Poland honours Nobel nominee for holocaust heroism
Warsaw, Mar 15: Poland's parliament declared a 97-year-old woman a national heroine for saving more than 2,500 Jewish children from the Holocaust during World War Two.
Irena Sendler, who smuggled babies and children out of the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 and 1943 before the occupying Germans sent the Jewish population to concentration camps, has been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
Praising Sendler in the upper house of parliament, President Lech Kaczynski yesterday said she was a symbol of all the many Poles who risked their own lives to save Jews during the Nazi occupation.
''She deserves great respect from our whole nation,'' Kaczynski said.
Poland had the biggest Jewish population in Europe until the 1940s, but the community was almost wiped out during World War Two when 3 million Polish Jews were exterminated as part of Adolf Hitler's ''final solution'' to the ''Jewish problem''.
Many thousands of Jews were hidden by Polish families and helped to safety during the war, and the biggest group of the so-called ''Righteous Among the Nations'' at Israel's Yad Vashem Institute, which honours people who saved Jews, are Poles.
But Poland has had a long-standing reputation for anti-Semitism, stemming in large part from hostility from the postwar communist authorities, which encouraged all but a few thousand Jews to leave the country.
Polish governments since the collapse of the Soviet bloc have tried to rebuild relations with the Jewish community, and many thousands of Jews living overseas now visit the land of their parents and grandparents each year.
Elzbieta Ficowska, who was a 6-month-old baby when she was saved by Sendler, said her heroism should be a model for Poles.
''In the face of today's indifference, the example of Irena Sendler is very important,'' she told a news conference.
Senator Piotr Andrzejewski of the ruling conservative Law and Justice party, praised Sendler as a living example of ''real solidarity''.
''She had led children from death to life and worked to save their identity,'' he told parliament.
Sendler is one of 181 nominees for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, which carries an award of 10 million Swedish crowns.