Tadeusz Modelski – Unknown Polish Hero
who saved 5,000 Jews from Czechoslovakia
Tadeusz Modelski, a lawyer and economist, worked in the administration of the capital city of Warsaw in the interwar period. He served as vice-president and mayor of the Wola district of Warsaw, and subsequently in the Śródmieście district. After the outbreak of the war, from October 1939, he worked in the Legal Department of the Ministry of Military Affairs of the Government of the Republic of Poland in exile in Paris, and from October 1940 he continued this work at the Ministry of Military Affairs of the Government of the Republic of Poland in London.
After the war, he remained in Great Britain, living a quiet farmer’s life in Sussex and Devon and writing many books and articles for the British and Polish press. He titled one of his books: “Sufferers for Freedom and Democracy”. This book was written in English and had as many as 5 editions. Each issue sold out quickly. It was a compendium of historical events arranged chronologically from May 1930 to the end of the war. Apart from dry historical events, this multi-talented lawyer refers in his works to many general problems of that time.
In this article, we would like to draw attention to an important event in Tadeusz Modelski’s biography, which to this day remains completely unknown to the public both in Poland and in the West. It is about Tadeusz Modelski saving about 5,000 inhabitants of Jewish origin from Czechoslovakia from extermination through an administrative decision. For the sake of introduction, let us recall a few facts.
On March 14, 1939, Doctor Hacha, president of the Republic of Czechoslovakia, comes to Berlin and under duress signs an agreement with Hitler, leaving practically the future of Czechoslovakia in Hitler’s hands. A consequence of this agreement was also the transfer of the huge Czech military arsenal into Hitler’s hands without any resistance.
On March 15, 1939, German troops, violating the Munich Agreement, entered Prague. So everything indicates that the war will start sooner rather than later. By occupying Prague, Hitler takes all negotiations for peace in Europe out of the hands of Chamberlain and Lord Halifax. It makes European politicians aware that any further negotiations make no sense.
And so, on March 16, 1939, life in Warsaw still looked normal. Therefore, Tadeusz Modelski, in his office of the mayor of the Warsaw-Śródmieście district, reviews all telegrams and documents with the usual routine of his office. To his great surprise, he finds a telegram from the border police (KOP) asking what the border police should do with the large group of 5,000 Jews displaced from Prague, Czech Republic, occupied the day before by Nazi troops? When he is thinking about the answer, General Felicjan Składkowski, then Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs, enters the office with his secretary, Jerzy Stawicki.
The purpose of General Składkowski’s visit was to carry out an inspection at the Warsaw City Center Office, at 21 Nowogrodzka Street. Reading the telegram again, this time for the Prime Minister, Modelski asks him for permission to open, for humanitarian reasons, the border in the south of Poland, specifically in the Zaolzie region, for the Jews of Prague. This event takes place 6 months before the Nazi troops entered Warsaw. Regardless of the potential threat to a country that accepts Jewish refugees in the event of the occupation of Poland by German forces, Modelski asks the Prime Minister for permission to open the border, at the same time proposing that he will guarantee, in a very short time, to organize the necessary documents for these unfortunate people and explore the possibilities of obtaining visas to other countries less threatened by German aggression than Poland.
As a result of a brave and unprecedented decision by Tadeusz Modelski, a senior official of the Warsaw city administration, a group of several thousand Czech Jews arrived in Poland the very next day and remained on Polish territory from March to the end of July 1939. In the meantime, they received passports and visas from the Polish authorities allowing them to emigrate. to various states of North America and to other countries on the American continent.
It is worth quoting Tadeusz Modelski here:
„Thanks to our very effective organization, Czech Jews can leave Poland before September 1, 1939. The employees of the emigration office in Gdynia and the American Shipping Line in Warsaw are very helpful and cooperate with us in this humanitarian work.”
This way, Hitler lost the chance to rob these 5,000 rich Jews from Czechoslovakia, and thanks to the efforts of Poles, these people found shelter in the United States and other countries not occupied by the Third Reich.
