Warsaw, Poland – On Tuesday, Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, declared Konstanty Rokicki, the Polish vice consul in Switzerland during World War II, a member of the Righteous Among the Nations, 60 years after his death.
Under the nose of the Swiss authorities, Rokicki produced fake passports of South American countries and distributed them to Jews who were about to be deported, a few dozen of whom are still living today thanks to him. The rescue operation, in which a number of others also took part, such as Abraham Silberschein, the representative of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland, took place in 1942 and 1943. Adolf Eichmann later ordered an investigation into the affair.
After the war, Rokicki did not return to Poland and died in 1958 in Switzerland, his efforts forgotten.
In recent months, led by the Polish Embassy in Switzerland, with the cooperation of various Jewish and Polish archives, a worldwide research project was undertaken to make Rokicki’s efforts known. Numerous documents and testimonies, including lists of all the false passports Rokicki issued, were uncovered. According to Haaretz, relatives of Jews who received fake passports and owe the diplomat their lives were also found in Israel.
Rokicki was honoured in a ceremony in October at a cemetery in Lucerne, Switzerland, in which Polish President Andrzej Duda took part, along with several people saved by Rokicki, and members of his family.
With more than 6,800 Polish men and women named Righteous Among the Nations, Poland has the world’s highest count of individuals who have been recognized by Yad Vashem for saving Jews from extermination during the Holocaust in World War II. The Netherlands and France follow with the second and third highest counts. Hungary is 7th with 844 individuals, Slovakia 11th with 572 and the Czech Republic 16th with 118.
The official recognition of Rokicki’s efforts during the war comes amidst rising tensions between Israel and Poland, whose government has regularly been accused of anti-Semitism by Jerusalem in the past.
Last year, it caused an outcry after it passed a controversial law which made it a criminal offense to use the phrase ‘Polish death camps’ to refer to the Nazi-run concentration camps on Polish soil. The row was revived recently when Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki cancelled a trip to Jerusalem after Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahou said many Poles had “cooperated” with Nazis in the Holocaust.
A right-wing newspaper was even spotted at a news kiosk inside Poland’s parliament instructing readers on ‘how to recognize a Jew.’ The rocky relationship between the two countries was put to a test last month when Israel urged Poland to bar Holocaust denier David Irving from entering Poland, after it became apparent that he was planning to lead a tour of Nazi concentration camps in the country later this year.
A recent study looking at how European countries come to terms with the mass killing of their Jewish population during World War II found that Holocaust revisionism is indeed particularly strong and even on the rise in some of the EU’s eastern member states, especially in Poland and Hungary.