Righteous Among the Nations

[Hebrew, Chasidei Umot Ha-olam] - A medal and honorary title established in 1953 by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem. It is awarded to individuals who saved Jews during the Holocaust.

In 1944-1950, the Central Committee of Jews in Poland (CKZP) was involved in honoring Poles who helped Jews during the Second World War. On the basis of testimony from someone who had been saved, a letter of gratitude is sent, and usually a small monetary award. If that person has financial difficulties, he or she is given long-term monetary assistance, and sometimes other help is offered. Attempts are made to find the person employment, for example, or intervention is sought if there are problems with the law, including in political cases. By the end of 1946, 166,500 z�otys were awarded in this way. In 1947, activities were halted because of a lack of funds.

In 1948, a Committee for Aid to Poles was created as part of the Legal Section of the CKZP. It existed until the CKZP became the Towarzystwo Spoleczno-Kulturalne Zydow w Polsce (Polish-Jewish Social and Cultural Society) (1950). The idea of honoring the "righteous" then became the domain of the Jewish Historical Institute (Zydowski Instytut Historyczny, ZIH), which was involved in collecting witness testimonies. When the Knesset in Israel passed legislation establishing the Righteous Among the Nations medal, ZIH cooperated with Yad Vashem, providing it with the documentation that had been gathered.

Sections at Yad Vashem are involved in collecting documentation and survivor testimonies not only from Poland, but also from all German-occupied areas of Europe. A commission, whose chairman is a judge of the Supreme Court of Israel, reviews the materials gathered and makes decisions about the awarding of medals and honorary titles. Those who receive the medals also are granted honorary Israeli citizenship and a diploma along with the medal, on which the name of the recipient is written together with a statement from the Talmud: "Whoever saves one life saves the entire world."
During the ceremony at which the award is granted, a tree is planted and a plaque with his or her name on it is installed in the Avenue of the Righteous on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.
When Poland broke relations with Israel in 1967, awarding medals to Poles was more difficult. Since 1990, the ceremony has taken place twice a year, and the number of recipients has been more than a dozen each time. By the end of 1997, of the 15,670 who had been awarded the medal from thirty different countries, 5,134 were Poles. In 1999, legislation passed by the Sejm also granted them veterans' privileges.
(A.C., G.Z./CM)

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