HAMAN, HITLER, HATE

As I swung my grogger (noise maker) on Purim, just two weeks ago, I was symbolically blotting out the name of Haman.  I tried to include the name Hitler in my symbolic act as well.

Haman was the prime minister of the Persian Empire in the fifth century before the common era.  He was second only to the King – Ahasuerus.  Haman’s goal was to murder all the Jews living within Persian-controlled lands and to take all their money.   His plan was thwarted by Queen Esther, a Jewish woman, who stood up for her people and saved them.  We still celebrate Esther as a savior some 2,400 years later.

In the 20th century of the Common Era, there was another, more successful Haman.  His name was Adolf Hitler.   Hitler succeeded in murdering six million Jews, including 90% of all Polish Jewry.

The Queen’s namesake, Esther Bryndl Wisznia Goldberg did what she could to thwart Hitler’s evil decree.  She could not save all her people, but she saved Chaim Kwaitek, Velvel Schneidman, Sam Goldberg and herself.   Together, she and Sam brought new life into the world.  Now three more generations of Jews are twirling their groggers on Purim.

Sam and Esther’s survival is not what Hitler wanted.  He and his Nazi regime worked hard to have a different outcome.  Out of three million Polish Jews, approximately 300,000 (10%) were alive at the end of the war.  Of the 250,000 Polish Jews who hid in the woods or in constructed bunkers in Poland, only 50,000 made it.[1]

Jews hiding in Poland had the deck stacked against them.  Where could they hide? What could they eat? How would they survive the freezing winters and the blistering summers?  But on top of these challenges, the Germans created incentives for the local Polish population to root out the hidden Jews.  Rewards were offered:  cash; sugar; vodka; share of the Jews’ valuables or clothing.  In case further encouragement was needed (which often it was not), the Nazis forced Polish village elders to nominate someone each week.  If a Jew was found in the vicinity of the village, the nominated person would be killed.  This added to the incentive to head out on a “Jew-hunt.”

Jan Gross, the Polish- American historian (whose writings are discussed in blog post October 19, 2016 & Dec. 4, 2016) explains that as a result of “established stereotypes and the cruel environment created by the Germans, hunting and exploiting Jews was ‘socially acceptable.’ Extortion, torture, rape and murder were not activities on the fringe of society, conducted by marginal elements, but ‘an acceptable social practice.’ Village elders, mayors, police officers, firemen, forest rangers and upstanding citizens all took part in Jew-hunts and sought to profit from the mythical wealth of the Jews.”[2]

Jews in hiding did not make it without help.[3]  Esther survived hiding in the Polish woods for two years and Sam for one.  Sam’s year in the woods was after his survival of 13 months at Treblinka – a 0.0069 % survival rate.  For Sam and Esther, help came from the Stys families (many blog posts about them).  I am excited to report that my daughter, Esther (yes, named for the Esther of this blog) and I will be visiting the Stys families in a month.  It will be, yet again, an honor to stand in their presence and spend time with them.

But, back to Haman – Isn’t it interesting that the words Haman, Hitler and Hate – all start with the same letter?

Yemach Shemam – May their names be blotted out!

  • The featured picture of a mask because on Purim, we wear costumes, often including a mask.

[1] Cesarani, David, Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949. New York, NY.  St. Martin’s Press. 2016, citing Jan Grbowski, a Polish, Canadian historian at 644.

[2] Final Solution at 647.

[3] Id. at 644.

[4] For another blog post referring to Haman, see Aug. 25, 2016.

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BREAKING NEWS: HELENA STYS FAMILY RECOGNIZED BY YAD VASHEM

In September of 2016, we nominated the members of the Stys family who were alive during the war, to be awarded the Yad Vashem title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Last week I received the following e-mail:

Dear Karen,

The Commission bestowed the title on Helena & Aleksander Stys as well as Janina, Leokadia and Antoni.

The formal letters will hopefully reach you soon. It takes about 2-3 months to prepare the awards, and it will be the embassy that will contact the Stys family and you to coordinate the ceremony. As for the date, it depends on the embassy and the other Righteous ceremonies they have to organize. Just to give you an idea, in 2016 Yad Vashem honored close to 400 new Righteous from the different European countries.

The names of Stys will go online in the Righteous database when it is next updated in the beginning of April.

All the best,

Irena

That’s it -the decision has been made – The Stys name will be listed among the Yad Vashem Righteous.   I am thrilled.

But, I am also sad.  While Helena and Aleksander’s family will receive the title, Edward, Wladyslawa and Stanislaw (and children) will not.

You may recall that there were three Stys brothers, Aleksander (married to Helena), Stanislaw (married to Wladyslawa) and Edward (single).  All assisted Sam, Esther and Chaim when they were hiding from the Nazis.  However, the Yad Vashem Commission has strict guidelines.  They rely on survivor testimony to make their decision.   [See blog post dated February 16, 2017, for details on process.]  In Sam’s two interviews and Esther’s one interview (which we sent to them), Helena is the only one mentioned.  So, Wladyslawa’s family and Edward will not be awarded the honorary title.

On Monday I called Grzegorz Maleszewski (grandson of Wladyslawa and Stanislaw) and told him about the decision.

“That is OK,” he responded, “our family’s reward is in meeting your family and in the book you are writing.”

So nice.

Well, Esther and I will be returning to Poland on April 19th  for a five day visit (stay tuned for blog posts from Poland).  We will visit the Stys family members and of course we will visit Janina’s grave.  I will let her know that she and her family are forever known as Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.   And though it is only the Helena Stys family that will be listed at Yad Vashem, in my mind and in the mind of anyone who reads my blog or will read my book, the honor is to the entire Stys family.

May they all be blessed.

Photo at Top:  “Torah” – a cast iron sculpture by Marcelle Elfenbein Swergold at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by:  Adam Jones, Phd.