Shlomo Goldberg Speaks at Warsaw Palace while Polish Legislators Debate Tightening Restitution Laws

Shlomo speach 2

It’s Poland’s version of Versaille – a beautiful palace in Warsaw’s Old Town.   Shlomo  spoke there during the Yad Vashem ceremony on Monday, January 15th, to a crowd of 300 people, including the Israeli and American Ambassadors to Poland.  The ceremony honored ten families who aided Jewish families during the war, including the Stys family who helped Esther and Sam.   His speech was a shortened version of the Dvar Torah I posted last week.  But many have asked- so here it is:

I came  to Poland for a ceremony recognizing the Stys family, who helped my parents survive their years of hiding from the murderous NAZIs ,as “Righteous Among the Nations” 

What my parents were doing when the Stys family bravely helped them is often called “hiding.” Hiding does not really capture what my parents were doing.  My parents were hunted like noxious, dangerous animals.  They could be killed without penalty. They did not have housing, a reliable food supply, or water for bathing. It was a crime to aid or shelter them.  These righteous Polish people were, according to the NAZIs, committing a capital offense. 

This time of the year, Jewish tradition recalls the Egyptian bondage and Exodus in our weekly readings from the Torah scroll.   The story deals with relationships between peoples of different nations.  Within the first 20 verses of the book of Exodus, the immigrant Hebrews are enslaved; the cruel Pharaoh has ordered that all Hebrew male infants be drowned, but the God-fearing midwives refuse the order to murder the babies.    They are answering to a higher authority. 

Belief in God, when mixed with courage, can contain tyranny. 

Some commentators posit that these righteous midwives were Egyptian, not Hebrew.  This is an appealing interpretation.  Perhaps these midwives were the forerunners of the people that helped my parents, and others, during the holocaust

When the infant Moses is cast into the Nile, the princess daughter of the most evil Pharaoh recognized the contraband Hebrew child. She rescued the child from the water. Here we are certain that an Egyptian, a member of the Royal family, a daughter of the Pharaoh, rescued a persecuted child.  Barbarity is not inherited; it is not an inevitable national character, nor a necessary consequence of social class. There were good Egyptians.

This story contains ideas of subjugation: the enslavement of the descendants of Jacob, an attempt at genocide, the oppression of women (the daughters of Jethro).  It shows that organized societies can go down the path of evil.  It shows that individuals- Shifra, Pua, the daughter of Pharoah, Jethro- may show courage, help the downtrodden, and become heroes in the light of history. 

We should continue to celebrate those that answered to the Highest Authority and bravely supported the oppressed, like the Stys family who helped my parents and allowed my birth. 

 I am very proud of Shlomo for going to Poland alone and speaking at this ceremony.   The American Ambassador spoke with him afterwards and told him that his speech as the most moving of all.  Nice.  Shlomo was interviewed by Polish TV and radio – a new Polish celebrity is born!   

Shlomo being interviewed 2

While righteous Poles are being thanked at the Palace, the Polish parliament is debating how and whether to restrict laws that provide a pathway for restitution of property stolen during the war.   Poland’s Law and Justice Party is advocating  legislation that, if enacted, would practically bring to an end any hopes of restitution.   “Under the proposals, restitution would cease,” explains an article published in today’s on-line version of Tablet Magazine:  

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/253433/poland-holocaust-restitution-laws?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=0526bd907d-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_01_19&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-0526bd907d-207464133

The article explains that “compensation would be capped at 20 percent of the property’s prewar value, or 25 percent in Polish government bonds. Only Polish citizens would be eligible for compensation, and applications would be restricted to the spouses or direct descendants of prewar owners making applications from within the country. Anyone who has given up their Polish citizenship or served in a foreign military force would be excluded. Only the heirs of property-owners who were resident at the time of nationalization would be eligible to apply.”  

I think this would rules out Shlomo or his sisters ever claiming restitution of the Goldberg farm in Bagatele or the small home owned by the Wisznia family in Stoczek (burnt down by the Nazis)   – not that they were planning on it, but still . . .

