This year, the “Witness of History” awards went to Halina Babińska, a member of the Polish diaspora in Canada; Helena Sołtys, who works with Polish schools in the United States; Italian historian Marco Patricelli; Belgian activists Dirk Verbeke and Gilles Lapers; and the Association of Polish War Veterans in Canada, public broadcaster Polish Radio’s IAR news agency reported.
At the prize-giving gala in Warsaw’s Royal Łazienki Park on Wednesday, the IPN’s head Karol Nawrocki told the winners that they were not only "witnesses testifying about history," but also testified "about Poland."
"All of you, regardless of the part of the world you live in, managed to find the core of the Polish soul," Nawrocki said, as quoted by his history institute.
"And since Poland's middle name is history, to me and other Poles you are much more than witnesses testifying about history: you testify about Poland," he added.
In a message recorded for the ceremony, Babińska, who cultivates the memory of Gen. Kazimierz Sosnkowski, a Polish 20th-century independence fighter and diplomat, said that although she had lived abroad for a long time, "Poland has always been the only country I am loyal to, and so it will remain until the end of my days.”
Meanwhile, Patricelli, who is the author of the first Italian biography of Poland’s World War II resistance leader Witold Pilecki, noted that many Poles died fighting for his country's freedom during the war.
He added it was “a mystery” to him why the story of “the great Polish and European hero” Pilecki, who exposed German Nazi atrocities in the Auschwitz death camp, had not been known earlier.
Established in 2009, the “Witness of History” awards are granted to war veterans, teachers, activists, local government officials, institutions and organisations that have made special contributions to nurturing Polish history abroad, the IAR news agency reported.