In May 2003, whilst waiting for an event to start at London’s Imperial War Museum, Mrs Lena Lakomy (born Helena Bankier in Warsaw, Poland), Britain’s longest imprisoned Auschwitz survivor, spoke to me of her past.
Lena and I met regularly and shared our stories. Lena told me the story of Maria Kotarba*, a fellow Auschwitz prisoner who repeatedly saved her life in that camp. Lena also told me about her unsuccessful attempt to get Maria recognised as one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Inspired by my own experiences, I promised to get Maria recognised as one of the Righteous Among the Nations and to write their story. After a further rejection in 2004, I visited Yad Vashem in 2005 to present the case for Maria.
Lena heard in December 2005 that Yad Vashem recognised Maria as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. In October 2006, Maria’s niece, Alicja, visited London to collect Maria’s diploma and medal from the Israeli Ambassador. I organised the ceremony, assisted by Yad Vashem UK and hosted at the Polish Embassy.
In 2008, I visited Yad Vashem and saw Maria’s name inscribed in the Garden of the Righteous.
In 2010, I heard about the new Hero of the Holocaust medal for British citizens who did good deeds during the Holocaust. Knowing that Lena (who became a British citizen after the War) had saved the lives of fellow prisoners in Auschwitz, I nominated her for the honour. In April 2013, the British Government presented her with the medal.
I am now writing the book and stage play, with the working title of Hold On.
All opinions are my own.
For details of my career in IT and Digital, please see my LinkedIn profile.
*I did not create Maria Kotarba’s Wikipedia entry, nor do I maintain it.