Just as Holocaust survivors are dying out, so are righteous gentiles among the Poles who rescued Jews from Nazi brutality. The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous each year honors these courageous, humanitarian Poles, and last Sunday held the ceremony in Warsaw at the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Established in 1986, the New Jersey headquartered JFR provides monthly financial assistance to some 180 Polish rescuers who live in dire economic circumstances, and this year will send approximately $600,000 to rescuers still living in Poland.
“These are heroic people of exceptional character who risked their lives, and often the lives of their families, to save Jews during the Holocaust,” said JFR executive vice president Stanlee Stahl. “This special event is designed to recognize them and given them the proper honor they deserve.”
Israel’s Deputy Ambassador to Poland Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon, who attended the ceremony, told the elderly rescuers: “You are heroes not only because you have done the right thing, but because it was so hard in the horrible times of the Second World War to do so. I have often thought to myself [whether] I would have been brave enough were I in your shoes. I still can’t honestly say, and I pray to God never to have my courage tested in that way.”
Eric Green, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Warsaw, noting that there are memorial ceremonies to victims of the Holocaust in many Polish cities and in other countries to help the world remember the unspeakable brutality human beings are capable of inflicting on other human beings, told the gathering that: “You have shown us something different: the humanity some humans are capable of. You had the courage and compassion to defy and overcome this brutality. You risked everything to save the lives of your Jewish neighbors, fully knowing that the Nazis killed anyone who helped Jews. Your deeds helped to preserve our collective humanity – and we are forever in your debt for doing so.”
■ THIS COMING Sunday, September 23, on the 76th anniversary of the liquidation of the Czestochowa Ghetto, survivors and relatives of victims of the liquidation together with senior representatives of the Czestochowa municipality will congregate at the Czestochowa Memorial which was designed by the late Samuel Willenberg, a native son of the city, who was one of the last survivors of the Treblinka Revolt.
The liquidation of the Czestochowa Ghetto began on September 22, 1942, and ended on October 7. A Nazi operations order, which is amongst the tens of thousands of incriminating documents that survived the war, indicates that 40,000 Jews from Czestochowa were sent on six transports to Treblinka.
Of the Czestochowa Jewish community, 5,000 were left to work in forced labor in the Hasag munitions factory, where many of them died. Willenberg subsequently joined the Polish resistance forces and served in the Polish army before migrating to Israel where he spent most of his life.
■ THERE WERE many Jews in the Polish Army and they were honored this month at an exhibition at the Czestochowa Municipal Museum organized by the Sociocultural Association of Jews in Poland. The exhibition had been previously shown in Jerusalem at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Begin had been a soldier in Anders Army.
The exhibition in Jerusalem had been attended by Polish President Andrzej Duda where he met Alon Goldman, chairman of The Association of Czestochowa Jews in Israel and vice president of The World Society of Czestochowa Jews and their Descendants.
Goldman also attended the opening of the exhibition in Czestochowa together with the city’s Deputy Mayor Dr. Ryszard Stefaniak, director of the Municipal Museum Tadeusz Piersiak and chairman of the Czestochowa branch of the Sociocultural Association of Jews in Poland, Izabela Sobańska-Klekowska.
The introductory placard of the exhibition contains a message from Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, in which he wrote: “We lived together, we fought together, we died together. Jews fought as Polish soldiers, arm in arm with our Polish brothers. From the time of Berek Joselewicz, Jews fought for the freedom of Poland. In Katyn, Rabbi Baruch Steinberg, Chief Rabbi of the Polish Army was murdered along with many other Jewish soldiers. We Polish Jews today are proud of all Poles who fought for our freedom and independence and are proud that among those heroes were also Jewish soldiers.”
■ CONGREGANTS AT Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue are often tempted to applaud at the end of the Yom Kippur services in appreciation of the rousing choral finale, followed by the choir and the congregation singing “Next Year in Jerusalem” and “Hatikva”.
But this year’s service was on such a high that congregants could no longer restrain themselves, and burst into applause as they hit the final note of the national anthem. The applause was also for ultra-energetic choir master Elli Jaffe who was on his feet for more than three hours the previous night for the Kol Nidre service, and on his feet again for twelve hours during the day-time service. In addition, Jaffe, who has a powerful singing voice, led the whole of the minchah afternoon service including the Torah readings.
No one gets any younger, and Jaffe at 65 should be slowing down – but music is in every fiber of his body, and whenever he comes into contact with music as a conductor, composer, arranger, musician or singer, he is automatically rejuvenated and demonstrates all the energy of someone half his age. He goes abroad several times a year to conduct international orchestras, some of which took time to get used the idea that the conductor wears Jewish ritual fringes with his black tail coat.
First time visitors to the great synagogue had an additional treat provided by United Synagogue Youth, who represent the junior branch of the Conservative Movement. Every year without fail after Kol Nidre night services, USY members from many parts of the United States who are in Israel on one of several USY programs, form a large circle in the middle of the road at the intersection of King George and Agron streets and sit cross legged on the ground as they sing an extensive medley of Hebrew songs.
People from congregations in all directions within a five kilometer radius come to listen to them – and the circle of bystanders forming behind the youngsters keeps getting increasingly larger. USY can be credited with creating a platform for Jewish unity. In the crowd each year are people from haredi (ultra-Orthodox), Chabad, modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform congregations. Many join in the singing, and it doesn’t seem to bother the haredi men that there are females amongst the singers, or that boys and girls are sitting together. There is no segregation of any kind. It’s just an opportunity for Jews to get together on the holiest night of the year, to temporarily discard what divides them and to focus on what unites them.
■ IN ANOTHER part of Jerusalem earlier in the week, congregants of the Ramban Synagogue in the Old City were delighted to hear news of the forthcoming marriage involving the most revered person in their midst – Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, the former chief rabbi of the Old City. Nebenzahl, 87, won’t be officiating at the wedding – he’ll be the bridegroom. Widowed in February 2016 when his wife, Shifra, who had supported him in all his endeavors, succumbed to a severe illness, Nebenzahl did not want to spend his twilight years alone, and has found a British bride by the name of Lily (Leah) Glender.
■ IT MAY be trite, but in the week leading up to Yom Kippur there were just too many instances of “man proposes, God disposes”. President Reuven Rivlin had not expected at the start of the week to telephone United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni who chairs the Knesset Finance Committee. Nor had Rivlin expected to pay a condolence call on the Fuld family.
But on the day before Yom Kippur, Gafni had been attacked near his home in Bnei Brak by members of the extremist Yerushalmi Faction which opposes his views on draft legislation. Gafni wasn’t hurt, but his car was damaged. Rivlin and various MKs described the verbal and physical attack as despicable.
Rivlin, who makes a point of paying condolence calls on all families whose loved ones have been victims of terrorism, also called on the family of Ari Fuld, who early in the week was murdered by a terrorist, to offer his sympathy.
Immediately after Yom Kippur, despite the tragedy, the family – whose spirit remains unbroken – began building a sukkah.
Rivlin’s own sukkah will be open the public this coming Thursday. In addition to the traditional emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, there will also be a special display in conjunction with the Health Ministry.
What was on Rivlin’s schedule for the week of Yom Kippur, was a visit on Monday to Nitzan and Ayalon prisons to meet with convicts, guards and representatives of prison services. Rivlin asked all of them to remember that each person whom they meet in their day-to-day lives is another human being who deserves to be respected regardless of any crime or misdemeanor that he or she has committed.
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