So much loss, so much pain, but we move forward to say thank you to those that helped and build a better world.

Shabbat Shalom.

Advertisements

Limmud and Yad Vashem – Emotional Weekend

Stys medal

Satisfaction and gratitude.

These are some of my feelings on this Martin Luther King Day of 2018.   Two major events occurred during this holiday weekend for which I feel both satisfaction and gratitude.   One was 18 miles away and the other was 5,214 miles away.

*****

Limmud Seattle, a Jewish festival of learning, music, art and food, took place in Shoreline, Washington, a short 30-minute drive from my home.   With over 500 participants from all over greater Seattle (and beyond) and hundreds of volunteers, it was a tour de force.   Happy participants learned, sang, danced and ate their way through 24 hours of Talmud, Midrash, cartooning, Sephardic culture and history, music (lots of music), Carp in a Bathtub, civil discourse and so much more.   I was honored to be on the Steering Committee that helped to plan this Festival and I can assure you that I received much more than I gave.   But I feel a sense of satisfaction that we created this unifying, new and exciting festival for Seattle’s Jewish community.  I am grateful to the co-chairs, Deb Arnold and Robert Hovden, the other members of the Steering Committee, the volunteers, and all the participants that took a leap of faith and came to go on this Jewish journey with us.

http://www.limmudseattle.org/

Limmud - rotated

The second was today at 3 PM in Warsaw, Poland.  Shlomo represented the Goldbergs as the person who nominated the Stys family for the Yad Vashem Honor of Righteous Among the Nations. The ceremony was held in a Palace in Warsaw, which Shlomo said was amazingly beautiful.   Shlomo gave a short speech to those assembled, among whom were  20 members of the Stys family, Idul, Alina and Marta Lis (new-found cousins – see blog post:   ) and our friends the Czyzewsky family.

The ceremony, which bestowed honors to ten families, was conducted by the Israeli Ambassador to Poland.  There were many dignitaries in the audience, one of whom was the American Ambassador to Poland, who came up to Shlomo after the ceremony and told him that his short speech was the most moving one given.   Shlomo was interviewed by the Polish TV and radio stations- so sharpen up on your Polish for those interviews.   Of course, I am broken hearted that I was not at this ceremony, but I feel satisfied that my work helped to bring this honor about.  My gratitude extends to Shlomo for going to Warsaw solo and to the Stys family for being gracious to us and embracing us with a unique and special friendship and for the heroism of their parents and grandparents.

Shlomo taking picture of Idul and Marta Lis[Shlomo taking a picture of Idul and Marta Lis – at the ceremony.]

Today (not kidding – today) I listened to a Radio Lab podcast in which the scientist Robert Sapolsky, the author of the new book on the brain – Behave, the Biology of Humans At Our Best and Worst, explained to the hosts of Radio Lab (and to all of us) why certain people are heroic while others are not.  He stated that it is not because of moral reasoning, nor do heroic acts arise from empathy.  Rather, people who endanger their own lives to help others do it because their brains are trained to have an automatic response – to just help.  These heroes don’t stand by, they don’t reason it out, they just do it – just like the Nike ad.  This makes sense to me because the Stys family members said that their parents did this because it was the right thing to do – that’s it.  They knew that there was a chance that their whole family might be killed by the Germans, but they did it anyway – it was the right thing to do.

I am so grateful (and so satisfied).

Shlomo with Grzgorz, Kamila, Eugenuisz and Aleksander

[Top row:  Shlomo Goldberg and Aleksander Czyzewsky; bottom row: Grzgorz Maleszewski, Kamila Maleszewska and Eugenuisz Stys]

GUEST BLOGGER – SHLOMO GOLDBERG SHEMOT – HEROISM

Headshot 1

DEAR READER:  SHLOMO LEFT TODAY FOR A TRIP TO ISRAEL AND THEN POLAND TO ATTEND THE YAD VASHEM CEREMONY AT WHICH THE STYS FAMILY WILL BE HONORED AS “RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS.”  HE DELIVERED THIS SPEACH IN OUR SYNAGOGUE (MINYAN OHR CHADASH) THIS PAST SHABBAT.  I AM HONORED TO SHARE IT WITH ALL OF YOU.

