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Who saves one life... Former Auschwitz prisoner has been awarded "Righteous among the Nations"


The posthumous award of the title "Righteous among the Nations of the World" to Maria Kotarba took place at the Polish embassy in London on October 24, 2006. The Yad Vashem Memorial Institute in Jerusalem bestowed the honor in recognition of the aid she gave to Jews during her imprisonment in concentration camps during the Second World War. Relatives of Maria Kotarba accepted the medal in her name.

Maria Kotarba joined the resistance movement after the German attack on Poland in September 1939. She was arrested when a Gestapo informer denounced her, and was sent to the Nazi German Auschwitz concentration camp in January 1943. The Germans deported Lena Mankowska there from the Białystok ghetto one month later. Thanks to risks taken by Polish prisoners during the registration procedure, the Nazis registered Lena as a Polish political prisoner.

Maria Kotarba repeatedly helped Lena while they were in Auschwitz. Among other things, she supplied her with additional food rations. In January 1945, the two women, among thousands of other prisoners, were evacuated by the Nazis into the depths of Germany, where they saw each other for the last time.

Worn down by illness, Maria Kotarba died on December 30, 1956. Lena Mankowska resettled in the UK after the war. Years later, she searched for the person who had saved her life. Only in 1997 did she trace Maria Kotarba's identity.

Lena Mankowska (Lakomy) had a chance meeting in London with the writer James Foucar, who later decided to describe her experiences. This made the story of the two women known to a wider audience. The crowning moment came with the award of the Yad Vashem medal to Maria Kotarba.

The Righteous among the Nations of the World

Since 1963, the Yad Vashem Memorial Institute in Jerusalem has awarded this title to people who risked their own lives and the lives of their families to rescue Jews during the Second World War. The medal presented on the occasion is inscribed with a quotation from the Talmud: "Whoever saves one life, saves the whole world." For many years, the Righteous were commemorated with trees, the symbols of life renewing itself, planted in the Garden of the Righteous. Since 1989, their names have been placed on a Wall of Honor in Jerusalem.

So far, the title of Righteous has been awarded to over 21 thousand people. Poles are the largest ethnic group among them—almost 6 thousand as of January 2006.

Polish Former Auschwitz Prisoners named Righteous among the Nations of the World

Jerzy Bielecki, born 1921, arrested by the Germans in May 1940. Deported to Auschwitz in the first transport of Polish political prisoners. In July 1944, he escaped in an SS uniform along with the Jewish woman prisoner Cyla Cybulska. After the escape, Cyla went into hiding with a Polish family, while Bielecki fought in a Home Army partisan unit. He published his memoirs under the title Whoever Saves One Life.

Jerzy Radwanek, born 1919. The Nazis arrested him in November 1940 and deported him to Auschwitz in December 1940. While in the camp, he aided Jewish women prisoners who worked there sorting the possessions plundered from people deported to the camp.

Jerzy Pozimski, born 1913. Arrested in April 1940, he arrived in Auschwitz in June 1940. His assignment in the camp labor office enabled him to help many people obtain jobs that enabled them to survive the camp. One of the prisoners who benefited from his aid was Jakub Maestro, deported to Auschwitz from the ghetto in Thessaloniki.

Maria Chodnikiewicz (known in Auschwitz as Sowiar), born 1918. Arrested in November 1942, she was deported to Auschwitz in February 1943. She cared for the Jewish prisoner Hana Kampel.

Józef Wrona, born 1922. During the occupation, he was a civilian worker at the Buna-Werke factory (Auschwitz III-Monowitz), which belonged to IG Farbenindustrie. Beginning in 1943, he gave food and medicine to the prisoners laboring there, and acted as an intermediary in their clandestine correspondence. In September 1944, he organized the escape and sheltering of two Jewish prisoners, Max Drimmer and Hermann Scheingesicht.

Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Kossak-Szczucka were awarded the title of Righteous for their work in the Żegoa Jewish Aid Council, a clandestine organization that helped Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Camp photograph of Maria Kotarba
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Camp photograph of Lena Mańkowska
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The grave of Maria Kotarba at the cemetery in Owczary, Poland
The grave of Maria...