Exhibit honors ‘righteous’ courage

1941 poster announces penalty for Jews who left Warsaw ghetto

A 1941 poster announces the penalty for Jews who left the Warsaw ghetto and those who helped or sheltered them: death.

A new exhibit at the Daley Library offers stark images and stories to portray the seemingly ordinary Poles who had the courage to hide Jews in their homes during World War II.

The Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago sponsors the exhibit, “The Righteous Among Nations,” on display in the Daley Library lobby through Sunday.

The exhibit focuses on Malopolska, or Little Poland, the southeastern region around Krakow.

Through photos and brief biographies, it introduces individuals, families and clergy who secretly sheltered Jews in cellars, attics, barns and underground shelters.

One display features a town hall clock tower tended by a watchmaker who hid a Jewish woman there; they later married. Another shows a cemetery chapel where neighbors hid six people under the stone floor.

Photos depict a cabinet and a storage crate that camouflaged the entrances to underground shelters; country manors where wealthy Poles hid entire families; and convents where nuns hid dozens of Jewish children in orphanages.

The exhibit tells of factory workers who hid people in an attic, a pharmacist who provided medicine and a police officer who told how to elude soldiers. It describes rescuers who organized escapes from the ghetto, delivered food to people hiding in forests, obtained false identification documents so that Jews could hide in plain sight as Aryans, and ran messages between Jews in hiding and their contacts outside.

By aiding their Jewish neighbors, they put themselves at risk. The German occupiers killed entire families of Polish rescuers, as photos and stories illustrate. They also punished those whom they believed withheld information.

Anna Goral, who hid three adults and a child in her home, is quoted in the exhibit.

“I was very afraid. I had my own family, after all. But what was I to do? … They were my brother-in-law’s neighbors.”

A public opening for the exhibit Aug. 13 featured a talk by Michael H. Traison, founder of the Michael H. Traison Fund for Poland and partner in the Miller Canfield law firm.  Traison discussed 800 years of Polish-Jewish history and Poland’s former role as home to the largest Jewish community in the world.

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