Dr. Henryk Slawik: A Polish Raoul Wallenberg?

Last Updated: Friday, September 15, 2017

After the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto in March 1943, where he was sent together with other Jews of this city, Zimmerman was kept prisoner in a sub-camp, KL Plaszów, but he managed to make his escape from there. After a short stay in the mountains with a group of partisans he worked his way to Budapest, where he met Dr Slawik, the leader of the Polish Civic Committee for Relief for Refugees, and also a PPS (the Polish Socialist Party) activist. The two men worked together and some portions of Zimmerman's book include description of Dr Slawik's efforts to save Jews.

Raoul Wallenberg was a diplomat from a prominent Swedish family. He was chosen to go to Hungary by the Swedish governent to save the Hungarian Jews from Hitler's "Final Solution". He arrived in Budapest, Hungary in July 1944, and saved at least 100,000 Jews, and many Christian partisans from Hitler's concentration camps. He was arrested by Russian troops in 1945 and presumed to have died while incarcerated.

When it became clear that Hungarian authorities (Hungary being then ostensibly a neutral country) deported Jewish families to Slovakia, where they were subject to mass execution, Zimmerman alerted the Polish Government in Exile in London to their fate and appealed for an action to be taken by the Polish Legacy in Budapest to save Polish citizens regardless of their denomination and extraction. Thus, when Zimmerman contacted Dr Slawik, the latter had already received instructions from London to act. From then on, the two men co-operated closely on many life-saving projects and Zimmerman became a member of the staff of the Legacy sharing the office with Dr Slawik. The main task being production of forged passports for Jews in order to supply them with new 'Aryan' identities.

Among their achievements was the founding of an asylum near Budapest. About 100 Jewish children found refuge there. Later, after occupation of Hungary by Germans, the children were sent abroad under cover by Dr Slawik and Dr Antall (a Hungarian) and their lives were saved.

In 1941 Germans created in Hungary a camp for Polish officers of Jewish origin. Owing to the fact that the commanding officer was a cruel Hungarian Nazi, the conditions of life there rapidly deteriorated and the camp was transformed into a concentration camp. After a long struggle, Dr Slawik and his Hungarian associates, Dr Antall and Countess Szapary accomplished an appointment of a new CO and thanks to this the officers were able to escape the camp after the Nazi occupation.

Next, the same people set about preparing refugee camps far from dangerous Budapest, one in Mohacz and another near Romanian-Yugoslavian border.

Dr Slawik was arrested and died after 19th March 1944. Despite the fact that he was brutally tortured, he did not give away anybody. Years later he was awarded the Yad Vashem medal. Even though there are considerable differences between the two men, it seems that Dr Henryk Slawik deserves to be called a Polish Raul Wallenberg.

Although in hiding, Henryk Zimmerman, with the help of the Jewish underground organisation in Hungary, continued his plan of saving the lives of Polish and Jewish refugees, of which a few thousand managed to survive.