11th Annual Federal Observance
of the Holocaust Days of Remembrance

This year's theme: Poland

-Reviewed by Thaddeus Mirecki

This event is organized by a committee from 29 US Government Departments and Federal Agencies. The theme of this year's observance was the remembrance of the 2-3 million of non-Jewish victims of the war crimes committed in Poland. All of the speakers were eye-witnesses ("We Were There"); two of them are Christian survivors of the Holocaust.

Speakers

Estelle Laughlin, survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto
Michael Preisler, Christian survivor of Auschwitz
Keynote: Dr. Jan Moor-Jankowski, Resistance Fighter and rescuer of Jews.
Master of Ceremonies: David Ensor, CNN

Speakers

Estelle Laughlin is a survivor of the infamous Warsaw ghetto where 500,000 Jewish civilians were confined before they were shipped to the death camps. She spoke of her personal experiences in the Ghetto and later at the Majdanek concentration camp where inhuman conditions were forced on all prisoners. Despite her experiences, she continues to reflect the spirit of one who could not be broken, and inspires others to forget darkness of the hate of the past but to promote the light of love in the future.

Michael Preisler (read full text) told of his harrowing times in Auschwitz- Birkenau in Poland, then transfer on foot to Mathausen and other camps in Austria. His family of 13 children was evicted from their home in 1939 by the Gestapo, in fulfillment of  Adolph Hitler's order to his generals before they invaded Poland to “Kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or Polish language.” Michael joined the underground home army but was captured, tortured and imprisoned for four long years in Auschwitz. He narrowly avoided the gas chamber by cutting short a hospitalized rehabilitation for typhoid fever and quickly returning to the work detail. The next day all patients of the convalescent center were sent to the gas chamber. Mr. Preisler's presentation was made all the more dramatic by many departures from his prepared text for extemporaneous reminiscences of what he had experienced.

Keynote speaker:

Dr. Jan Moor-Jankowski (read full text) told about the millions of non-Jewish victims of German and Soviet terror in Poland, information which is almost totally unknown here in the United States. Much of it was suppressed by the post-war Communist government in Poland, which continued to use much of the same terror apparatus against the Polish people. The current Polish government is still dominated by former Communists, who have no desire to make this information, and hence their complicity in the regime that committed the crimes, become public knowledge.

Born in 1924 in Warsaw, Moor-Jankowski was the son of a civil engineer and a pianist. At the outbreak of World War II, German aerial bombing killed about 50,000 civilians in Warsaw and damaged almost all of the city buildings. Moor-Jankowski, wounded by shrapnel, saw his father taken away by the Germans and never saw him again. His mother later perished.

Moor-Jankowski lived through the terror of life under the German occupation. He was imprisoned at the Warchau concentration camp, established primarily to kill Poles (whose existence the post-war government denied, since its use was later continued by the Communists). During a subsequent transfer from Pawiak prison to Auschwitz, he escaped and later became part of the Polish resistance. He gathered intelligence and then pretended to be a German military official, aided by fluent German and fake papers. He helped rescue and return to Poland Polish slave laborers that had been taken to Germany to provide free labor. He then filled his truck with Polish Jews and transported them to Berlin, where they found it easier to hide. Their Yiddish accent often made them stick out in Poland.

In September 1944, Moor-Jankowski was shot in the knee and wounded as he tried to cross enemy lines to rescue young Annette Kon, a 16-year-old family friend who was hiding to avoid capture. He had sworn to protect the Jewish girl and her parents since their families had been close friends for years. Once in Warsaw, he paid a hospitalized priest to marry himself and Kon, in order to give her authentic safe papers. She was eventually captured, but escaped and survived the war. A bullet is still lodged in Jankowski’s knee, complications of which very recently landed him in New York University Hospital, his place of employment as a medical researcher for 30 years.

David Ensor is news correspondent for Cable News Network (CNN). In 1982, then working for ABC News, he was sent to Poland to cover martial law which had been imposed by Communist leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski in an attempt to crush the Solidarity movement, which eventually went on to topple the Communist government in Poland, leading to the collapse of the entire Soviet block and the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself. Ensor is married to a Polish wife; the ceremony was performed by Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, a chaplain of the opposition movement who was subsequently murdered by the Communist secret police.

Recommended reading:

Lukas, Richard, The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation 1939-1944, Hippocrene Books: New York, 1997.

Lukas, Richard, Did the Children Cry? Hitler’s War Against Jewish and Polish Children, Hippocrene Books: New York, 1994

Davies, Norman, Rising ’44: The Battle for Warsaw, MacMillan: London, 2003.

Powers, Samantha, A Problem From Hell - America and the Age of Genocide, Perennial: New York, 2002.

Olson, Lynne and Cloud, Stanley, A Question of Honor - The Kosciuszko Squadron - Forgotten Heroes of WWII, Knopf: New York, 2003