The Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem has announced that Konstanty Rokicki will be honored as Righteous Among the Nations for his work during World War II.
Rokicki was part of the so-called “Bern group” which issued hundreds of fake documents to Jews in order to save them from the Holocaust. The Polish ambassador to Switzerland Aleksander Ładoś, his deputy Stefan Ryniewicz, diplomat Juliusz Kuehl, and consul Rokicki all worked to produce the fake documents.
The Jewish rescue committee RELICO in Geneva (founded by Abraham Silberschein) and Rabbi Chaim Eissem from Zurich worked with the group to provide names and information and to smuggle the documents to Jews living in Nazi ghettos.
The Jewish groups paid for the documents. Kuehl took the money to the Paraguayan embassy and bribed officials for blank passports. He provided those to Rokicki who filled them out with information provided by the Jewish groups. The passports were then taken back to the Paraguayan embassy to be notarized.
The Jewish groups then smuggled the falsified documents into the ghettos. The documents were backdated to December 1942 to make the forgery less obvious. In addition to Paraguay, passports from Honduras, Peru, Salvador, Bolivia, and Haiti were used.
Jews with forged documents were not sent to the death camps where millions of Jews were killed. Instead, they were sent to Pawiak and then later to internment camps which were usually in France.
Some of the important people who received Rokicki’s forged documents were Daniel Rotfield, who later became the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs; Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Finkel, who became the chief rabbi of the Netherlands; Aron Schuster; Nathan Eck, historian; and many of the leaders of the Slovak and Będzin underground ghettos.
The honor makes Rokicki the 6,707th Pole to be recognized for aiding the Jews during the Holocaust.
When the war ended, Rokicki remained in Lucerne, Switzerland, to avoid working for the Communist regime in Poland. After being ill for several years, Rokicki passed away in 1958. His work during the war went unrecognized during his lifetime, and he was buried in the part of the Friedenthal cemetery that is reserved for the poor.
A recent analysis by the Polish embassy in Switzerland found about 1,000 documents were provided to Jews by the Bern group. About 800 of those people survived.
In February 2018, the Polish ambassador in Bern, Jakub Kumach, presented the documents concerning the Bern group’s work to the Shoah Museum in Paris. This brought worldwide recognition to the group.
In October 2018, a ceremony was held in Switzerland. A new tombstone was erected over Rokicki’s grave as the original one was destroyed in the 1970s.
The president of Poland, Andrzej Duda, spoke at the ceremony which was attended by survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants. Attendees arrived from Israel, the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland.
The Righteous Among the Nations honor is awarded by Yad Vashem, an organization founded to “perpetuate the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.” The organization considers it one of their primary missions to express the gratitude of the State of Israel and of Jewish people to the non-Jewish people who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
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