Jews & Poles Console
Kew Gardens, N.Y. .. Nobody else could have been more exuberant than the members of the Polish-Jewish Dialogue Committee of New York when President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a deceased World War II hero revered by both the Jewish and the Polish communities.
The President bestowed this honor on Jan Karski, a Polish Catholic officer in Poland’s underground resistance Home Army (Armia Krajowa), who is now being acknowledged as “The Man Who Tried to Stop the Holocaust.”
As an eyewitness to the atrocities of Hitler’s “Final Solution” against the Jews, Karski’s mission was to work his way out of German-occupied Poland and reach the Allies to warn them the Holocaust was in full force. He reached the British and gave them this dreaded message. Then he went on to the United States to personally deliver it to President Roosevelt.
To preserve the memory of a great humanitarian like Karski, the Polish-Jewish Dialogue Committee agreed to create its own annual award to be presented in his name.
The recipient of the first Jan Karski Award was Adrian Benepe, the grandson of a member of Poland’s WWII government-in-exile. Mr. Benepe is the former Commissioner of Parks & Recreation of New York City.
At an outdoor ceremony conducted at the site where the statue of the Old Testament personage “Job” is located in Queens County’s Forest Park, the Dialogue Committee presented its plaque of recognition to Mr. Benepe.
Mr. Benepe’s grandfather was Antoni Wojcicki, whose service in Poland’s exile government took place in London. At the time of Germany’s and the Soviet Union’s combined invasion of Poland in 1939, the officials of Poland’s government were able to escape the Nazis and the Communists. They fled to France and then to London which became their center of operations for the duration of the war.
Karski’s service as a courier for the Polish underground forces was directed by the government newly located in London. It was also Poland’s government-in-exile which created and funded the Council for Aid to Jews known by its code name of Zegota. It was the only organization of its kind in German-occupied Europe that exclusively aided Jews with funds provided by its government.
The Polish-Jewish Dialogue Committee of New York was organized in 2008 by the Downstate NY Division of the Polish American Congress and the Queens Jewish Historical Society. It is co-chaired by the Society’s Jeff Gottlieb and Chet Szarejko of the Downstate Congress.
– Frank Milewski
Photo (ABOVE) by Polish American Congress Downstate NY Division.
Adrian Benepe (holding plaque) accepts congratulations from the Polish Jewish Dialogue Committee and other dignitaries. Shown with him are (left to right): Dorothy Lewandowski, Queens Borough Parks Commissioner; Jeff Gottlieb, president Queens Jewish Historical Society; Helen Marshall, Borough President of Queens County; Frank Milewski, president, Downstate NY Polish American Congress; Mr. Benepe; Chet Szarejko, vice president, Downstate NY Polish American Congress and Rabbi Moses A. Birnbaum, Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills. Absent from photo is Msgr. Peter Zendzian, pastor of Holy Cross R.C. Church in Maspeth, who gave the benediction.