had appointed a new commanding officer of the camp for Polish Jews, all of them were able to escape and leave Hungary. The Jewish children of the orphanage in Vác were also evacuated. Sławik was arrested by the Germans on March 19, 1944. Although brutally tortured, he did not inform on his Hungarian colleagues. He was sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp where he was shot to death, probably in August 1944. His wife survived the Ravensbrück concentration camp and after the war found their daughter hidden in Hungary by the Antall family. Sławik’s place of burial remains unknown.

It is estimated that Henryk Sławik helped as many as 30,000 Polish refugees in Hungary, approximately 5,000 of them Jews. After 1948, the communist authorities of both Poland and Hungary did commemorate his deeds and pointed out his importance for humanity. In 1992, the Yad Vashem Commemorative Authority honoured Sławik with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

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