Poland’s oldest recognized member of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, or non-Jews who saved Jews from the Holocaust, was honored last week for his efforts to protect Polish Jews from the Holocaust at a special event held a day after he celebrated his 100th birthday.

Jozef Walaszczyk and 19 others from Eastern and Southern Europe who rescued Jews during the Holocaust were honored at the gala event last Thursday at Warsaw’s Zamoski Palace.

During his address at the gala, Walaszczyk said the decision to hide Polish Jews from the Gestapo – even at great cost and personal risk – was part of his “character”.

“The whole six years I had Jewish people at my place, [including] three Jewish women. One of them, in order to survive, became my wife, and all of them survived until the Warsaw Uprising and later. None of the Jews that stayed by me died.”

“This is my character, the personality of me, of my family. I thought that when I see human tragedy, I need to save, I need to help. That is why I was helping. They were Polish citizens of Jewish nationality. And they were friends. I had many Jewish friends. I was doing all I could to help them.”

“My message is that each of us should do for the other person something good. And if we do it, it will be much easier for all of us to live.”

As the foreman of a factory outside Warsaw, Walaszczyk helped protect 30 Jews after the Nazis invaded, according to Yad Vashem, which recognized him as a Holocaust rescuer in 2002.

Walaszczyk then took a Jewish woman sought by the Gestapo into his home and arranged false papers for her.

The woman, Irena Front, was subsequently arrested. Walaszczyk bribed police to release her and 20 other Jews, some of whom moved into his apartment. He hired a maid to take care of them in hiding. When they were arrested in 1944, Walaszczyk again intervened to get them out and housed them in a rural hiding place. He continued to support them after the war ended.

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