WARSAW (Reuters) – Oscar-winning film director Roman Polanski attended a Righteous Among the Nations ceremony in Poland on Thursday to honour a Polish couple who sheltered him from the Nazis during World War Two.
Righteous Among the Nations is a title awarded by Israel’s World Holocaust Remembrance Center (Yad Vashem) to non-Jews who risked their own lives to help rescue Jews during the Holocaust.
The event, hosted at the House of Memory for Upper Silesian Jews in the town of Gliwice, was shrouded in secrecy to avoid any controversy or protests linked to Polanski, who has been sought by the United States for decades on rape charges.
In 1943, Polanski, only 10 years old at the time, escaped the Krakow Ghetto where his family was stuck for much of World War Two. Stefania and Jan Buchala, poor farmers in the village of Wysoka, hid him from 1943 to the end of the war.
“Without thinking, but only from love for another person, Stefania risked her life, that of her husband and children, by hiding me in her house for almost two years,” Polanski wrote in his request to Yad Vashem to have the couple honoured.
“Despite their poverty and lack of food, she took care to hide and feed me,” he wrote.
Polanski visited their village several times after the war in the hope of finding the Buchalas but without success.
Polanski, now 87, presented the award to Stanislaw Buchala, the grandson of the Buchalas, who both died in 1953.
Sister Zofia Szczygielska, a Catholic nun who helped save many Jewish children, was also posthumously honoured at Thursday’s ceremony.
Some 7,112 Poles have received the Righteous Among the Nations honour.
Polanski’s mother, Bula Katz-Przedborska, was murdered at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz. His father, Maurice Liebling, was sent to the Mathausen concentration camp, which he survived.
Polanski, who holds French and Polish citizenship, fled the United States in 1978 after being charged with the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl, and has never returned. Several other women have accused him in recent years of sexual misconduct, all of which he has denied.
Despite the allegations, Polanski won an Oscar in 2003 for directing World War Two drama “The Pianist” as well as a best director award at France’s Cesar Awards in February that caused several women to walk out in protest.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Gareth Jones)