When my parents died, they left behind many puzzles. One of the most profound is of the woman who hid them for a year and a half in the cellar of her villa in Grochów, Warsaw.
born 16 July 1894 – died 26 August 1944
October 2010, G
According to the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, Henryk Sławik provided assistance to approximately five thousand Jews who found themselves in Hunagarian territory during World War II.
A veteran of three Silesian uprisings (for Polish claims to the region), Sławik had made a name for himself as a great social and political activist, as well as reporter, in pre-War Silesia. Beginning in 1928, he became the head of „Gazeta Robotnicza” („Workers’ Newspaper”), the periodical of the Polish Socialist Party. Nevertheless, it was outside of Poland that he found his place in world history – in the Kingdom of Hungary, between 1940 and 1944.
One of the more than one-hundred-thousand Polish soldiers and civilians to take refuge in Hungary after 17 September 1939, he soon became the leader of this group. Already in November ’39, with the support of József Antall, the Hungarian government’s plenipotentiary for refugee matters, Sławik took the initiative to establish the Citizen's Committee for Help for Polish Refugees in Hungary.
In March of 1940, this institution was granted power of attorney by the Polish Government in Exile. Its chairman Henryk Sławik, meanwhile, was appointed to a new position by General Władysław Sikorski: he now became the Polish Ministry for Social Care’s official delegate to Hungary.
From 1940 until the German invasion of Hungary on 19 March 1944, in his capacity as carer for wartime refugees, Sławik produced new identification papers for Jews, using Slavic-sounding surnames.
It was such documents that protected these people from Nazi persecution during their stay along the Danube. At the same time, these papers allowed them to more easily exit the country, since Hungary, despite its alliance with the Nazis, maintained a friendly stance towards Poles. In aiding Jews, Sławik worked closely with the office of József Antall who „stamped and legalized” the documents.
Once Hungary was occupied by German forces, Sławik went into hiding. Ultimately arrested and brutally tortured, he never betrayed Antall. This saved Antall’s life. Sławik himself perished at Mauthausen.
As early as 1946, under the People’s Republic of Poland, Sławik’s involvement with the London Government found him sentenced once again – this time, to several decades of oblivion. The silence surrounding him was first broken abroad: the Yad Vashem Institute honored Sławik with the title of „Righteous Among Nations.”
It was not until the mid-1990’s, however, that this „Polish Wallenberg” was restored to his rightful place in history – thanks, at first, to the work of Henryk Zimmermann, Sławik’s collaborator during the final phase of his work rescuing Jews, and later to the continued efforts of Grzegorz Łubczyka, Poland’s former ambassador to Hungary. Only after many years did the lengthy battle to revive the memory of this great Pole finally yield documentaries, radio programs, articles, books, and distinguished recognition from the state. In 2008, it also led to the creation of the organization „HENRYK SŁAWIK – Pamięć i Dzieło” („HENRYK SŁAWIK – Life and Works”.