********

Next week, I am going to Poland for a ceremony recognizing the Stys family of Poland, who helped my parents survive their years of hiding from the murderous NAZIs and their local sympathizers, as “Righteous Among the Nations” .  Hiding does not really capture what my parents were doing.  My parents were hunted like noxious, dangerous animals.  They could be killed without penalty. They did not have housing, a reliable food supply, or water for bathing. It was a crime to aid or shelter them.
These righteous Polish people were, according to the NAZIs, committing a capital offense. 
 

After the Holocaust, how does a Jew relate to the traditions of the Torah? How does the cruel bondage of Egypt relate to the European degradation and massacre?

This week’s Torah portion deals with the relationships between peoples of different nations.  Within the first 20 verses, the immigrant Hebrews are enslaved; and the cruel Pharaoh has ordered that all Hebrew male infants be drowned. But the G-d fearing midwives refuse the order to murder the babies.  They are answering to a higher authority.  Belief in G-d, when mixed with courage, can contain tyranny.

Although the Talmud ( Sotah 11b) identifies the midwives as the mother and sister of Moses, some commentators  (e.g.the  Kli Yakar) posit that these righteous midwives were Egyptian, not Hebrew.  As I go to Poland the latter is an appealing interpretation. Perhaps these midwives were the forerunners of the Polish people that helped my parents, and others, during the Holocaust. 

The edict against Hebrew male babies becomes more oppressive.  Despite the hateful edicts of infanticide, a Levite couple dared to conceive a son and hide him. When he was cast into the Nile, the source of wealth, and hence, societal stratification, in Egypt, the princess daughter of the most evil Pharaoh recognized the contraband (1) Hebrew child. She rescued the child from the water, and gave him back to mother to nurse him.   

Here we are certain that an Egyptian, a member of the Royal family, a daughter of the Pharaoh, rescued a persecuted child.  Barbarity is not inherited; it is not an inevitable national character,  nor a necessary consequence of social class. There were good Egyptians. One saved Moshe –  and he liberated the nation.  

Moshe, after killing the cruel Egyptian taskmaster, comes to Midian and, true to form, helps the maltreated daughters of Jethro to water their sheep.  We know that these women were subject to ongoing abuse because on that day, Jethro remarks about how quickly they have completed their task.   Jethro is the model of hospitality, insisting that Moshe find a home with them.  Once again, we see the kindness of strangers.  

Shemoth contains ideas of subjugation: the enslavement of the descendants of Jacob, an attempt at genocide, the oppression of women (the daughters of Jethro).  It shows that organized societies can go down the path of evil.  It shows that individuals- Shifra, Pua, Bath Pharoah, Jethro- may show courage, help the downtrodden, and become heroes in the light of history.  Recognition of the sovereignty of the Almighty helps them make the right decisions and take the right actions.

We should continue to celebrate those that answered to the highest authority and bravely supported the oppressed, like the Stys family who helped my parents and allowed my birth.  

 


 

(1)Contraband was a term commonly used in the United States military during the American Civil War to describe a new status for certain escaped slaves or those who affiliated with Union forces

 

Kitchener Camp Rescue – 4,000 Lucky Men

Dachau

 

I have heard of the Kindertransport that rescued 10,000 Jewish children, taking them to England in 1939.  But I had never heard of the Kitchener Camp Rescue – in which 4,000 men were saved during the same time period.  I learned about this because of an e-mail that my daughter Esther decided to forward to me from the Seattle Holocaust Center for Humanity.  The email informs Seattle’s second and third generation family members that there is a new website gathering information about these 4,000 men.  The creators of the website are looking for information about men who were part of this rescue: “This website is for those who want to remember their fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and cousins who found refuge – and their chance of life – in Kitchener camp. It is our opportunity to commemorate, document, and share this little-known refugee history.”

