Polish ‘upstander’ honored at Holocaust Museum in Skokie
Honorable Deputy Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago Robert Rusiecki speaks last week about Katarzyna Moroz who posthumously received an award during a ceremony at the Illinois Holocaust Museum. | Alyssa Schueneman~Sun-Times Media
RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE
What: A high honor delivered by the State of Israel to non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from the Nazis.
Established: 1953 by the Knesset
Latest recipient: Katarzyna (Kasia) Moroz
Ceremony: Outside the Illinois Holocaust Museum at its Fountain of the Righteous.
Updated: August 27, 2012 6:14AM
SKOKIE — The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center’s outdoor Fountain of the Righteous represents a collection of inspirational stories about the difference one person can make in the world.
The plaques on the fountain wall honor non-Jews who stood up against brutal oppression of Jews during the Holocaust, even when it put their own lives in danger.
They did so because it was the right thing to do. They did so because they were — as the museum calls them — “upstanders,” those unwilling to look the other way in the face of ghastly wrongdoing all around them.
Polish citizen Katarzyna (Kasia) Moroz was one of those people. Her plaque will be added to the Fountain of the Righteous in November near or on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, when the museum annually announces new names and recognizes the amazing stories behind them.
But Moroz last week was posthumously honored at the Fountain, receiving Israel’s highest honor. Yad Vashem’s Commission for the Designation of the Righteous named Moroz “Righteous Among the Nations” for her heroic efforts to save her Jewish friend, Ella Zharkover, from Nazi persecution.
“This morning is a very special and sacred opportunity to celebrate humanity,” Museum Executive Director Rick Hirschhaut said during the ceremony. “One person’s goodness, one person’s courage, one person’s humility and spirit, saved a single life and enabled new life to be created.”
A resident of Kozaki, Poland during World War II, Moroz was contacted by her friend, a Jewish lawyer, in 1942. Shortly after the Nazis occupied Zbaraz, Galitzia (between Poland and the Ukraine) where Zharkover lived, they targeted Jewish intelligentsia, creating desperate conditions for many who lived there.
But in October 1942, Moroz took Zharkover and her 3-year-old daughter into her home, telling her husband and children that she was a relative from a distant city. Moroz tried to obtain a working permit for her friend from the local workers department to protect her against potential German labor recruitment. But the officer suspected that Zharkover was Jewish and refused to issue the certificate to what he called “the Jewish pig.”
Unaware that his wife was hosting a Jew in his home, Moroz’s husband, an alcoholic in a drunken state, publicly announced that his wife was sheltering a Jew and her daughter.
When the head of the village investigated the claim, Moroz stood up to protect her house guests. She denied that Zharkover was a Jew and said that if they were turned over to the Germans, she and her daughters would go as well.
In June 1943, Moroz took her friend and daughter to her married daughter’s home in Lopatyn, Ukraine, where it was safer. Zharkover worked there as a cook on a farm run by the German civil government until the liberation of Poland in 1944.
Those who honored Moroz last week said it’s likely that she didn’t think of her efforts as extraordinary.
“My sense is, as we often hear from those who are Righteous Among the Nations, they probably thought that what they were doing was simply human, what was right and what was correct,” Hirschhaut said.
Consul General of Israel to the Midwest Orli Gil summarized Moroz’s background to those who crowded around the Fountain on a steamy morning. They included Moroz’s extended family as well as educators from around the world — two from Poland — as the museum was holding its annual Summer Institute for educators.
“This is the highest honor Israel can bestow,” said Gil when she presented the award to Moroz’s grandson, Mark Terlecki.
Deputy Consul General of Poland Robert Rusiecki noted that about one-third of all people who have received the Righteous Among the Nations Award came from Poland, more than any other country.
For the museum, the award reflects the heart and soul of its mission.
“If there is a singular message we seek to impart here at the Illinois Holocaust Museum,” Hirschhaut said, “it is that one person can make a difference,”