In December 2021 Yad Vashem and The Embassy of Israel in Australia honoured Mrs. Rena Skowronska-Skovell and Mr. Wilhelm Alois Spisky as Righteous Among the Nations at a ceremony held at St. Kilda Schule in Melbourne.
This honour is awarded by Yad Vashem and the State of Israel to recognize individuals who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust without expectation of any reward. The ceremony posthumously honoured Mrs. Rena Skowronska-Skovell and Mr. Wilhelm Alois Spisky for their efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust. The event was supported by Gandel Foundation.
Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, takes an integrated approach to education and research, with memorials and inspirational exhibits. Their research allows them to accurately document one of humanity’s darkest periods. Their work also recognizes the deeds of the few who risked their own lives, and those of their families, to help those facing unimaginable horrors during this period.
Mrs. Rena Skowronska-Skovell was born and raised in Vilno, a Lithuanian city in what was then part of Poland. She protected Mr. Joseph Skovronek, and his then wife, who came from a well-known Jewish banking family in Warsaw. When the Germans invaded Warsaw, they moved eastward and ended up in Vilno. Mrs. Rena found ‘safe houses’ for both of them which had to be frequently changed as it was dangerous to stay too long at one address. There were numerous times that the Gestapo arrested Mr. Skovronek and Mrs. Rena repeatedly helped in his release.
Mr. Wilhelm Alois Spisky helped release 5 Jews (Cogans from Poland) from prison. Spisky made contact with a friend of the Cogans, Emilian Mărculescu (also named Righteous) who bribed a Romanian police officer. Under the pretense of taking them to the border to be handed over to the Germans, instead the Romanian officer brought them to Spisky. Thereafter, Spisky took the Cogans to his own apartment and kept them hidden there for six weeks.
Mrs. Rena Skowronska-Skovell’s daughter, Ms. Eva will receive the award on behalf of her late mother, Rena Skowrońska (Skovell) and Ms.Tina Fersterer, grandniece of Mr. Wilhelm Alois Spisky, will receive the award on behalf of her granduncle, Wilhelm Spisky. Ms. Eva is the first generation of immigrants who moved from Warsaw to Australia after the Second World War.
Mr. John Gandel AC, Chairman of Gandel Foundation, appreciating the righteousness of Mrs. Rena and Mr. Spisky said, “We are so grateful for the righteousness of these honorable people who helped Jews during the Holocaust. We do not have enough words to thank them for all their efforts. It takes something special for seemingly ordinary people to risk their own lives and the lives of their loved ones in order to save and protect complete strangers from persecution and mass murder. We will always remember their bravery and their humanity.”
H.E. Ron Gerstenfeld, Chargé d’Affaires, Embassy of Israel in Canberra said, “It is because of the selfless acts of those Righteous few that generations of Jews are alive today and the State of Israel exists and prospers. These righteous people show us the path of being kind, and of standing up for what is right even at the cost of risking their own lives.”
H.E. Ron Gerstenfeld, Chargé d’Affaires, Embassy of Israel in Canberra, Mr. John Gandel AC, Chair of Gandel Foudnation and Mr. Chin Tan, Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner at Australian Human Rights Commission, spoke at the ceremony.
Also present were representatives from the embassies of Unites States, Greece and France, The Hon. Mark Dreyfus QC, MP, The Hon. Paul Hamer MP, The Hon. David Southwick MP, Viv Nguyen AM, Chair of the Victorian Multicultural Commission, as well as leaders and members of the Jewish community and numerous family members of Mrs. Rena Skowronska-Skovell and Mr. Wilhelm Spisky.