Both the Kindertransport and the Kitchener Camp rescue were organized and conducted by the Central British Fund for German Jewry (CBF).  The CBF was founded in Britain in 1933 in response to Hitler’s rise to power.  CBF guaranteed to the British government that those German Jewish refugees that were coming to England would not be a “burden” on the government.  They raised the necessary funds to pay for the refugees’ housing and living expenses upon their arrival.

In the mid-1930’s, CBF attempted to get the British parliament to ease the entry restrictions to rescue more German Jews.  But these attempts were unsuccessful until Kristallnacht in November of 1938.  It was after this horrific pogrom that the British government eased its restrictive immigration rules and allowed two large groups of refugees to be brought to English shores – the famous Kindertransport and the less well known, Kitchener Camp men. These transports were conditioned on CBF’s guarantee of full funding for transportation and resettlement costs and that the refugees would “quickly” emigrate elsewhere or return to Germany or Austria.  (How they thought that was going to happen is an interesting question – but not for now.)

Kristallnacht was a turning point in so many ways.  For more information on Kristallnacht see other posts:

https://soyouwanttowriteaholocaustbook.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/kristallnacht/

https://soyouwanttowriteaholocaustbook.wordpress.com/2017/11/28/eukodal-was-invented-by-a-jew-and-other-fun-facts/

https://soyouwanttowriteaholocaustbook.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/concentration-camps-the-early-years/

Kristallnacht saw almost 100 Jews killed, 7,000 Jewish businesses destroyed, and hundreds of Synagogues burned.   Thousands of Jewish men were pulled from their homes, “arrested” and sent to concentration camps, especially Dachau, where they became known as the November Jews.  These November Jews were freed more quickly than other inmates, but only if they agreed to leave Germany.  Some were rescued by the CBF and taken to England and housed at a camp in Sandwich in East Kent, known as Kitchener Camp.  The 4,000 lucky ones didn’t all come from Dachau; some were from Austria and other countries.  The website (see below) has a map of the places where the Kitchener Camp men came from.

The camp was run by Jonas and Phineas May, whose previous “camp” experience was running summer camps for Jewish children.  Now they had 4,000 Jewish men, who had been yanked from their homes and family, imprisoned and tortured in a concentration camp for some months and then freed and sent directly to Sandwich.  I can only imagine how the refugees felt – the guilt of leaving their families behind, the trauma of what they experienced in the camps.  A few managed to get their wives and children out of Germany or Austria, but most did not, and their families were murdered by the Nazis.  Talk about survivor guilt!

After the outbreak of the war (Sept. 1939) the Kitchener men were encouraged to join the Pioneer Corps – an unarmed section of the British Army.  Once France fell in May/June of 1940, the British thought it was too risky to have a bunch of German-speaking Jews so close to the English Channel and its ports.  So, it closed the Kitchener camp.  Most of the men stayed in the British Army, but those that had not joined the Army were moved to an internment camp on the isle of Man.  This interment camp sounds like the internment camps that the Americans established for our Japanese-American citizens.  A place to imprison people of the same nationality as the enemy, to make the population feel safer.

I love it when I learn something new.  This rescue of 4,000  men led to future generations of Jewish families that would never have existed were it not for this rescue.  Thank you to the CBF for your hard work and dedication and feeling of responsibility for your fellow Jew.  Thank you to Esther for forwarding the e-mail from the Seattle Holocaust Center.

Kol Yisroel Areivim Ze Ba’Ze – All of Israel is Responsible for Each other.

May we take this message to heart.

http://www.kitchenercamp.co.uk/

 

You Won’t Believe It. . . .

Mr. and Mrs. Piotr Kazimierczyk 1922 Bagatele   Photo:  Mr. and Mrs. Piotr Kazimierczyk

Ok, here is what happened.

Yesterday, I posted about the interconnectedness of the universe and how remarkable my journey has been as I work on Sam and Esther’s story.  Well, hours after I posted, I got a Facebook message and an e-mail that even Einstein couldn’t have predicted.

