|WARSAW, Poland (AP) — 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.
Stefania and Jan Buchala were posthumously declared as “Righteous Among the Nations,” an honor 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, traveled to Poland for the occasion. Polanski is one of the very few countries Polanski can travel to safely given that 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.
The couple's grandson, Stanislaw Buchala, received the distinction on behalf of his late grandparents from Israel's deputy ambassador at a Jewish memorial center in Gliwice, a southern Polish city. City authorities also attended the ceremony.
Polanski was nine years old when his parents made him escape from the Krakow Ghetto during the German occupation of Poland during World War II. Both of his parents were soon after deported to death camps.
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He was given shelter by the Buchalas from 1943-45, in the small southern village of Wysoka.
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 award-winning projects is a story of Holocaust survival, the 2003 film the “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.