Prime Minister Stephen Harper was among several who paid tribute to the grandmother of a prominent Cornwall resident for showing the highest level of bravery and compassion.
Tribute was showered on Karolina Jusczykowska of Poland at the national Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
Juszczykowska is the grandmother of Chris Francis, a long-time city resident and retired professor in health and human studies department at the Cornwall campus of St. Lawrence College.
She was executed by the Nazis at the age of 47 for harbouring two Jewish doctors in her apartment for several months.
Also honoured at the same ceremony was a Dutch family who helped save a Dutch Jew from the Nazis.
Descendants of the two families received the Righteous Among the Nations medal and certificates from the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.
About six million Jews - men, women and children - were executed and exterminated during the Holocaust, a sad and painful reminder of crimes against humanity.
“Anti-semitism a sickness, a deadly and moral sickness,” said Harper.
While the Holocaust stands alone, Harper added, it does not stand isolated.
“It is but the hellish chapter in the long and continuing history of anti-semitism.”
Francis, originally from Poland, is well aware of the bravery of her grandmother.
Despite recuperating from a recent stroke, she attended the solemn ceremony in Ottawa along with her brothers and sisters.
“It was a lovely ceremony,” Francis said. “Our whole family was together and that was special.”
She said her mother would have been delighted with it all.
“Her mother’s life had some meaning. I am very proud of my grandma for her bravery.”
Her sister, Vicky Gee, said the ceremony took a lot out of Francis since it was her first “real” outing since the stroke.
“It was a positively awesome ceremony.”
Gee said about 45 dignitaries from around the world attended the ceremony besides all local dignitaries representing Canada.
“After all this time, my grandmother has been recognized as a hero and the bravest of the brave.”
Gee is bitter and angry about the atrocities the Nazis inflicted on so many people.
“They also deprived me and many others of the joy of knowing and loving my grandma.”
Around the time when Jews were being deported from a Polish ghetto in a massive round-up, two young Jewish men – both doctors – arrived at the door of Karolina Juszcykowska with a desperate plea to save their lives.
As a single mother, Juszcykowska was struggling to feed herself and her 16-year-old daughter, Bernice, by working on the railroads and in the fields.
Realizing the extreme risk, she agreed to hide the two Jews in exchange for just enough money to feed them, as well as herself and her daughter.
For six weeks, the young men were safe, until the neighbour became suspicious.
In July 1944, the Gestapo converged on the building and the Jews were discovered and immediately shot.
Karolina’s daughter was taken to a German farm to work, where the owners brutally raped her. She was never to see her mother again.
Karolina was arrested and placed into custody. Terrified, she admitted the two doctors asked to stay for a few days.
Over the next couple of weeks, the Gestapo grilled Karolina.
She finally broke down and admitted she knew the two doctors were Jewish.
On Aug. 10, 1944, after two weeks of detention, Karolina was transferred to the jail adjacent to the courthouse. The trial, on Aug. 23, found Karolina guilty of harbouring the two Jews in her apartment from June to August.
A plea for clemency was put forward but was unsuccessful.
With typical meticulousness, the Nazis recorded the timing of Karolina’s execution.
It took only two seconds to hand her off to the executioner and another 19 seconds for the execution to be carried out.
Karolina did not give a declaration prior to her death.
Francis has been at the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps near the southern Polish city of Krakow.
For the past several years, Francis has been in contact with a group in Israel with the hopes of getting her grandmother’s name in the special garden honouring Gentiles who helped Jews.