I am writing this story as I travel to visit the Ghetto Fighters' Kibbutz for the second time. The collective settlement was established in April 1949 on a hill overlooking the Acre valley using old buildings of the British Army. Among the founders, all of whom were Holocaust survivors, were the last remaining survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, partisans, prisoners of concentration camps, those who went into hiding using a false identity and those who escaped to the USSR.
Upon immigrating to Israel, the pioneers established a kibbutz in order to commemorate their families that perished during the Holocaust. The ground breaking ceremony was set for April 1949, on the sixth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt. On that same day, the foundations for the first museum in the world to document the Holocaust of European Jewry were established. The founders pay special homage to those “Righteous Persons” or non-Jews who helped save many of our people from Nazi tyranny.
It is generally estimated that six million Jews perished as a result of Nazi genocide. Hundreds of thousands of others would have joined them were it not for the courageous intervention of a few world leaders and thousands of individuals who risked their lives in order to save Jews from the gas chambers. Many of these men and women paid for their heroic efforts with their lives. There were those who stood up and fought for justice. These friends and heroes must be remembered by all the Jewish people and those in Israel especially for their courage, integrity, and kindness. They must be remembered by all humanity!
Those who resisted the Gestapo during the infamous round-ups and hid Jews did so at grave personal peril. Any person caught hiding a Jew was immediately shot on the spot or taken out to be publicly hanged.
Those non-Jews who worked at great risk to their personal safety to save Jews became known as the “Righteous Persons” (or sometimes Righteous Gentiles). There are thousands of stories of great valor which will never be told because the Nazis executed many of these Righteous Persons. Among those whose stories and one of the most celebrated is that of Raoul Wallenberg.
Raoul Wallenberg — He was a Swedish diplomat who made it a special, personal mission to help save the Jews of Hungary. More than 30,000 Jews received special Swedish passports from Wallenberg. He set up "safe houses," distributed food and medical supplies, and virtually single-handedly set up a bureaucracy in Budapest, Hungary's capital, designed to protect Jews. More than 90,000 Budapest Jews were deported to the death camps and murdered, and Wallenberg's efforts may have reduced the number of those murdered by half. As a diplomat, he successfully confronted the Nazis at great risk to his own safety. Following the "liberation" of Budapest by the Soviets, he was arrested by them, thrown in prison, and never heard from again. Reports often surface, unconfirmed, that he is still alive, although the Soviets announced his death two years after his arrest
Raoul Wallenberg is celebrated in Israel for the courage he displayed in both helping to save our people, but also the sense of integrity, justice, and dignity that his name should represent to us all.
After the founding of Israel in 1948, it became evident that the fledgling state would need to enhance its defensive capability. The new nation was attacked by many of its Arab neighbor on the very day of the rebirth of our Jewish homeland. This point was not lost on Charles Winters, a businessman from Miami. Charles Winters was not Jewish, but sympathized with the country’s plight. In direct contravention of US neutrality, he contributed two converted B17 bombers (known as the Flying Fortress) to the Israeli Air Force. In an effort to preserve Israel’s independence he surrendered his own. He was incarcerated for a number of years. It was only during the presidency of George Walker Bush that a posthumous pardon was granted. His personal efforts helped to build the vaunted Israeli Air Force that has been the base of this nations self defense for sixty four years.
Many heroes throughout history have suffered greatly for their good deeds. We tend to glamorize the lives of many of our heroes, but tend to overlook the price they often paid for their righteous works. Irena Sendler was one of these people.
Irena Sendler, originally Irena Krzyzanowski, was born in Warsaw on 15, February, 1910. She was a Catholic. Her father, Stanislaw Krzyzanowski, was a physician. Many of his patients were Jews, which is why Irena sympathized with the Jewish people from childhood. Her father died in February 1917 of typhus contracted while treating patients that his colleagues refused to treat. After his death the, Jewish community leaders offered to pay for Sendler's education. During her University studies she opposed the ghetto-bench system that existed at some prewar Polish universities and as a result was suspended from Warsaw University for three years.
When the Nazis invaded Poland, Irena joined the Zegota- Polish resistance group against. The Polish Resistance against Nazi occupation was the largest and strongest throughout Europe during WWII. Poland and Denmark were the only occupied nations that had organizations to protect and save Jews.
Mrs. Sendler was head of The Children's Bureau of Zegota, the underground organization set up to save Jews after the Nazis invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. Soon after the invasion, approximately 450,000 Jews, about 30 percent of Warsaw's population, were crammed into a tiny section of the city and barricaded behind seven-foot-high walls.
The Nazis began what they expected would be a rapid liquidation of the ghetto. They were mistaken. It took them more than a month to quell the Warsaw ghetto uprising. By then, only about 55,000 Jews were still alive; most of them were sent to death camps.
Under the pretext of conducting inspections of sanitary conditions during a typhus outbreak, Sendler and her co-workers visited the Ghettos and smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances and trams, sometimes disguising them as packages. The children were placed within the Polish community, in group- homes, monasteries, or private families. Assisted by some two dozen other Żegota members, Sendler saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto. She planted a jar for each child with their Jewish names and their identities. The hope was that after the war they would be able to be repatriated with surviving family or relatives. Very few of the childrens' families survived Nazi persecution.
In 1943, Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo, severely tortured, and sentenced to death. Żegota saved her by bribing German guards on the way to her execution. She was listed on public bulletin boards as among those executed. For the remainder of the war, she lived in hiding, but continued her work for the Jewish children. After the war, she and her co-workers gathered together all of their records with the names and locations of the hidden Jewish children and gave them to their Zegota colleague Adolf Berman and his employees at the Central Committee of Polish Jews. However, again, almost all of their parents had been killed at the Treblinka extermination camp or had otherwise gone missing.
Between the end of WWII and her death 63 years later Irena did not live a glamorous life. Her life was fraught with difficulties. Her husband died at a young age, and she lost her son due to illness. For many years Irena Sendler - white-haired, gentle and courageous - lived a modest existence in her Warsaw apartment. This heroine passed away on Monday May 12th, 2008. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 2007, but did not receive it. The play- Life in a Jar is about her life. It was written by a group of Protestant Uniontown Kansas students. It is a testimony to her valor.
The children who survived due to her efforts are the truest testimony to her valor and the rightous nature of her soul.
I would like to add my personal feelings relating to this story. Much of my time and energy as a citizen of Haifa Israel is devoted to interfaith studies and activities. Twenty percent of the citizens of (pre 1967) Israel are Muslim, Chirstian, Druze and other faiths. In my opinion it will be through mutual understanding and acceptance that peace will come to this troubled region. I have participated in interfaith soccer events, joint prayer and study groups, interfaith choirs, and other activities. Often the participants have been residents of the Palestinian territories. The participants in these activities are different individuals with a wide range of ideas, values, and goals. Israel is a nation of thirty three major polical parties. Gaza and The West Bank are seperate political entities. The Holocaust must be remembered as an example to all humanity that the labeling and stereotyping of groups of individuals can lead to unspeakable horrors for us all.