March 24 marks a special memorial day in the country dedicated to Poles who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbours from the Holocaust.
On March 24, 1944, German military police killed members of the Polish family of Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, who were sheltering Jews in the village of Markowa in the southeast of the country.
Polish President Andrzej Duda on Friday honoured the victims during a remembrance event at the Ulma Family Museum in Markowa.
He said at the ceremony that the memorial day aims to pay tribute to all Poles who helped Jews during the Holocaust and who often died for doing so.
"Almost 6 million Polish citizens died during World War II, 3 million of whom were Jewish," Duda told the gathering. "Our two nations, our country ... experienced a terrible tragedy."
Plaques on the wall of the Ulma Family Museum, at Markowa in the southeast of Poland, commemorating those who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust during World War II. Photo: PAP/Darek Delmanowicz
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in a letter read out at Friday's ceremonies that helping or hiding Jews in German-occupied Poland during World War II was punishable by death.
The Polish prime minister's office said in a tweet: "79 years ago the Germans murdered the Ulma family from the Podkarpacie region and the Jews they were hiding from the Goldman, Didner and Grünfeld families."
Poland's Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) said in a message for the day that "the Ulma family are an example of grassroots efforts to rescue Jews in German-occupied Poland."
It added that Jews also received help from "Polish Underground State agencies," such as the wartime clandestine Żegota Council for Aid to Jews, as well as diplomats, including "the Ładoś Group in Bern."
The Ładoś Group, led by Aleksander Ładoś, head of Poland’s unofficial legation in Bern, Switzerland, is believed to have covertly issued 5,000 passports and identity documents to 10,000 people, mostly Polish Jews facing death in Auschwitz or trapped in the Warsaw ghetto, in one of the largest rescue operations of WWII.
Mateusz Szpytma, deputy head of the Institute of National Remembrance, has estimated in an article that 30,000 to 100,000 Polish Jews survived the Holocaust thanks to help provided by Poles.
The IPN has said that "Poles who saved Jews were, are and should serve as role models and inspiration."
Poland’s Roman Catholic Church announced last month that the Polish Ulma family, who lost their lives for hiding Jews during World War II, would be beatified on September 10.
In the Catholic Church, beatification is one stage short of being declared a saint.
Source: IAR, PAP
Click on the audio player above to listen to a report by Radio Poland's Ada Janiszewska.