Roman Polanski travels to Poland to honour couple who sheltered him during Holocaust

Oscar-winning filmmaker Roman Polanski returned to Poland, the country of his youth, and paid tribute on Thursday to a Polish couple who took him in and protected him when he was a child, saving him from the Holocaust during the Second World War

Stefania and Jan Buchala were posthumously declared as “Righteous Among the Nations,” an honour bestowed by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, in a ceremony attended by their grandson.

The 87-year-old Polanski, who now lives in France, travelled to Poland for the occasion. It’s one of the very few countries Polanski can travel to safely, since he remains a fugitive from U.S. law after pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in 1977 and fleeing the United States the following year.

Polanski recalled Stefania Buchala as an “extremely noble and religious person” who had the courage to risk not only her own life in sheltering him, but also the lives of her children. In German-occupied Poland, the Nazis punished anyone helping Jews with instant execution of themselves and their entire family.

The couple’s grandson, Stanislaw Buchala, received the medal and the diploma on behalf of his late grandparents from Israel’s deputy ambassador, Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon, at a Jewish memorial centre in Gliwice, in southern Poland. City authorities also attended the ceremony.

Polanski and Buchala posed for photos together, but any emotional gestures were made impossible by physical distancing and face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Polanski was nine years old in 1942 when his parents made him escape from the Krakow Ghetto and hide with a Polish family that they knew and had paid to shelter him. Both of his parents were soon after deported to death camps.

The Krakow Ghetto was one of many where the Nazis isolated Jews from the outside world as they occupied Poland during the 1939-45 war.

Thousands of Poles recognized through the years

Polanski was eventually given lasting shelter by the Buchalas, from 1943-45, in the small southern village of Wysoka.

“Without thinking, but only from love for another person, Stefania risked her life, that of her husband and children by hiding me in her house for almost two years,” Polanski wrote in his request to Yad Vashem to have the couple honoured.

“Despite their poverty and lack of food, she took care to hide and fed me,” he wrote.

The Buchalas died in 1953.

They are among some 7,000 Poles now recognized by Yad Vashem for saving Jews from certain death at the hands of Nazi German forces. More people from Poland have been recognized for such heroism than from any other country.

Polanski’s mother died in Auschwitz, but his father survived the Mauthausen camp and the two were reunited after the war.

Among Polanski’s awarded projects is a story of Holocaust survival, the 2003 Oscar-winning film The Pianist.

Two years ago, Polanski was expelled from the organization that bestows the Academy Awards for raping a minor. His request to have his membership reinstated was rejected this year.

In addition to the assault of the minor — who is now known as Samantha Geimer and has talked and written extensively about the long-standing criminal case — several other women have accused Polanski of sexual misconduct in recent years, including actors Charlotte Lewis and Valentine Monnier.

Polanski has denied all of the subsequent claims.