Ludwika and Zygmunt Szostak, an elderly Polish couple who hid and protected a
Jewish mother and her young daughter from the Nazis during World War II, were
posthumously honored as Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem on
During the ceremony – which was attended by Karolina Eisen, the
thenseven- year-old daughter saved by the Szostaks – the couple’s names were
unveiled on a stone monument honoring other Polish “Righteous Gentiles” who
saved Jews during the Holocaust.
Elzbieta Stradowska, a great-niece of
the Szostaks, flew to Israel from Ludz, Poland to accept the award on the
couple’s behalf at the unveiling in the museum’s Garden of the Righteous Among
“Here you have a young girl who survived the Holocaust with
her mother and now you can see three generations of her family,” said Irena
Steinfeldt, director of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations department, as
Eisen’s family and Stradowska posed for photographs.
“But imagine if her
relatives, who were murdered, had been here today,” she continued. “Then you can
begin to see the enormity of the loss. This is why the medal [presented to
Righteous Gentiles] says ‘Whoever saves one life saves the entire universe’ –
and this is a very visual representation of this saying.”
In 1942, while
living in a suburb of Warsaw, the Szostaks rented out a room in their home to
Dora Agatstein and her only child, Karolina, who escaped the Lvov Ghetto one
month before the Great Deportation.
Despite the dangers involved in
housing the Jewish mother and daughter, the Szostaks quickly became attached to
the pair and kept them in hiding – even when Dora could no longer pay
To assist the couple, Dora and Karolina wrapped homemade
confections inside the home for extra income.
Later on, to lessen
suspicions among neighbors, Dora, a teacher, was given an instructing position
by a nun at a nearby school, and Karolina was enrolled in a local
However, during the onslaught of the Polish Uprising in
1944, the Szostaks, Dora and Karolina, were forced to leave their hometown and
were sent to southern Poland, where they lived as refugees.
remained together there, living with a poor farming family and picking potatoes
until being liberated by the Soviet army in April 1945.
Dora and Karolina
subsequently immigrated to Israel in 1950, and lived in Jerusalem. Ludwika died
in Poland in 1970; her husband died there two years later.
13, the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations
officially recognized Ludwika and Zygmunt as Righteous Among the
Following the ceremony honoring the Szostaks, Eisen – a retired
Jerusalem highschool history teacher living in the capital – said she often
thinks about the couple, whom she described as being “like family.”
did more than save me, they became my family,” she said. “I have a very warm
place in my heart for them in my life, even when I try to forget everything
[about the war].”
Stradowska said there was never any question in her
family, all of whom were against the Nazis, that protecting Eisen and her mother
was necessary and just.
“To them, and to me, it was a very obvious
situation,” she said. “In my family it wasn’t an act of bravery or heroism, it
was normal. Someone needed help, that’s all.”
Asked if her family
spoke of Eisen years after she was free and living in Israel, Stradowska
“She was like a member of our family, especially when my aunt
talked about her,” she said. “[Ludwika] talked about her warmly – about a little
girl who was wise, beautiful, and the clever things she said. But they never
talked of ‘sacrificing’ for her. My aunt and uncle loved her and were happy to
While Eisen said her late mother kept in contact with the
Szostaks for many years before her death, Eisen only regained contact with the
family’s descendants in the past year, after her grandson asked her about her
experiences during the Holocaust.
“He was going on a trip to Poland and
wanted to know what happened to me there,” said Eisen. “That was when I
reconnected with them.”
Surrounded by her family and loved ones following
the ceremony, Eisen said she had mixed feelings about the day.
very excited today and I tried not to cry all the time,” said Eisen. “I told
myself to be strong.”