Leon Gersten spent Thanksgiving with Czeslaw Polziec a few years ago. Polziec’s family secretly sheltered Gersten in rural Poland for two years during World War II, after the Nazis rounded up 1,600 people in Leon’s hometown of Frystak, Poland – mostly children and the elderly – marched them outside town, slaughtered them and tossed their bodies like garbage into a mass grave.

Polziec doesn’t think of himself or his family as heroes. They were God-fearing people, ordinary people, who simply did what they deemed the right thing to do in a desperate situation. “They had every right to live. Nobody who has not lived through those desolate days will ever really understand what my parents did, and I am sure, were they still with us, they would be surprised that an honor has been bestowed upon them.”