Third Meeting of the “Called by Name” Families - Instytut Pileckiego
Third Meeting of the “Called by Name” Families
On 2 September 2022 in Łochów, we began a two-day Third Meeting of the “Called by Name” Families. More than a hundred people attended this special meeting – the oldest participants were over 90 years old, while the youngest one was less than 2 years old. There were 21 new participants at this year’s meeting.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki addressed the participants of the Third Meeting of the “Called by Name” Families in a celebratory letter:
Poles who were murdered by the Germans during the occupation for their very human gesture of rescuing those threatened by death have thus far been unappreciated and forgotten. They paid the utmost price, many of them died a cruel death and, in most cases, for years there was no one to foster their memory. They were unnamed and unknown. (…) The time has come for us to honor them, to “call them by name”, to write down their stories and recall the suffering of those whom they left behind – their families and loved ones. (…) I bow to you – the surviving family members – and thank you for your perseverance. (…) The behavior of those “called by name” is our great legacy. It reminds us about values that are most important both in peace and during various crises. It is on them that we can build the future of our homeland.
In a letter to the participants of the meeting of the “Called by Name” families, Senator Maria Koc expressed appreciation and gratitude for fostering memory about German atrocities.
So many Poles, relatives of those present here today, gave their lives in an attempt to rescue others. We have to remember about their sacrifice and make every effort to familiarize our compatriots with our tragic wartime history, wrote Senator Koc.
Referring to the main theme of the Third Meeting of the Families, Prof. Magdalena Gawin, Director of the Pilecki Institute and initiator of the “Called by Name” program, said:
The fate of your families should serve as both a universal symbol of and a warning against death for helping others. When we met for the first time, we didn’t know that a war would break out in Europe, that Russia would attack Ukraine. Poles welcomed more than four million Ukrainian refugees; more than two million have stayed with us. We gave them shelter in our own homes. It is our common aim to make the fate of those “Called by Name” a warning: never again should anyone in Europe die for helping others.
Punishing your relatives, the Germans violated all international conventions. What is more, the case of murdered Poles was completely marginalized following the end of World War II. Not a single German criminal of those who beat, humiliated, tortured and murdered your relatives was brought to justice. Not a single criminal was punished. When we read testimonies made before the Main Commission for the Investigation of Hitlerite Crimes, we can have an impression that your relatives were killed by some impersonal forces of history clad in German uniforms. Every crime has a name and surname; every perpetrator has a face and a life story. Today we will ask you whether you want to learn the truth, to learn the names of the Germans who committed these hideous crimes, to learn their postwar fates.
Mrs. Grażyna Prostko, granddaughter of Józefa and Józef Dmoch who were murdered for helping Jews, spoke on behalf of the families who joined the “Called by Name” families in the present year.
Taking in the Jews, my grandparents did the right thing. They are our heroes and role models; not only for us, but also for the future generations, for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We are proud of them, and I’m sure that our parents, who are now deceased, would also be proud of their parents.
Thanking the Pilecki Institute – both Prof. Magdalena Gawin and the team – for the “Called by Name” program, Mrs. Prostko said:
We are very grateful to the Institute for this initiative, which started in our families a discussion on this issue after all these years. We have never before discussed this together. You made us talk a lot and loud about our grandparents.
These tragic experiences were so harrowing that we were unable to talk about them. We couldn’t discuss them calmly with our parents. My dad refused to speak. He would always dismiss the subject. He said, “There is nothing to talk about. It was a long time ago.” Thanks to the “Called by Name” program, you showed us that we can talk about it. Erecting a stone with a commemorative plaque, you restored the memory about and identity of our grandparents. Today the story of our ancestors is becoming known to the local communities, who often don’t realize that such people had once lived among them. People who were heroes, who died for helping others. Our grandparents have been “called by name” 80 years after their death.
Mrs. Grażyna Prostko also read out an excerpt from the archival testimonies of her parents that are kept by the Institute of National Remembrance. The children of the murdered thus spoke of their heroic parents:
Our family suffered a great deal both during World War II and in its aftermath, when we had to cope without our parents. At the same time, we believe that our parents died for a good cause. It was a good cause to save the lives of other people who were persecuted by the enemy. No one and nothing can bring back our parents, but we have the satisfaction that our parents were courageous people who could overcome fear and help others in danger.