To clarify, it should be added that during World War II, the authorities of the Third Reich also treated Jews as potential hostages, in other words as a potential “asset” exchangeable for material goods, which can be seen in Hitler’s concepts, among others, in the light of Himmler’s orders. Hitler puts it clearly: “Jews are a means by which the civilized world can be blackmailed.” Based on Hitler’s repeated orders, finally confirmed in July 1944, Jews could be “sold for foreign currency or industrial diamonds necessary for the Nazi war machine.” (source: D. Irwin “Hitler’s War”, London 1977).
While reading various historical sources, we came across information from Professor Yehuda Bauer, deputy director of the Yad Vashem Institute, who recalls that as a 16-year-old boy, he and his parents moved from Czechoslovakia through Poland to Israel. Of course, the 16-year-old boy could not know who was behind the decision thanks to which he and his family could cross the Polish border and then go through the countries of southern Europe to Israel.
The second person who was probably also saved thanks to the actions of Tadeusz Modelski was Madeleine Albright, then a small child and later the US Secretary of State. Her father was an employee of the Czech diplomatic corps, so he could have been among the group of wealthy Czechoslovak citizens of Jewish origin evacuated to Poland as part of Tadeusz Modelski’s action. Madeleine Albright has mentioned many times that she was raised Catholic and learned about her Jewish origins much later.
When writing this article in November 2021, it seems natural to associate the situation described above with the situation of emigrants from the Middle East, on the Polish-Belarusian border. A characteristic of any analogy is fragmentary similarities, but the situations compared are never identical. The simplicity and speed of action of a senior official of the city of Warsaw concerning the five thousand emigrants from Czechoslovakia are astonishing.
Of course, Tadeusz Modelski consulted with the Minister of Internal Affairs and Prime Minister Felicjan Składkowski, but he was the first to propose the idea of helping Jewish refugees enter Poland and then organizing their departure to safe areas of the world. At this point, the following observations come to mind: in today’s globalized world, making important state decisions resembles paralysis rather than decisiveness. Apart from the decisions of its own Sejm and Senate, modern Poland must take into account such international institutions as the European Union, especially the Council of Europe, NATO, the UN, etc., while in pre-war Europe, senior state officials could decide on large and important matters instantly, only with the consent of the immediate superior. So, instead of being simpler, the world has become more complex, and instead of instant decisions, we have a whole web of entanglements that paralyze decision-making.
Current Middle Eastern immigrants are being used as human weapons in the hands of political manipulators. However, the other refugees were Europeans and did not use aggression while waiting for the decision of the Polish administration. They appeared on the Polish border spontaneously, escaping from the direct threat of Hitler’s troops, but they were not an instrument of third forces. From this point of view, it would not be wrong to say that in terms of decision-making, we have much more complicated management structures than was the case almost a hundred years ago.
Tadeusz Modelski’s decision is a great testimony to the high humanitarianism that prevailed among the state administration personnel of pre-war Poland. The situation of March 16, 1939, is indispensable proof that pre-war Poland was a country deeply embedded in the Latin civilization, which of all 16 civilizations known to us in the history of mankind, placed man and his dignity on the highest pedestal.
Modelski’s motivation was solely humanitarianism. It is a pity that the modern world has moved so far away from these values. It is a pity that only a small handful of people, mainly readers of these five editions of the book entitled “Sufferers for Freedom and Democracy”, are aware of the saving of 5,000 Jews by an administrative official of the city of Warsaw. We should demand that the 5,000 Jews saved by Tadeusz Modelski be taken into account by the Yad Vashem Institute, and thus Poland would undoubtedly be in the first place among nations that saved Jews.
Therefore, we would like to kindly ask both individuals and organizations to spread this information so that, on the one hand, a commemorative plaque for Tadeusz Modelski can be hung at Yad Vashem in gratitude for saving 5,000 Jews, and on the other hand, on behalf of the authorities of the capital city of Warsaw, to install a plaque on the building at Nowogrodzka 21 in Warsaw, recalling the glorious, humanitarian decision of the pre-war official of this city, the true hero Tadeusz Modelski.
You can find the video report on this subject here: