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!
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:
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.