Taube Philanthropies announces the 2017 Irena Sendler Awardees

Taube Philanthropies Honors Polish Philosopher Stefan Wilkanowicz and Psychologist Bogdan Białek for Strengthening Polish-Jewish Relations

The Irena Sendler Memorial Award is given annually to Polish citizens who preserve Jewish heritage and Holocaust memory

L: Stefan Wilkanowicz; R: Bogdan Białek


SAN FRANCISCO – Through an annual program to honor Polish citizens committed to strengthening Polish-Jewish relations and commemorating the legacy of Polish Jewish heritage and Holocaust memory, Taube Philanthropies has named the 2017 recipients of its Irena Sendler Memorial Awards.

Stefan Wilkanowicz is a Catholic intellectual who worked for years as a journalist for Tygodnik Powszechny, Poland's longest-running independent journal since the end of WWII, and as editor-in-chief of the monthly publication Znak. He is part of a liberal Catholic intelligentsia that has continuously condemned anti-Semitism and strengthened Polish-Jewish relations, even in the face of surveillance or outright suppression during the communist era. Wilkanowicz also was a leader in the reputable Catholic Intelligentsia Club (KIK), the International Auschwitz Council, and the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.

Bogdan Białek, a psychologist, established the now annual Kielce March of Memory and Prayer in 2000 to remember the victims of the worst anti-Semitic violence in postwar Poland, when 42 Jewish citizens were murdered and another 40 wounded during the July 4, 1946 pogrom in Kielce. On the memorial walk to the Jewish cemetery that Białek leads, participants light candles and read aloud the names of the victims. The yearly program serves to embrace the past, educate the community, and foster dialogue between the citizens of Kielce and the larger Jewish world.

The Irena Sendler Memorial Award is named for the Polish social worker who saved hundreds of Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation.

The 2017 awards will be presented to Wilkanowicz and Białek at a ceremony at the Kraków Jewish Culture Festival on Friday, June 30, at 6 p.m. in the Tempel Synagogue. The ceremony precedes the Annual Memorial Concert honoring Dr. Jan Kulczyk (1950-2015), who was recognized with the Irena Sendler Memorial award posthumously in 2015. The concert, which will feature Moroccan-Israeli singer-artist Neta Elkayam, is part of the 27th annual Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków, another project supported by Taube Philanthropies.

"Both of these men, with their messages of understanding and reconciliation, have promoted tolerance and dialogue in the face of conflict, and have engendered openness and humanity in response to controversy and distrust," said Tad Taube, Chairman of Taube Philanthropies and Honorary Consul for the Republic of Poland in San Francisco.

Stefan Wilkanowicz, author, editor, educator, and Catholic leader, was a journalist for the Catholic liberal weekly magazine Tygodnik Powszechny, Poland's longest-running independent journal since the end of WWII, and served as editor-in-chief of the monthly Znak. He also was a prominent member of the Znak association of lay Catholics. During Communist Party leader Władysław Gomułka's anti-Semitic and anti-intelligentsia political campaign in March 1968, Znak was the only political organization in the Polish Parliament (Sejm) to protest against the campaign's human rights violations. Under Wilkanowicz's leadership, Znak was the first monthly to publish, in the 1980s, an entire issue dedicated to Polish-Jewish relations.

Now 93, Wilkanowicz has tirelessly and consistently played a pivotal role for more than half a century in nurturing Polish-Jewish dialogue and Holocaust memory. He helped establish the Catholic Intelligentsia Club (KIK) in the 1950s, served as vice chairman of the International Auschwitz Council, and was chairman of the International Center for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust. He also was editor of the online magazine the Forum of Jews, Christians and Muslims. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI honored him with the John Paul II Award for human rights.

When psychologist Bogdan Białek first came to Kielce in 1978, the story of the 1946 pogrom had been suppressed and denied for years, both by residents and by Poland's Communist government. After the opening of Poland to democracy in 1989, Białek began to envision a public event that could serve as an educational platform to create an atmosphere of healing and acceptance of the civilian violence against their Jewish neighbors, in which 42 people were murdered and another 40 wounded. Today, after 16 ceremonies of acknowledgement and remembrance, true change has taken place in Kielce.

To sustain these changes, Białek established the Jan Karski Society and Institute for Culture, Meetings and Dialogue (Instytut Kultury, Spotkania i Dialogu) at a historically infamous address, Planty 7, formerly a house where anti-Jewish violence took place in 1946. Białek and his brother raised private funds to erect sculptures and memorial plaques in Kielce to commemorate the Jewish past. Białek also serves as president of the Jan Karski Association, which engages the inhabitants of Kielce in Polish-Jewish dialogue. Białek is also part of many councils encouraging dialogue between Polish Christians and Jews. In 1994, he founded the first museum commemorating victims of totalitarianism, the Museum of National Remembrance in Kielce.

Białek's efforts have not gone unnoticed. In May, a documentary about his work, Bogdan's Journey, celebrated its world premiere in Warsaw and has been shown to wide acclaim at film festivals in the United States and Europe. As the film's co-directors – a Jewish American and a Catholic Pole – explain, "For Bogdan Białek, a Catholic Pole, anti-Semitism is a sin. This conviction is the animating force of his life. Conflict over the pogrom was still a festering wound when Białek moved to Kielce in the late 70s. He was shocked by the poisoned atmosphere of his new town. Trained as a psychologist, he has made it his life's work both to persuade people to embrace their past and to reconnect the city with the international Jewish community."

Białek is a published author who serves as editor-in-chief of the psychology magazine Charaktery.

About the Irena Sendler Memorial Award
The Irena Sendler Memorial Award was created in 2008 by Taube Philanthropies, in memory of courageous partisan Irena Sendlerowa whom Yad Vashem named a "Righteous Among The Nations." Each year, in commemoration of her, the award is presented to Polish citizens who have been exemplary in preserving and revitalizing their country's Jewish heritage.

Nominations for the annual award are reviewed by a panel of Taube Philanthropies advisory board members and Jewish community leaders in Poland.

Previous awardees include Janusz Makuch, director of the Jewish Culture Festival, Kraków (2008); Jan Jagielski, archivist, Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute (2009); former President of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski (2010); the late Magda Grodzka-Gużkowska, who risked her life to help Irena Sendler rescue Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto (2011); eminent scholars Prof. Dr. Maria Janion and Dr. Jolanta Ambrosewicz-Jacobs (2012); Hon. Bogdan Zdrojewski, former Minister of Culture and National Heritage; Hon. Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Mayor of Warsaw (2013); Małgorzata Niezabitowska, author and journalist; Tomasz Pietrasiewicz, director of the Grodzka Gate—NN Theatre Center (2014); Krzysztof Czyżewski, director of the Borderland Foundation; the late Dr. Jan Kulczyk, Distinguished Benefactor of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews (2015); Prof. dr hab. Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, professor of Jewish and Yiddish literature at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin; and Maria Piechotkowa, renowned architect and scholar of Polish synagogue architecture (2016).

About Taube Philanthropies was established in 1981 by its founder and chairman, Tad Taube. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, the foundation makes philanthropic investments in Jewish, civic, and cultural life primarily in the Bay Area, Poland, and Israel. Its grant making programs support institution-building, scholarship, heritage preservation, arts and culture, and education. Taube Philanthropies is committed to collaborative grant making for greater charitable impact and actively partners with other philanthropic organizations and individuals. taubephilanthropies.org