Instytut Pileckiego

Here you will find answers to the most commonly asked questions about the Pilecki Institute’s flagship project.

1. Who are the “Called by Name”?

The “Called by Name” project commemorates Poles who were murdered by representatives of the German occupational authorities because they helped Jews. This help took various forms: from giving food, to making a barn available for one night, to hiding Jews in one’s own home for many months. The German occupational authorities forbade any form of assistance to the Jewish population, and breaking this law was punishable by death. The “Called by Name” project focuses on those who were killed for offering aid. Of course, we recall also the suffering of the victims’ families and the tragedy of the Jews, who in the vast majority of cases perished together with the people who had tried to save them.

2. How many “Called by Name” can there be?

It is unknown just how many can ever be honored as part of the project, but estimates show around 1,000 victims. First, we select the stories that are well documented and corroborated in more than one source. Archival materials are supplemented by testimonies from living descendants or the victim’s immediate family.

3. What makes the “Called by Name” different from the Righteous Among the Nations?

They are two slightly different projects. The Righteous Among the Nations medal has been awarded by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem since 1963 to people who saved Jews during the Holocaust. The application for the medal is mainly submitted by survivors, as the Yad Vashem Institute requires Jewish testimonies. In the case of those who were murdered for helping Jews, such testimonies are rare because the people who were aided usually died together with their rescuers. The “Called by Name” project focuses on this latter group, which has never previously been honored. Only a few have been posthumously awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medal. These are the Lubkiewicz family from Sadowne (their murdered son Stefan did not receive the Yad Vashem medal) and the Krysiewicz family from Waniewo. In two other cases the applications were rejected because of a lack of Jewish testimonies (this was the case for the Posteks from Stoczek and the Andrzejczyks from Czyżew).

Another characteristic element of the “Called by Name” project is the focus on the relatives of the victims. Not only do we collect their testimonies, but we also integrate the environment of the families of those “Called by Name” – in this way, we are facilitating the creation of a community of people with similar experiences. We also conduct educational workshops in schools and hold local meetings with witnesses of history. The “Called by Name” project highlights places in public and virtual space related to the victims, which in turn allows local experiences to become a part of common historical knowledge.

The project also commemorates the Jewish victims. During the unveiling of the plaque, we recall the names and surnames of the Jews who were hiding, most of whom were pre-war citizens of the Second Polish Republic. If we know the place where they were buried, then we also raise a matzevah in agreement with the Jewish community. The project shows that the Polish state, both during the occupation and today, wants to remember and care for all its citizens, regardless of their nationality. This was the policy of the Polish Underground State and the Polish government-in-exile, which during the Second World War was the first to tell the world the truth about German death camps and the Shoah, as well as financing the activities of the Council to Aid Jews “Żegota” and condemning those who blackmailed Jews and their helpers.

4. How do you select the people to be commemorated?

The “Called by Name” project commemorates Poles who were murdered by representatives of the German occupational authorities because they helped Jews. We select only those stories that are well documented and corroborated in more than one source. We analyze lists that have been compiled concerning German repressions, and from these we make preliminary selections of the stories that we want to publicize through the project. As part of our comprehensive approach, we conduct archival research in Poland (especially at the Main Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland), Germany (Bundesarchiv), and Israel (Yad Vashem), and we also record the accounts of family members of the victims and the surviving witnesses of the events. Each case is thoroughly analyzed by our research team.

5. What happens at a “Called by Name” commemoration, and who takes part?

A permanent form of commemoration is a stone, located in a public area, with a plaque dedicated to the “Called by Name”. Its unveiling is ceremonial: the most important thing on the day in question is the presence of the families – we want to honor them and surround them with special care. The commemoration is attended by the initiator of the program, Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage Prof. Magdalena Gawin, representatives of state and local authorities, and the directors of the Pilecki Institute. We are also accompanied by the Territorial Defense Forces, Volunteer Fire Brigade, the police, Scouts, school pupils with their tutors and teachers, representatives of veterans’ associations, historical reconstruction groups, local bands, musicians, orchestras, choirs and the local community.

6. What else is included in the “Called by Name” project, except the unveiling of a commemorative plaque?

The “Called by Name” project involves the work of many people, including the employees of almost every department of the Pilecki Institute, the families of those “Called by Name”, representatives of the local authorities, and residents of the towns and villages from which the individuals being commemorated originate. We constantly develop our plans and introduce subsequent changes in order to reach the widest possible group of recipients.

The unveiling of the commemorative plaque is a very important element of the project, but it is only one of many activities. The Center for Totalitarian Studies has spent more than a year working to document, describe, and thus preserve and promote knowledge about Poles who saved Jews during the German occupation. As part of the workshops Życie za bochenek chleba [Life for a Loaf of Bread] and Zawołać po imieniu [Call by Name], our educators introduce the younger generations to the common experience of Poles and Jews during the Second World War. In each location associated with the “Called by Name” project, we are supported by specialist coordinators. Together we organize celebrations of the National Day of Remembrance of Poles Rescuing Jews under German Occupation, meetings with witnesses of history and other events that disseminate knowledge about those “Called by Name”. Our Film Projects Team also plays a very important role: they record the accounts of witnesses to the events in question. The recorded testimonies can be viewed on the Pilecki Institute’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. We also integrate the families of the victims. On 24 November 2019, we organized the first Meeting of the “Called by Name” Families. The meeting included a workshop for local authorities with the aim of establishing a common strategy for the development of the project and identifying the needs of the communities.

7. I know a story about people who were murdered for helping Jews. Can I pass it on to the Pilecki Institute?

Yes, we invite the family members of victims in particular to contact us. Each case will be thoroughly analyzed by our research team. As part of our comprehensive approach, we conduct archival research in Poland, Germany, and Israel. However, we commemorate only those stories that are well documented and corroborated in more than one source. It would also be very helpful to contact the surviving descendants or the victims’ closest family members. This will allow us to record their testimonies and obtain copies of photographs and documents from family collections.

Project content coordinator:

Marcin Panecki