Bratislava, January 28 (TASR) – Ten Slovaks were awarded the honorific title of Righteous Among the Nations for saving Jewish fellow citizens during WWII at a ceremony in the historical parliament building on Zupne Square in Bratislava on Wednesday evening (International Holocaust Remembrance Day).
The event was attended by representatives of Israel along with Slovak President Andrej Kiska and Parliamentary Chairman Peter Pellegrini.
The names of those awarded the title are: Jan Varga and Anna Vargova, Jozef Krajcovic and Anna Krajcovicova, Stefan Kassa and Maria Kassova, Branislav Handl and Otilia Handlova, Augustin Lacika and Valeria Lacikova.
Descendants of the above were presented with the title documents by Knesset members Yitzhak Vaknin and Oded Forer, Israeli Ambassador to Slovakia Zvi Aviner-Vapni and Israeli consul to Slovakia Avital Gershon.
The names of those honoured will be carved into the Wall of Honour in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. They will join those of 546 brave women and men from Slovakia and almost 26,000 individuals from other countries.
Ambassador Aviner-Vapni said in his speech that those honoured weren’t born as heroes, but they made decisions in difficult times that made them heroes. “And the greatness of this heroism can be understood only when we try to imagine the danger that they risked for themselves and their close ones in order to save others,” said Aviner-Vapni.
Kiska praised the bravery of the people as well. “Those honoured now and those in the past represent indispensable life models of solidarity, hope and the love of freedom. They personify values that we have to protect, all the more so in these times, when these values are threatened by violence, extremism and intolerance,” said Kiska.
One of the direct witness of how Jews were saved was Maria Panikova, daughter of Stefan Kassa and Maria Kassova, who protected the Weiss family of four in Hodrusa (now the village of Hodrusa-Hamre, Banska Bystrica region). At the turn of 1944-45 the Kassas provided shelter to the Weisses at an abandoned goat farm and brought them food. Mrs Panikova remembers the moment when one of the Weisses was at the Kassas’ house at the same time that German soldiers came. “They asked us whether there were partisans in our house. Mum said no. If they had shone a light into a corner, they would have found the father of the family we were helping. They would have shot us all,” said Panikova, her voice breaking.
Righteous Among the Nations awards are presented annually to express respect and admiration for the heroic actions of ordinary people who risked their lives to save persecuted Jewish fellow citizens. They serve as an expression of the gratitude of the Jewish people towards non-Jews who have saved Jews.