Two nuns and three priests were honored last week with the recognition Righteous Among the Nations, a medal granted by Yad Vashem to non-Jews who put themselves at risk to save Jews from the Holocaust.

The official recognition ceremony was held June 11 at the headquarters of Polish Episcopal Conference.

Fr. Jan Raczkowski, a priest well known in Warsaw, was honored.

He served as vicar of St. Vincent de Paul parish in Otwock, starting in 1941, and chaplain of the Home Army and commander of the Grey Ranks.

He rescued members of the Pinkert, Wilner, Rozycki, and Gelbard families as well as Miriam Weczer Thau, Joanna Kaltman, Hersz Pynches and others. 

Fr. Raczkowski created an unofficial help group that involved priests, nuns, and families from Otwock and the surrounding areas. So far it is not known exactly how many people were saved thanks to his help, but these were not the only cases.

Thomasz Langer, son of the survivor Hanna Pinkert Langer, attended the medal ceremony in Warsaw.

Saved by nuns 

As a 3-year old child, Joan Kirsten found home in the orphanage run by the Sisters of Holy Name of Jesus in Suchedniów. She was taken care of by, among others, Sisters Serafia Rosolińska and Kornelia Jankowska, who were recognized with the medal.

The nuns gave little Joan a fictitious Polish name, Joanna Przygoda, for safety reasons. 

Before her arrival at the convent, Joan Kirsten was hidden from the Nazis by Maria Kaczyńska in Milanówek, near Warsaw; earlier, in the ghetto, she was given food by a man named Talikowski. Karen Kirsten, the survivor’s daughter, came with her family from New York to the award ceremony in Warsaw. She reflected on her blog: "If it weren’t for those brave souls who dared to resist, I wouldn’t be writing this blog."

"Our priests"

Fr. Mikołaj Ferenc and Fr. Antoni Kania were recognized for saving Ewa Turzyńska-Trauenstein along with her son Leon in the rectories in Markowa (near Lviv) and the nearby Nowa Huta.

They are referred to as “our priests” in the Turzyński family. 

Berta Turzyńska, Leon’s wife, applied for the award for them. 

She confessed: "My husband and my mother-in-law survived thanks to the help of good people. After my husband's death in 2011, I decided to find the families of those who helped them and say thank you. That's why I asked to recognize our priests as Righteous. I want to emphasize that my husband has always been sympathetic to the Catholic Church. And so it happened that, having been rescued by the clergymen, he headed the construction of the Domus Galilaeae in Israel, where there is a seminary for future priests."

According to the latest research more than 1,000 priests were involved in saving Jews in Poland.

[Reporting by Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik, Jerusalem]