Twelve medal recipients were unable to attend the ceremony. Ten received awards posthumously. One of those recognized was the deceased German officer Wilhelm Hosenfeld, who saved pianist and composer Wladyslaw Szpilman. Their story was the subject of Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning film “The Pianist.” Kaczynski presented the Commander’s Cross to Hosenfeld’s daughter, Jorinde Krejci-Hosenfeld and son, Detlev Hosenfeld. “It’s a great honor for us that our father was honored by the Polish president and by Poland,” said Jorinde Krejci-Hosenfeld during the ceremony. Others who received awards included Polish writer Ryszard Matuszewski and Japan’s prewar consul in Grodno, Sugihara Chiune. Kaczynski said Poland was the only country the Nazis occupied where helping a Jew was punishable by death.
It was a statement about the bravery of those who received the awards. The ultimate punishment for helping Jews was often imposed not only on the rescuer, but also on his or her family, on neighbors, even whole villages or towns. “I cannot honor all those who deserve to be memorialized – not all of them are known,” Kaczynski said. He said he hoped the public would consider the honors recognition of all those “who helped Jews in German-occupied Poland.”
An Israeli Holocaust memorial organization has already honored all of the Poles whom Kaczynski recognized. Overall, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem has given Righteous Among the Nations medals to 6,000 Poles who helped Jews escape the Holocaust.