The commemoration of Jan Jantoń and Apolonia and Stanisław Gacoń - Instytut Pileckiego

The commemoration of Jan Jantoń and Apolonia and Stanisław Gacoń

On 22 June 2022 in Brzostek in the Subcarpathian region, we commemorated three people as part of the “Called by Name” program.

The “Called by Name” program is aimed at inscribing in social memory the stories of Poles who were murdered for helping Jews. On 22 June in Brzostek, the commemoration of those who sacrificed their lives to rescue their neighbors began with a mass. In Poland, such stories are inconceivably numerous. Inconceivably, because the readiness to die for another is hard to imagine. The Pilecki Institute reaches both large and small locations to find unmarked or barely marked sites where the sentences were carried out against the victims of the German occupation terror.

The program has received the Honorary National Patronage of the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda to mark the Centenary of Regaining Independence. So far, 62 people were honored, and 27 stones with commemorative plaques bearing the names of the murdered Poles were unveiled. If known, the names of the Jewish victims appear alongside the Polish ones. In Brzostek, we commemorated Jan Jantoń, who – together with his family – helped a Jewish woman with four children, as well as the spouses Apolonia and Stanisław Gacoń who took care of a Jewish girl.

These stories don’t have happy endings, as both the Poles and the Jews die – Prof. Magdalena Gawin, Director of the Pilecki Institute, said in her official speech. But the very meaning of helping others (…) of sacrifice for another, of choosing to do good is extremely important.

Poland was the only country where – during the German occupation – even the smallest help extended to Jews was punished with death. This is one of the most atrocious war crimes: killing for helping others, adds Prof. Gawin. If we don’t name this crime, it will happen again. We have gathered here today to condemn denunciations, to honor the local heroes by name and to recall the commendable chapter of our shared history (…).

In touching words, Wioletta Kurek told about the actions of her great-grandfather Jan Jantoń: Grandpa Jan, although your loved ones had mourned your death, today our sadness turns into joy. Although you suffered death and orphaned your loved ones, the memory of your deeds will live on not only in the forest of Wola Brzostecka, at the execution site. The commemorative stone in front of the school in Brzostek, the one with your name carved in it, carries an important message: it’s worth being human, it’s worth extending a helping hand, it’s worth sharing your bread (…) it’s also a message to youth and children, a reminder that there are values more precious than life. Even if that life lasts only for 31 years. On behalf of my family, I would like to thank the organizers of the ceremony. They have behind them the power of the Polish state that strives to preserve memory. We are deeply moved and grateful.

Recalling the victims of the German occupation, it is impossible not to notice a historical link between the wartime German terror and the contemporary Russian terror, as well as the willingness of Poles to help those in need – then the Jewish nation, and now the Ukrainian. Senator of the Republic of Poland, Alicja Zając, who was present at the ceremony, said:

In those critical times, both in the past and in the present, Poles opened their hearts to others (…) I went to school at a time when we didn’t learn about those whom we call by name today.

The “Called by Name” commemorations connect the Polish and Jewish communities not only around tragedy, but also around the commendable attitudes of Poles. They are ecumenical in character, as they include both Catholic and Jewish prayers. Each event is attended by the Polish Army.

The commemoration in Brzostek – like all the previous ones – was organized by the Pilecki Institute in cooperation with the local government and the local community with schoolchildren as well as various clubs and associations. The institute was represented by its director – Prof. Magdalena Gawin. The ceremony was co-hosted by Piotr Chęciek, Starost of Dębica, and Wojciech Staniszewski, Mayor of Brzostek. The mass was celebrated by Canon Marek Mnich.

The invited guests included: Paweł Poncyliusz – Member of Parliament of the Republic of Poland; Alicja Zając – Senator of the Republic of Poland and representative of the Parliamentary Group for the Called by Name; Radosław Wiatr – Vice-Voivod of the Podkarpackie Voivodeship and representative of Dr. Ewa Leniart, the Voivod.

The family of the murdered was represented by: Maria Mikrut – daughter of the murdered Jan Jantoń; Stanisław Jantoń – grandson of the murdered Jan Jantoń; Helena Mroczkowska – daughter of the brother of the murdered Stanisław Gacoń; Cecylia Krzyszczuk – granddaughter of the brother of the murdered Apolonia Gacoń.