October 4, 2011

Polish Medal

Knight's Cross
Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland

I was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland last week by the Predisent of Poland at the Polish Consulate in New York City.  Needless to say, this was a high honor and big surprise.  The award was the result of my work with the Museum's Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oswiecim and its contribution to Polish Jewish Relations.

While sitting in the consulate waiting for the decoration to be conferred, I thought back on my first visit to Poland in January 1981. I was part of a team from the Office of Special Investigations, US Department of Justice that was taking depositions in a war crimes trial.  It was a particularly tense time in Poland during a rather chilly phase of the Cold War (we were there on the day that Ronald Reagan was inaugurated president). In response to Solidarity and democratic stirrings in Poland, the Red Army was massing troops on the Polish border.  I returned later that year, in late November - early December to conduct research in the archives of the Auschwitz State Museum.  There were nationwide strikes, food shortages, and a crisis atmosphere.  I was witness to a demonstration in the main market square in Krakow on November 29, commemorating an uprising against the Russian Empire in 1830;  it was the first time this event had been marked since before World War II.

I departed Poland the next week, shortly before martial law was imposed....

My photo of a demonstration in Krakow on November 29, 1981