The two-day program of the Third Meeting of the “Called by Name” Families featured integration classes and workshops. Observing the need to educate a new generation of guardians of family history, this year we focused on the intergenerational transmission of memory.
During the first day of workshops, employees of the Pilecki Institute encouraged the participants to deepen their knowledge on their own and to create and expand their family archives, this with the use of relevant tools provided by the Institute. The workshop was prepared mainly for the youngest generation, which is to perpetuate the family history. The issue of visibility of the “Called by Name” program in the media, including social media, was also raised during the workshop.
Towards the end of the first day, Prof. Magdalena Gawin, Director of the Pilecki Institute, handed out commemorative pins.
Participants of the Meeting took a commemorative photo
The Meeting concluded with a gala dinner and integration. The time spent together was invaluable – it was the first contact with other Families for some participants, while others met for a second or third time. Many participants for the first time spoke publicly about their traumatic family history.
The participants signed an open letter summarizing the Third Meeting of the “Called by Name” Families. The letter pertains to, among others, the problem of passing on difficult experiences to next generations.
Open letter on the occasion of the Third Meeting of the “Called by Name” Families
Łochów, 2 September 2022
It is for the third time that we meet as the “Called by Name” Families – relatives of Poles who were murdered for helping Jews during the German occupation. For the past three years, we have been gathering to experience the community of families who suffered this enormous loss. Each meeting is extremely important to us; it makes us realize that we are not alone with our difficult experiences, that there are others who understand us because they share a similar fate.
For many years, the tragic fates of our loved ones went unnoticed. We ourselves and what we had to cope with after the end of the German occupation – orphanhood, broken families, the lack of a roof over our heads – remained invisible to the general public. Nobody wanted to hear our voice, while we ourselves, discouraged by indifference and misunderstanding, were unable to fight for attention. It is only now, thanks to the “Called by Name” program of the Pilecki Institute, that we can – and gradually learn how to – talk openly about the suffering of our families. We have to carry on – not only for ourselves, but first and foremost out of respect for the victims and concern for future generations.
We realize how much still has to be done and how much time the eyewitnesses to these tragedies needed to accept their role as guardians of family memory. We have to prepare the younger generation to continue this mission. It will be their duty to foster the memory about the “Called by Name”, and the longevity of the message will depend on their motivation and skills. We need their fresh perspective, boldness and familiarity with modern communication tools in order to preserve the history of our loved ones not only in our families, but also in collective memory.
Families of the “Called by Name”
The “Called by Name” program of the Pilecki Institute is aimed at commemorating Poles who were murdered by the Germans for helping Jews designated for extermination. Since the first commemoration in 2019 in the village of Sadowne, we have restored the memory about 62 people – in seven voivodeships, 16 counties, 26 communes, seven towns and 19 villages. The main goal of the program is to “call by name” those who died for helping others, but the activation of local government officials and residents – focusing their attention around memory about those “Called by Name” – is also extremely important. Since the very beginning, another aspect of great importance was the integration of the families of those “Called by Name”: a few generations sharing the experience of double loss, as they were not only deprived of their parents, grandparents or siblings, and thus of childhood in general, but also doomed to decades of silence. The Pilecki Institute wanted to establish close contact with the descendants of those “Called by Name”, but at the same sought to bring them together.
The First Meeting of the “Called by Name” Families took place on 24 November 2019 in Brok on the Bug River; the second – due to the pandemic – was held on 25 September 2021 in the Column Hall of the Polish Parliament. The Third Meeting began on 2 September (Friday) and ended on 3 September (Saturday) in Folwark Łochów situated in the heart of the Bug Landscape Park. The event included many activities, among others educational workshops. In 2021, the main theme was the principle of collective responsibility applied by the Germans to destroy the local community. This year we focused on the intergenerational transmission of memory and educating a new generation of guardians of family history.
Employees of the Pilecki Institute encouraged the participants to deepen their knowledge on their own and to create and expand their family archives, this with the use of relevant tools provided by the Institute; the issue of presence of the “Called by Name” in the media (including social media) was also raised.
We recognize not only the tragedy of the victims, but also the injustice suffered by subsequent generations – broken family ties, destroyed property, orphanhood, the lack of support from the local community. For this reason, the meeting of the “Called by Name” Families has integration at its core; it is aimed at bringing together those families who suffered a similar loss, this in order to allow sharing difficult experiences.