One man is 101 years old. Others are in their 80s and 90s and arrived in wheelchairs, with a walker, or leaning for support on children who are themselves past middle age.
A group of Polish Christians who risked their own lives to help Jews during the Holocaust were brought together Sunday in Warsaw to be honored by a New York City-based Jewish organization that provides financial aid to these rescuers _ an attempt to give back something to people who gave the gift of life to thousands of Jews in Europe's darkest days.
"Words are truly inadequate to express the gratitude of the Jewish people to each and every one of you," Stanlee Stahl, executive vice president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, said to 35 rescuers.
In a short speech, Stahl called them "the precious few who chose not to be bystanders."
The organization was founded in 1986 by a rabbi who wanted to fulfil a traditional Jewish commitment of seeking out and recognizing goodness, called "hakarat hatov" in Hebrew. The foundation's main role is to supplement state pensions and provide rescuers with medication, hearing aids or other medical support that they might not otherwise have in a nation where state pensions and medical services remain meager.
In Poland, the rescuers now receive about $3,000 a year per person, which includes a special bonus at Christmas for food and heating. The amount varies, depending on how much the foundation can raise from donors, who are mostly American Jews.
The luncheon on Sunday, which has become a yearly event, is an addition to that financial help _ a way to show their gratitude in person. It was also attended by the ambassadors of the United States and Israel.
Most of the surviving rescuers were teenagers or young adults at the time who collaborated with their parents to hide and feed Jews being hunted by the German in their occupied homeland. The penalty for helping Jews was death, and some helpers were caught and executed.