The Lithuanian Jewish Community together with the Polish Institute in Vilnius, the Goodwill Foundation and the Czarne publishing house hosted a discussion September 27 called “Person with a Strong Backbone” on public awareness of the Holocaust and of Polish and Lithuanian Righteous Gentiles who rescued Jews from death. The guest of honor was Romuald Weksler-Waszkinel who was born in Švenčionys and escaped death due to the efforts of Righteous Gentiles.
The discussion was based on the book of the same name by Polish radio journalist Dariusz Rosiak who discovered a hero in Waszkinel (Człowiek o twardym karku. Historia księdza Romualda Jakuba Wekslera-Waszkinela, Wydawnictwo Czarne, Wołowiec 2013). The author and his book’s main character shared with the audience memories and reflections of Polish and Lithuanian Righteous Gentiles against the backdrop of Waszkinel’s moving story of his salvation by Polish rescuers and how they raised him as one of the family.
Vilnius Polish Institute director Marcin Łapczyński said: “The Holocaust is one of the greatest and most horrific tragedies in the history of humanity. Millions of Jews lost their lives because of the crime planned by the Germans. About half of Poland’s 6 million citizens who died during World War II were Jews. It’s worth recalling Poles constitute about 25 percent of all people awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations for the heroic rescue of Jews. They are in first place in the awards list. Likewise, Polish families in Lithuania helped Jews. Examples include Katarzyna and Ignacy Bujel from Vaidotai, Maria and Antoni Kruminis-Łozowski from i Jašiūnai and of course Emilia and Piotr Waszkinel from Švenčionys. Among the almost 900 Lithuanian citizens who are Righteous Gentiles, Poles form the majority.”
Well-known Vilnius teacher, bibliophile and proponent of multiculturalism Vytautas Toleikis led the discussion, after which Grzegorz Lindowski’s documentary film “Embedded in David’s Star, the Cross” (“…wpisany w gwiazdę Dawida – krzyżm,” 1997) was shown, in which Romuald Waszkinel shares his dramatic story, his dilemmas and thoughts which led him to inner peace and certainty.
Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel was born in the Švenčionys ghetto in 1943. His entire family was murdered in the Holocaust. He was rescued and raised by the Catholic family the Waszkinels who moved to Pasłęk bear Elbląg in Poland after the war. Romuald was raised Catholic and was consecrated a Catholic priest in 1966. He taught at Catholic University in Lublin from 1971 till his retirement. In 1978 he discovered he was Jewish. His double identity has made him an important figure in Jewish-Christian dialogue. He now lives in Tel Aviv.
Dariusz Rosiak was born in 1962 and is an award-winning radio and print journalist as well as the author of several books. In addition to radio inside Poland, he has also worked abroad for RFI in France and BBC in the UK. He currently hosts a program on Polish Radio channels 2 and 3 on international topics. His book “Grain and Blood: In the Footsteps of the Christians of the Near East” (Ziarno i krew. Podróż śladami bliskowschodnich chrześcijan, Wydawnictwo Czarne, Wołowiec 2015) received the prestigious Beata Pawlak award and was nominated for the Nike literary prize.