Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Whosoever Saves a Single Life, Saves an Entire Universe

As the ‘Righteous Among the Nations*’ ceremony began in Warsaw at the annual Polish Bishops Conference, Archbishop Gadecki took the podium. Seated behind him and throughout the circular auditorium, were stern faced Cardinals and Bishops draped in long black robes lined with magenta buttons, heavy crosses hanging from their necks. Skull caps perched on  mostly grey heads were congruent with Yarmulke’s atop Warsaw’s Rabbi and the Israeli Ambassador.
           Battalions of reporters with black tripods, cameras and videos lined up like paparazzi. I had begged  to be let through minutes before. Behind me had followed two exceptional people; Iza who traveled with me twice to Suchedniow, a town in central Poland  where my mother had been hidden in a  convent during the war, and eighty year oldish Sister Honorata, who connected us to the convent and knew the Sister who cared for my mother. Sister brimmed with the same spunk and wit my mother and I had seen nineteen  months ago when we returned to Poland.  In the audience also sat Zbigniew Nosowski, an unassuming and generous man who had found Sister Honorata and helped me learn more about my family’s legacy in Poland.
           The Archbishop spoke of the role of priests and nuns during the holocaust. Next, the Israeli Ambassador discussed the Jewish debt to brave Poles.  Capped clergy nodded. Faces softened.
Photo courtesy Fr. Zbigniew Niemirski / GN. http://radom.gosc.pl/.
          None of us know what we would have done had we been in that same situation, the Ambassador said. Would we have risked our lives?
            Later, I realized it was a politically opportune move to saturate the media with images of Catholic clergy standing alongside those awarding medals posthumously to three priests and two nuns  - brave  Catholics who risked their lives during the war for Jews.  Some connected to the decision to host the ceremony at the annual Polish Bishops Conference commented that it was ‘an important event for the image of the Catholic Church in Poland ‘ and  ‘ it would have an impact on future relations and reconciliation between Poles and Jews, Judaism and Christians’.  While some may have found the ceremony setting ironic, for me it was perfectly apt; an opportunity to honor and make an example of those who stood against wrong, and not those who did wrong.
Wojciech Przesmycki, Sister Kornelia's nephew receiving the medal from the Israeli Ambassador..
Photo courtesy Fr. Zbigniew Niemirski / GN. http://radom.gosc.pl/.
More photos: http://bit.ly/1yFtu7z


I am told there is often a common theme at Righteous Among the Nations medal ceremonies.   Recipients rarely boasted of their deeds.  He didn't think he was a hero.  Just an ordinary person. Very humble.  She didn't think she was doing anything courageous - it was just the right thing to do. How could she not? 
            In Warsaw, I heard similar of all those being honored,including from two families accepting medals on behalf of heroes who risked their lives for my mother  and other family members; Maria Kaczynska, Sister Kornelia  Jankowska and  Sister Serafia Adela Rosolińska. Maria Kaczynska's granddaughter, Iwona, described Maria as a humble, but courageous woman. Kornelia’s relatives described her as caring and gentle, as did my mother.
            It was me who felt weak and humbled as I took my turn on the podium, to read out letters from my mother, first at the Polish Bishops Conference and then later in the day at the rebuilt Nozyk Synagogue.  I am one who is unsure of what my actions would have been in the chaos and fear of war. I am one who does not know if I have what it takes to be brave in such circumstances.  Yet, if it were not for those being honored, I would not be alive. And so I swallowed my fear and spoke up.
           I looked out into the audience and into the eyes of those receiving medals on behalf of their relatives. I saw pride.  I saw humility.   I saw the impact of the actions of their for-bearers.
          We hugged.  We kissed.  The audience embraced us.  The audience also embraced the notion of building a future by recognizing the commonness of humanity, of honoring those who taught us how to walk in life.
*Righteous Among the Nations - The official title awarded by Yad Vashem on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust – Oskar Schindler being one of the most famous recipients.
+Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5

Honoring Sister Kornelia and Serafia Adela Rosolińska. Polish Bishop's conference.
Video here>>


Sister Kornelia's relative receiving the medal (In Polish)



Honoring Maria Kaczynska (English)

Maria Kaczynska's family & friends. Photo courtesy Virtual Shtetl Click here for Story of how I found Maria's granddaughters story on the internet 



3 comments:

  1. Hi Karen,

    You might be interested in this

    https://www.facebook.com/postersklep (run by Polish Jews in Melbourne)

    New Center of Jewish Culture in Tarnow

    http://www.tarnow.pl/Miasto/Aktualnosci-tarnowskie/W-Tarnowie-ma-powstac-Centrum-Kultury-Zydow (text)

    http://www.tarnow.pl/index.php/pol/Galeria/Galeria-Miasto/Galeria-Miasto-2014/Wizyta-gosci-z-Izraela-powstaje-Centrum-Kultury-Zydow (photos)

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  2. ps: http://www.jwire.com.au/news/parliament-hears-the-wallach-story/27406

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing. Walt's journey has a familiar ring to it..I hope Maria was honored as a Righteous Among the Nations.

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