Poland awards Rick Sahar

September 3, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Rick Sahar, a son of Polish-Jewish parents born in Poland has received the Gold Cross of Merit of the Republic of Poland at the country’s embassy in Wellington, New Zealand.

Rick Sahar and Poland’s ambassador to New Zealand Zbigniew Gniatkowski

The ceremony gathered prominent representatives of Jewish and Polish communities, Israeli Ambassador Dr Itzhak Gerberg and embassy staff, representatives of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand, New Zealand academia and Wellington City Council. Present was also the President of the International Muslim Association of New Zealand Tahir Nawaz.

The Polish Ambassador Zbigniew Gniatkowski talked about joint Polish – Jewish history in Poland, the role of Polish Jews in the establishment of the very first Polish Association in New Zealand as well as some of the most tragic events in the modern history which saw Jews and Poles as those paying the biggest sacrifices.

The ambassador said: “Most unfortunately, the country which for centuries we were shaping together, working for the common good, collapsed in the wake of aggression by Hitler’s Third Reich in 1939 and in the wake of the Holocaust, which German Nazis brought to our soil. The occupiers murdered six million Polish citizens, including three million Polish Jews. This tragedy changed the course of history and the destinies of our nations. After World War II, the Jewish people built their own state, while Poland re-emerged on the map of Europe within its new borders, enslaved by the communist regime, and only after half a century regained sovereignty and true independence.”

Rick Sahar

He continued on highlighting the importance of today’s joint projects and commemorations of those events adding “Today Poles and Jews continue to share many centuries’ heritage. I am pleased that our event recalls not only an important aspect of historical experiences shared by Poles and Jews, but also in particular our local cooperation, here in Wellington.”

When accepting his award, granted by the President of the Republic of Poland, Rick Sahar said: I accept this award because I value and identify with my Polish heritage. Poland was a haven, a refuge for the Jewish people since 1264 when Polish Prince Boleslaus the Pious issued the Statute of Kalisz – The General Charter of Jewish Liberties in Poland, an unprecedented document in the medieval history of Europe that allowed Jewish people personal freedom, legal autonomy and safeguards against forced baptism and blood libel. The Charter was ratified again by subsequent Polish Rulers through to 1539 and held in place until Poland was conquered and lost its independence. Then after 123 years, in 1918, Jews were again granted equal rights in independent Poland.”

Rick Saher was born and raised in the USA to Polish-Jewish parents who survived the Holocaust. Before the war, his father lived in Oświęcim (Auschwitz-Birkenau) and his mother in Radomsko. As a teenager, Rick left for Israel, and in 1982 he moved to New Zealand.

He dedicated his award to the memory of his late parents saying: “I am proud to receive this award and dedicate it to the memory of my parents, Ella and Samuel Hornung, zichronam l’bracha, whose Holocaust survival was possible only through the courage and kindness of others. I hope my grandchildren may one day also feel inspired by this special occasion and affirm their own Polish heritage as their awareness grows of the wide world around them.”

Rick Sahar is one of the volunteers of the Holocaust Centre in Wellington, an institution established in 2007 “to remember and honour those killed in the Holocaust – in particular, the families of survivors in New Zealand”. HCNZ holds educational seminars for students, teachers and the general public to raise awareness against racism and discrimination to promote tolerance and equal rights for all.

For the last several years, the Polish Embassy in Wellington has been cooperating with the Centre, implementing various projects as part of public and historical diplomacy. The most important events in the last few years included the commemoration of the heroes of the Warsaw Uprising 1944, screenings of films such as “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and “Passports to Paraguay”, seminars with the participation of women who survived Siberia deportations and the Holocaust, and with historians on World War II, as well as exhibitions – on the Council to Aid Jews Żegota and on WW2 displayed at the Victoria University. In all these events Rick Sahar played a role of the main partner, quite often as an originator as well as a participant. His involvement in joint projects and support for the Embassy of the Republic of Poland significantly contributed to building good relations within the Polish-Jewish dialogue.

1 September marked the 81st anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, which started with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland. On 17 September 1939 Poland was invaded from the east by the Soviet Union without a formal declaration of war.

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