Yesterday, All Saints Church, as the first church in Poland, was named a “House of Life” by the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation in tribute to the work of its priests and parishioners to save Jews during World War II.
The President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, marked the event in a letter read in the church yesterday. Here it is in English:
The President’s letter at the ceremony proclaiming the Church of All Saints in Warsaw as the House of Life
Organizers and Participants of the ceremony proclaiming the Church of All Saints in Warsaw as the House of Life
Your Excellency, Most Reverend Bishop Markowski, Excellencies, Ambassadors,
Distinguished Representatives of the Foundation, Reverend Father Waleńdzik,
Honourable Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The ceremony today honours a symbolic space which at the time of barbarity and terror became an enclave of justice and humanity. In the years when Hitler`s Third Reich occupied Poland, amid immense misery inflicted by German Nazis, the Warsaw Church of All Saints served as a place where Poles were helping Jews in an unusual way. It was possible thanks to the determination and heroism of a group of people led by Reverend Prelate, the late Marceli Godlewski – the then parish priest of the local church, which for some time was situated within the boundries of the ghetto.
Faced by unbelievable evil and bestiality, Priest Godlewski decided that it was indispensable to act, to stand unequivocally on the side of good. Together with his supporters he stood up against extermination plans of the German occupiers and their relentless law aimed at breaking the solidarity of Polish people with their Jewish fellow citizens and neighbours. In Poland, and further to the east, any help to Jews was punishable by death. And indeed it was enforced, as proved by numerous examples, including the history of the Ulma Family from Markowa, or that of the Kowalski Family from Ciepielów. Despite the real threat, Poles risked their own lives and those of their families, demonstrating extraordinary bravery and courage. In 1942, the Council to Aid Jews “Żegota” was established. One of its activists, Irena Sendlerowa, saved almost 2,500 Jewish children. Jan Karski and Witold Pilecki – representatives of the Polish Underground State – informed the world about the Holocaust in their reports. We will certainly never know the names of all the Poles who saved their Jewish fellow citizens. Nevertheless, all of them are our national heroes. The Republic of Poland is proud of them.
One of them, Priest Marceli Godlewski – referred to as the parish priest of the ghetto – helped Jews by issuing false documents, smuggling food and medicines, trying to find shelter for Jewish children.
More than 100 people found hiding thanks to him, but presumably thousands of Jews turned to Father Godlewski for assistance. This wonderful chapter in the history of the local parish church constitutes, in a sense, the implementation of the eternal idea of the Ark – a safe refuge which allows to survive and save one`s life, even in the darkest of times.
Therefore, I wish to thank cordially the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation for awarding to the Church of All Saints – for the first time in Poland – the honourable title of the House of Life. I am truly delighted. I consider this to be the sign of gratitude and acknowledgement of the heroism and courage of all Poles who were saving Jews during World War II.
For our nation the principles by which they were led: solidarity with their neighbours, human brotherhood and loyalty vis-à-vis fellow citizens are always valid. Also today, the sovereign Polish State wants to be the Republic of Friends. We want to remain faithful to our historical tradition and values – the same as those followed by Marceli Godlewski and hundreds of thousands of our compatriots across Poland who risked their lives by helping Jews. May this newly awarded distinction contribute to preserving their deeds in the collective memory of both our nations: the Polish and the Jewish one, as well as in the awarness of Europe and the world.
The President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda
All Saints holds a special place in my heart as it’s where I often went to mass with my grandmother in the early 1990s when my family lived in Poland. The church was a block from her apartment, where she could see it from her window, along with the rest of downtown Warsaw.
As it so happens, when I was walking past the church today I noticed that it was exactly thirty years ago that St. John Paul II visited All Saints on June 8, 1987.
Despite the impossible conditions Poles have had to endure, even in what seemed to be the most hopeless times, many of them were able to reach out to those in need and shed some light into the darkness. God works in mysterious ways to make certain things come together all at once.