Wednesday, May 18, 2022

77 years after Auschwitz, Jews honor those who saved them

DURACH, Germany ( Associated Press) — Andrzej Sitkowski was 15 years old when his mother told him he had been asked by a neighbor to hide a little Jewish girl from the Nazis at their home.

“It was a short conversation, and then, yes, we decided to take Hadsa and have her bring to our house in 1943,” Sitkowski says, looking back at those difficult years during World War II when she was her widowed mother. Lived with Helena and younger sister Magda on the outskirts of the Polish capital of Warsaw under German occupation.

“Of course we were afraid, but fear was our daily dish during those years anyway,” Sitkowski told The Associated Press at his home in the Bavarian village of Durch, where he had settled with his German wife 10 years earlier. .

Nearly eight decades after her rescue of the Hadassah Cossacks, the 93-year-old Polish man is still in contact with the 84-year-old Cossack, who immigrated to the United States via Israel after the war where she became a history professor in New York.

For their efforts to help save the lives of Cossack, his sister Marion and their mother Bronislava, who would later come to live with Sitkowski, Andrzej and his mother were given Israel’s highest honor in 1995. He was named “the righteous among the nations”. – a title given to non-Jews who took great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust by Yad Vashem, the country’s official Holocaust remembrance organization.

This year, as the world celebrates the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp on January 27, 1945, Yad Vashem and the Convention on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany together uncovered the stories of “righteous rescuers” Is. “Like Sitkowski who risked everything, even his own life, to save Jews from being killed by the Nazis and their henchmen.

As part of a social media campaign called #Don’tBeABystander, Dawa Sammelan and Yaad Vashem are releasing several videos and launch a website About the people who saved the Jews during the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were murdered across Europe.

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“The amazing thing about the rescuers is that they not only saved the specific person who was in hiding, but all of their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – an entire family tree,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the organization. Claims Conference.

“It says in Jewish tradition that if you save one person it’s like you save the whole world,” Schneider told the Associated Press.

Over the past 60 years Yad Vashem has recognized approximately 28,000 individuals from nearly 50 countries as “righteous rescuers”. The organization still receives hundreds of applications each year, most of which are posthumous. Most of all the rescuers still alive today helped their parents as children or teenagers.

“We believe about 200 of them are still alive and most of them are living in Europe,” said Dani Dayan, president of Yad Vashem. “As anti-Semitic sentiment is on the rise again on all five continents, we need to re-emphasize the moral stature of these individuals and their actions.”

In Poland, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community before the Holocaust, the Nazi occupiers punished those who helped Jews by killing not only assistants, but their entire families.

Yet, when you ask Sitkowski why he and his mother decided to help the Jews despite the enormous personal risks, he shrugs and says it was his duty as human beings.

“There was no lengthy discussion when my mother told me about the neighbor’s request. The approval was somehow obvious,” recalls Sitkowski, tucked into her red scarf.

“It was just an impulsive decision of a Mensch,” he says, using the German word for human that also in Yiddish refers to a particularly good person.

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Sitting in his living room overlooking the snowy foothills of the Alps, he smiles when he thinks of Hadassa.

“She was a pretty little girl, very smart, with dark hair and black eyes – I loved her so much.”

Even today there is a strong bond between them. Earlier they used to visit each other and nowadays they talk on the phone and exchange letters.

In their conversations, their memories often go back to the months of hiding when Sitkowski shared his meager food rations with Hadassah, when Andrzej taught five-year-old Hadassah to read and write, and when he talked to his neighbors and friends. Acquainted acquaintances. The concoction in which Hadassa was not a Jew, but a Christian-Polish girl whose mother was taken to Germany as a forced laborer.

In reality, Hadassah’s mother was disguised as a maid with the other family and her sister was in hiding in a Marian Catholic convent. But when those hiding places weren’t secure, the two join Hadassah at Sitkowski.

In September 1944, however, the Nazis first burned down the Sitkowski house and several other houses on their street, and then later expelled all who lived there. So they needed to escape again and eventually Sitkowski and the Cossacks had to part ways and survive the final months of the war in various locations across Poland until Poland was liberated by Soviet forces in January 1945.

While Hadassah Cossacks moved first to Israel and later to the United States, her mother and sister ended up in Britain, where Marion married Ralph Miliband and where she had two sons, Ed and David, two famous politicians of the British Labor Party. Were. ,

Hadassah Cossack told the Associated Press that the decision to shelter Andrzej and his mother was “a true act of humanity.” “Thanks to their bravery, and at a great risk to ourselves, we survived the Nazi horrors.”

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