Friday, July 11, 2008

Henryk Slawik, The Polish Wallenberg

Due to the good offices of my friend and expert on Matters Polish, Patryk Drescher, I was able to attend a screening at the Polish Embassy last night of a film titled, Henryk Slawik, The Polish Wallenberg. The reference is to Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat in Budapest who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis in 1944-45.

Slawik was equally heroic. A native of Silesia, in southwestern Poland, Slawik was a Socialist newspaper editor. He served in the Polish military in the brief resistance to the Nazi invasion of September 1939, then retreated with his unit to Hungary. Though the Hungarians were allied with the Nazis, they sheltered many Poles. Slawik became a leader of the Poles in exile in Hungary.

For the next five years, Slawik became increasingly active in issuing false identification to Jewish refugees from Poland. He set up an orphanage for Jewish children who escaped from Poland and arranged for the Catholic Church to sponsor it. Indeed, Slawik had help. The Hungarian authorities assisted him, and looked the other way when necessary. Sympathetic Catholic priests issued phony church birth certificates, attesting to the non-Jewish origins of many of the refugees. All told, Slawik and his allies are credited with saving the lives of more than 5,000 Jews.

He paid with his life. When the Nazis invaded Hungary in March 1944, he did not flee, but rather stayed to try to help those he had been helping all along. After four months living underground, he was captured, tortured, and killed. He never disclosed the names of those who worked with him.

After the movie ended, an embassy official pointed out that Slawik's story is not known because the Communists suppressed it for the decades when they ruled Poland. A street was named after him for three days in 1946, but then the Communists realized that he had been a Socialist, not a Communist. But for the Communists, the official said, we would be calling Wallenberg "the Swedish Slawik"!

Good enough for him to be the Polish Slawik. A hero.
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Danuta said...

Hi! It was interesting to read about Henryk Slawik, especially as we are working at school on his biography.

Peter said...

Many years ago, when I was very young, my mother, who came from Siemianowice, would talk of her Uncle, who had been a Police Officer in Katowice during the 1930's; she was always, as a child, very impressed with his uniform. Her mother's maiden name was Slawik. She said her Uncle, who may have been my Grandmother's cousin rather than her brother (I'm not sure), was a very kind man, of whom she had always been very fond. In 1936 my mother and her family went to live in Germany to escape the ever increasing madness, but returned in 1939, after being informed that things had improved - were they ever wrong! Her favourite Uncle had disappeared, and they were never to see or hear from him again. A couple of years ago I googled the name Slawik as a matter of interest, and came across Henryk. I'm wondering if this is the same man, and does anyone know if it's possible to find out. Mum unfortunately is no longer able to help.