Henryk Slawik - Polish WWII Hero

Photo of Henryk Slawik
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia commons. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland. Considered Fair Use.

The Polish diplomat Henryk Slawik (1894 – 1944) is credited with saving over 30,000 Polish refugees, including 5,000 Polish Jews in Budapest Hungary. On March 19, 1944 the Germans arrested Slawik. Despite brutal torture, Slawik never gave up one name or contact. The Germans executed him on August 23, 1944, presumably at Mauthausen concentration camp.

I continue to be amazed at the names of courageous people who acted without hesitation to do what was right at the risk of their own lives. Henryk Slawik is one of those people I was unaware of until recently. We honor their actions by remembering them and recognizing them. In a world that still faces multiple genocides – we can learn from those who took a stand and made a difference.

Hungary remained a “neutral” country until Hitler invaded it in 1944
During the inter-war period (between WWI and WWII), Slawyk became an activist and eventually a politician in Poland. In 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, Henryk joined a mobilized police battalion that was part of the Krakow Army fighting the Nazis. On September 15, Henryk’s battalion retreated toward the Hungarian border. He eventually became the delegate to Hungary for the Polish government in exile and settled in Budapest. He also spoke excellent German.

Hungary was considered relatively neutral, safe and unfriendly towards the Nazis so many Poles and Polish Jews fled there and settled in. Slawik spoke excellent German, and with Antall and Henryk Zvi Zimmerman he created the Citizen’s Committee for Help for Polish Refugees.  He issued thousands of documents certifiying that Polish Jews were Christians, enabling them to flee the country.

In September 1943 Henryk set up an orphanage for Jewish children and hid 100 children there. To help disguise it, the orphanage was officially called the School for Children of Polish Officers. Catholic clergy were invited to come and meet with the children regularly and issued Catholic birth certificates. After Germany invaded Hungary in 1944, furious at Hungary’s anti-Nazi stance, Slawik and Zimmerman managed to send all the children abroad under false documents. All the children survived.

A Polish Raoul Wallenberg?
On multiple lists of ‘heroes’ Slawik’s name appears; he is consistently credited for saving at least 30,000 people, sharing the lists with Irena Sendler, Wiold Pilecki and Jan Karski. I found repeated references that name him the Polish Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat in Hungary who saved over 100,000 people by issuing false documents between July and December 1944.

Awards in the name of Henryk Slawik
The Australian Society of Polish Jews and their Descendants bestows an annual Henryk Slawik award “upon an individual or organisation that contributes to a greater understanding of the unique and dynamic contribution by the Polish Jewish community to the all-embracing Polish culture and ethos.” The group maintains a Facebook page, and is one of many organizations who recognize the contributions of Henryk Slawik. There are other awards and recognitions – however I can’t read Polish so am limited in naming them all.

Link to Yad Vashem

Information compiled from various sources. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia commons.

March 22, 2015 Update: Two days after posting this, the presidents of Poland and Hungary jointly commemorated a new monument to Henryk Sławik and Jozsef Antall in the Silesian capital of Katowice, close to the International Congress Centre.

March 21, 2015 news reports:
Radio Poland
Hungary Today

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Tags: Holocaust, Jewish History, Notable Poles, Polish History, World War II - Europe

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