The first was a Facebook message from a woman named Julieta Lande. Here is what it said:

Hi Karen, how are you? I’m from Argentina, and I’m doing a documentary about the story of my grandparents (survivors from Stoczek). I’m travelling there on January. I found your blog and saw that you where there and also doing a research project. My grandfather, Yoel, was one of the people in charge of gathering the testimonies for the Yizkor Book. For the documentary I’m doing the translation of some chapters of the book to spanish and I’m choosing some chapters that I think could have interesting information. One of those was the one signed by Samuel Goldberg about his experience in Treblinka, and I just found that you are related to the family, so I thought it was a good idea to contact you and know more about your experience on Stoczek and your project. Best, Julieta.

Ok, wait – I messaged her back asking if she will be in Poland on January 15th. I briefly explained the story, telling her that Shlomo will be there as the Stys family receives their honor from Yad Vashem.  She responded – “yes, I am leaving Poland the 16th for Israel.”  She would love to attend the Yad Vashem ceremony for the Stys family!  Cool.

Not crazy enough for you – hold on – later the same day (yesterday), I received this e-mail from Terisa Schor:

Hi, I live in New York and I’m originally from New Jersey. My mother’s father was born in Bagatele and came to the States in 1913. We visited Bagatele and Wasewo for a few hours about 10 years ago after a 2-week guided tour of Poland. 

Bagatele is so insanely small. When we visited, we also had the experience of people walking up leaving their homes to see who these weird out-of-towners were. We didn’t know anyone we met (despite them saying they were “cousins,” but an old woman gestured to where she said our family farm had been. 

I had no idea Bagatele had a Jewish community. 

This is a photo of her Uncle Piotr. According to the family story, he was somehow involved in the resistance during and after the war and was executed in some sort of communist turf war. 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/terissaschor/132416912/in/album-72057594113085917/ . . .

What did you think of Bagatele?

Terisa

Well, Uncle Piotr’s (pictured above with his wife) last name was Kazimierczyk.  On the back of this picture, it written: Bagatele 1922.   I remembered that Mr. Zaleski (the oldest living person in Bagatele) told us the names of the families who lived there before the war.   When my daughter, Esther and I visited him in April, Mr. Zaleski dictated a map of sorts showing where all the families lived.  The Kazimierczyk home is three doors down from Sam’s house.  Mr. Zaleski told us that for the years just before the war, Sam’s brother, Itche, and his wife, rented that home from the Kazimierczyk family.

How is it possible that the day I posted about the tapestry of the universe and how we are all interconnected, I received these two messages, one about Stozcek from Argentina and a second about Bagatele from New York?

I can hardly believe it.  But it’s true.

Scottie – beam me up!

 

 

Einstein’s Universe: A Weaver’s Delight

Life is a great tapestry.  The individual is only an insignificant thread in an immense and miraculous pattern.    Albert Einstein

Universe

“So you want to write a holocaust book” – this is the name I chose for this blog.  I had a lot of Chutzpa to think that I could write a book, let alone a book about the Holocaust.

But my soul yearned to do this.  I felt that this was the time – so I dove into the deep end.  What I discovered is expressed by the quotation above:  I am an “insignificant thread in an immense and miraculous pattern” of life.

I began slowly – I read histories and biographies and memoirs.  I read interviews, speeches and dissertations.  I began talking to people, asking lots and lots of questions.  I began the hardest thing of all – listening.  To listen, to really listen, is a skill we must develop – I am still working on it.

As I chose the doorways to enter and the paths to go down, I encountered remarkable people and experienced things I had only dreamed of.  In planning my June 2016 trip to Poland, I spoke to my sister-in-law Fay about where to begin looking for Helena’s home.  She had no idea.  But she mentioned that she had some letters, written in Polish, that she found in her father’s condo after his death.  Fay sent them to me and I took them to my superhero travel agent, Joanna, who I met through friends at the Seattle Holocaust Center.  Joanna translated the letters and googled the names.  This led to meeting the three surviving children of the families that helped Sam and Esther survive as they hid from the Nazis.  We met Janina, Eugenuisz and Jan.  We met Grzegorz and his family.  The list goes on and on.   I have learned from every person I met.

