WWII airplanes (Illustrative).
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Seven decades after the end of the Second World War, two Jewish rescuers will be rewarded for their efforts to save their fellow Jews during the Holocaust.
The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust (JRJ) have decided to confer their joint Jewish Rescuers Citation on Berta Davidovitz Rubinsztejn and Gyorgy (Yitzhak) Gyuri, rescuers who operated in German-occupied Hungary.
Rubinsztejn, 92, was born in Poland and fled with her family across the Carpathian Mountains into still-unoccupied Hungary. In 1942, Rubinsztejn made her way to Budapest, where she joined the Zionist youth movement Habonim Dror, volunteering to participate in its underground rescue activities. She and other Habonim Dror members assumed a Gentile identity, and met in a park to plan operations and weapons smuggling. As Rudolf Kastner – a leader of the Jewish Aid and Rescue Committee – negotiated the departure of a train-load of Jews from German-occupied Hungary to neutral Switzerland in 1944 with SS officer Adolf Eichmann, the goal of the organization became to put as many orphaned children onto the train after identifying them in the streets of Budapest. One of these children was eight-year-old Meir Brand.
Brand was smuggled with two young cousins into Hungary in August 1943 after his parents sensed that the liquidation of the ghetto they had lived in for two years was near. After a three-week hike to the Slovakian border, Brand arrived in Budapest and was abandoned. Posing as a Gentile, he lived on the streets for nine months, scrounging for food and sleeping in bombedout buildings. When Rubinsztejn found him in April 1944, she instinctively knew he was Jewish and took him home, nursing him back to health.
In June 1944 Rubinsztejn put herself and about ten Jewish children – including Brand – on the Kastner train.
Rubinsztejn dedicated herself to Brand’s recovery throughout the trip – including an incarceration in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp – until they arrived in Switzerland and later made aliya.
Rubinsztejn emigrated from Israel to the United States in 1960, where she resides with her family. She was very involved with many organizations including the Bronx Democratic Party. She is active in the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale, New York, where she organizes the monthly “Café Europa” gathering of Holocaust survivors.
B’nai B’rith will confer the citation upon her in New York City.
Gyuri, 90, was born in Budapest and grew up in northeast Hungary. He joined the Hashomer Hatza’ir movement while living in Nyíregyháza, and eventually moved back to Budapest in 1942 to publish short stories and articles in Hashomer Hatza’ir’s newspaper.
He took part in underground activities and in the summer of 1944 was sent by the movement with three comrades to South Transylvania in order to open a new route for the “tiyul,” the Zionist underground’s clandestine operation to smuggle Jews from Poland and Slovakia into Hungary and then on to Romania.
However, they were soon discovered, caught and deported to Auschwitz. Gyuri survived and returned to Budapest after the liberation.
Gyuri finished his university studies in 1960, and worked as a locksmith, librarian, teacher and journalist, writing mainly on pedagogical issues. He published several books in Hungarian, including his 2001 work Survival: A Long Letter to My Grandchild.
Gyuri still resides in Budapest, where the citation will be presented to him by David Gur, chairman of the Society for the Research of the History of the Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary and a founding member of the JRJ Committee.
The Jewish Rescuers Citation was established in 2011 by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust and B’nai B’rith World Center to set right the historic record – that thousands of Jews were active in rescue efforts throughout Europe, putting their own lives at risk in order to save other Jews from deportation, hunger and death at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.
To date, nearly 100 citations have been presented to rescuers who operated in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece and Hungary.
“We are proud to honor these two Jewish heroes and gratified that through our decade-long efforts there is growing acknowledgment that their recognition as models for Jewish and human solidarity is long overdue,” said Alan Schneider, director of the B’nai B’rith World Center and a founding member of the JRJ Committee.