Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Remarks at Opening of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Exhibit “Some Were Neighbors”

Dom Spotkan z Historią

April 19, 2022

Director Jakubowski, thank you for the warm welcome and to you and your team at Dom Spotkan z Historią for hosting this important exhibition. The Embassy is proud to have partnered with you and your colleagues many times over the years.

Director Bloomfield, and team from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, welcome back to Warsaw. I can think of no better place and time than here and now to unveil this impactful exhibit in Warsaw’s Old Town.

Minister Kolarski and Mayor Trzaskowski, it’s a privilege to have you mark this occasion with us.

Like many of you, I am wearing a daffodil today to commemorate the brave, heroic resistance of Polish Jews who, on this day in 1943, fought back against unjust oppressors. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was one of the most significant armed uprisings against Nazi terror during World War II.

And this daffodil is a symbol that we should remember together the courage of the heroes of the Uprising and those who perished.

Opening the “Some Were Neighbors” exhibit in Warsaw, on this day in particular, is a fitting way to remember and to reflect on this month-long revolt and on the Holocaust.

How was that possible? The brutal conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto that forced men, women, and children to live in squalor and in fear. The genocide of millions of innocent people.

The Nazis were the architects and perpetrators of the Holocaust, that is clear and indisputable. This exhibition delves deeper into the individual, and in some cases, family and community choices, that led to very different choices with very different outcomes.

What led people to aid and/or abet these atrocities? Was it fear? Anti-Semitism? Intolerance? Peer pressure? And what led others to choose courage in the face of grave personal risk to help their neighbors? And what led some to choose indifference and inaction?

My grandfather, Tadeusz Brzezinski, was one of many who chose to stand up, who did what he knew was right despite the risks his actions caused. In 2008, I wrote of his incredible story in the New York Times, how he went beyond the call of duty in his role as a Polish diplomat.

Serving as Poland’s consul general in Leipzig, Germany during Hitler’s rise to power in the early 1930s, he saw the unjust evil brew and grow. At that time Jews were already being moved to concentration camps and losing their legal status.

My grandfather provided Polish passports to Jews, both Polish and German, so they could be freed from internment or be able to escape Nazi Germany. When indifference was the easy choice, he made the hard choice. He made the right choice.

He chose not to be indifferent in the face of atrocity. He chose to take action to protect lives.

Eight decades later, literally right next door, we are witnessing the horrors of unjust brutality against innocent people who want to live peacefully. In 2022, the entire world sees the suffering of millions of Ukrainians. But we also see all of Poland choosing action.

From Szczecin to Zakopane, Bialystok to Bielsko Biala, and most certainly, here in Warsaw—Poles are helping their neighbors. They are doing what is right.

This country, every level of government, non-governmental organizations, and most importantly every day, ordinary citizens, have chosen action. They’ve chosen compassion.

They’ve not only opened their schools, their hospitals, and their wallets. But they’ve also opened their homes and their hearts.

Poland is an example for the world. We are so grateful for your decisive leadership and commitment to warmly welcome millions of Ukrainian refugees in their hour of need.

As shared in the Talmud, and engraved on the back of medals awarded to the Righteous Among Nations, those individuals who selflessly saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust,

“Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world.”

Thank you for having me today.