Sam always believed that he was the only survivor from his family and the only Jewish survivor from his town of Bagatele.   But alas, there was a boy – a 6-year-old boy – alone and frightened – who survived the war.  He is Sam’s cousin – from the town of Bagatele.   And in this crazy connected universe, a Polish priest in Wonsewo (town next door to Bagatele) – Father Rafael Figiel – found my blog as he was searching the internet for information about the Jews of the area before the war.  He introduced us to Idul Lis – the now 80-something year old man, who lives just outside of Warsaw.

My daughter Esther and I met Idul and his daughter, Marta, in April of this year.  Idul and Marta will meet Shlomo in January when he goes to Poland for the Yad Vashem ceremony honoring the Stys family.  Ewa, another of Idul’s daughters, lives in Boston.  She has met all three Goldberg children – Fay, Shlomo and Molly.

*****

I recently cried my way through a book – Einstein and the Rabbi:  Searching for the Soul, by Rabbi Naomi Levy.  In this book, Rabbi Levy found a letter that Albert Einstein wrote to “a grieving parent” about the interconnectedness of the universe.  Einstein writes that a person “experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”   There is no separateness – we are all part of the greater stuff of the universe

In her search to uncover who wrote this letter and why, Rabbi Levy went on a journey, talking to people, reading articles, books, old yellowing letters, anything that might lead her to a deeper answer.  Her journey took her the liberation of the concentration camp Buchenwald in 1945, to Jerusalem, to Cincinnati, to New York, to Elie Wiesel, to Rabbi Meir Lau, to Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Rabbi Levy’s beautiful book is part memoir, part religious exploration, part self-help, but mostly, I found it to be an opportunity to connect with the rest of the universe.  The idea that we are all part of a greater whole is the best explanation for how I found the Grzegorz and the Stys family, Idul Lis, Father Figiel, Mr. Zaleski, Joanna, and so many more people that opened my eyes to a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at the world, a place, an idea, even a brick in a wall.

“Thank you,” Rabbi Marcus’s daughter, Roberta said to Rabbi Levy.  “A random call from a stranger and the missing piece of a puzzle has now found its place.” (313)  This is how Grzegorz felt after our first phone conversation.  My call to him was a “random call from a stranger” and it helped him put pieces of the puzzle of his family into place.   Our meeting with the Stys family helped Shlomo put missing pieces of his family’s puzzle into place.

I am grateful for all the people I have met and all that I have learned the in the past two years.  I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Einstein

 “A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space.”    From Albert Einstein’s letter to Rabbi Marcus.

Yad Vashem Ceremony to Honor Stys Family set – January 15, 2018

 

20160621_162052

The date is finally set – January 15, 2018 – Warsaw, Poland.

Yad Vashem will bestow the honor or Righteous Among the Nations on Helena and Aleksander Stys and three of their children: Janina, Leokadia and Anotoni (aka Polikarb).

The only one of these righteous people we met is Janina – photo above.  She is no longer in the world of the living.  Although none of those receiving the honor are alive today, their children and grandchildren will gather for this beautiful ceremony, led by the Israeli Ambassador to Poland.

Shlomo will be there, to celebrate with them.

Unfortunately for me, January 15th is the only date in all of 2018 that I cannot make it to Poland.  I am fortunate to be involved in planning for the first ever Limmud Seattle.  Limmud takes place on January 13 and 14.  No way to get to Warsaw by mid-day on the 15th.  Such is life.

But if you are in Seattle that weekend – please join us at Limmud.  Registration is open!   Check it out here:

http://www.limmudseattle.org/

While I am thrilled that the Stys family name will be listed among the Righteous, this is bitter sweet moment because the Wladyslawa and Stanislaw Stys family will not receive the honor.  They too are righteous.  They will be honored this coming summer by the Seattle Holocaust Center for Humanity.  There will be a ceremony in the Stys home, together with a delegation of people from Seattle.  I am grateful to the Holocaust Center for making this a reality. 

DSC_0543