The awards – orders, crosses, stars, badges – are honorary distinctions of different range:
- international given by organizations or associations for:
- courage and devotion in war or peace time,
- outstanding merits and achievements of international range in human rights and peace defense,
- discoveries in different fields of science and technique,
- merits in literature and the arts,
- national given by state authorities, usually by head of state for:
- courage and devotion in helping the others in war or peace time,
- outstanding merits and achievements in professional or social work,
- resort – given by ministers,
- private – given by associations, organizations, or independent chapters.
Polish nursing schools attached huge importance to shaping professional attitudes of nurses – scrupulous, responsible for the sick under their care, attached to the profession, and loving the Motherland. A high morale of the graduates emerged fully in their practice during the WW II. They showed enormous fortitude, engagement in protecting people against arrestment, particularly injured officers of the Polish army, at the beginning of the war taken by the Germans from hospitals to POW camps. Later protected were also representatives of the intellectuals – teachers, researchers, priests, arrested massively, executed or sent to concentration camps.
Helping the Jews was particularly dangerous, menaced with death or transport to a concentration camp – this happened to Stanisława Leszczyńska, a midwife. Even in Auschwitz she tried to protect life of women giving birth to Jewish children. Also religious sisters had huge merits in helping the Jews, they saved lives of several thousands of the Jewish children.
Support for injured partisans, prisoners of war, soldiers, imprisoned or sent to concentration camps – this is another type of action.
Nurses and nursing aids demonstrated enormously heroic attitude during the Warsaw Rising. Five thousands of them, despite bloody fights and bombing, organized hospitals and medical points, and were working there over a dozen hours a day.
Many times they risked their own lives, did not wanting to leave the sick unattended, also during the Rising. The Germans killed Ewa Matuszewska, Halina Nęckiewicz, Ludwika Erbichówna and many others then (see: Masłowski, Pielęgniarki w II wojnie światowej).
Other nurses were active at different front lines in France, Great Britain, Italy and Africa, organizing health care. At the end of the war they also worked in the Polish army on the Soviet Union territory, and participated in the whole combat route to Berlin.
Many laic and religious nurses were awarded military distinctions for their heroic attitude and devotion: the Virtuti Militari Cross (Maria Dynowska, Ewa Matuszewska, Sipowiczówna), The Braves’ Cross, The Rising Cross, The Home Army Cross, The Order of Polonia Restituta, the Battle of Monte Cassino Cross (Janina Czaja, Janina Hofman, Irena Kowalska, Julia Nenko, Waleria Pęska).
Many nurses were awarded after the war the Gold Medal for Merits in State Defence, the Medal of Victory and Liberty, the Medal for the 1939-1945 War, the Red Cross distinctions, and the Polish Nurses’ Association Honorary Badge. International awards given to Polish nurses include the most important Florence Nightingale Medal, received up till now by 101 medalists (see: the Gallery), and the Righteous Among the Nations medal given by the Yad Vashem organization to sister Wanda Garczyńska, sister Andrzeja Górska, and Aleksandra Dąmbska-Rudecka (June 20th, 2011).
Elaborated by Barbara Dobrowolska