The Righteous Non-Jews

I spoke with a boy of sixteen who, with his father, was at holiday services for the first time. His grandparents were killed and the father fears for his son. He had only recently revealed to his son that he was Jewish. The boy?s name was Chris.

Arlene Peck

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Before leaving Los Angeles for Poland and Romania, I contacted the office of Israel's Consulate, Yuval Rotem. I asked for assistance, which, as usual, was not forthcoming. In years past, I had, in my travels around the globe, written about the Israeli consulate in Egypt, China and Greece. I have for many years worked closely with the Israeli consulate, and they have always been kind in arranging meetings and dinners with me when I arrived in their country of duty.

However, that was before Los Angeles consul general, Youval Rotem, had me blacklisted from every press invitation in the Los Angeles area. Apparently, I had made him angry because of a disparaging column that I wrote about him a couple of years ago called ?The Other Side?, about his inept and arrogant treatment of the press. Ever the optimist, though, I still called the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles before leaving, in hopes that they would fax Poland and Romania and introduce me to their counterparts where I would be traveling. I had to call three times. Finally, the press attache in LA said he sent them an email. In actuality, nothing had been done and when I called the Polish and Romanian Embassies nobody had ever heard of me.

Upon arrival in Poland, I still wasn't deterred and placed a call into the Israeli Embassy in Poland. I especially wanted to make contact as I wanted to discuss a thought that I had of our working together in drafting some questions for interviews that I hoped they would find of interest.

A few nights later, I attended a party at the Warsaw Sheraton Hotel, which had been given by the Saudi Arabian Ambassador. At that time, I made contact with several Middle Eastern ambassadors. Many of them had expressed interest in meeting with me, and I hoped that there was some way I could work with the Israeli consulate as some kind of emissary. However, after several calls, finally reaching the Israeli ambassador, I was told that he was leaving the end of the month. He would let the new guy worry about it.

The next call, to the press attache, was even more disappointing, as he led me to believe that we would meet with me. However, he never showed for our appointments, nor called the hotel. So much for any forthcoming Israeli help.

The reason that I mention this is because, in addition, I had spent the better part of the week as a guest of Severyn Ashkenazy, who is the catalyst for bringing the struggling Jewish community back from the ashes. It was thrilling to attend the Rosh Hashana holiday meeting and listening to those hidden Jews who are emerging. I was amazed to see that there were even a few truly righteous non-Jews who were devoting their time and what little money they had to seeing that the Jews of Poland didn't vanish from the earth entirely.

I was taken into the town of Lublin and met with Tomasz Pretrasiewicz and Brama Grodzka. They are working closely with Mr. Ashkenazy in a project to bring the town a Jewish cultural center. It is an amazing project; especially so, since these men had no connection with the Jewish community other than doing the 'right thing.'

While there, I was driven over to visit the first of the concentration camps I was to see. Majdanek concentration camp near the city of Lublin was as desolate and frightening as I imagined. No, I take that back. It was far, far worse than anyone could envision. Martha, the young Polish girl who was my guide into this hell-hole, told me how, at one time, she worked there for several hours a day. "However, the energy of the camp was so sad.... so very sad. Do you know that the people who work here, on the grounds, feel the tension and the pain? They receive twice as much holiday time as anyone else, because it's too stressful. You can listen to the silence and feel the karma." I knew what she meant. I felt it to.

Imagine a monument filled with the human ashes and bones taken from the crematoriums. Maybe because it was a Monday and the place closed, it seemed more eerie than usual. Yet, when we walked into one of the barracks and I found it filled with thousands and thousands of shoes, so many children's shoes, piled to the ceiling, it took my breath away.

Martha spoke after a moment and said, "Can you hear them talking to each other? Crying out loud to find the mate to the other shoe?" Three and a half million innocent souls lost at the hands of sub-human people, whose greed and jealousy threw babies out of windows for sport and starved whole cities until they were human skeletons.

Later, while walking through the nearby town of Lublin, Mr. Ashkenazy told me that it had previously been the center of yiddishkeit for Poland. Most of the homes that we passed had previously been Jewish-owned. Yet, at the start of the war, their Polish neighbors happily turned the Jews over to the Nazis and they occupied their houses. The more clever ones offered to give them food in return for the deed to their homes, with everything in it. Those Jews who came back post-war were most often shot. This, after surviving and then trying to claim their property.

So now, I find it interesting how these same people of Lublin are discussing how the tourist buses are coming in and they would like to bring in Jewish food, festivals, and other related activities. Yet, there are no Jews there to give that idea authenticity.

Which brings me back to the Israeli consulate. In fact, where are leaders of the Jewish Agency when you need them? As far as I could see, hardly anyone even knows about these lost Jewish souls. I have mixed feelings about a Jewish community even existing there, in the middle of nothing, amid those who sought to destroy them and almost succeeded. Yet, they are there, and each one with a story that must be told. I found a steady stream of people who came over to me to relate how they found out about their "Jewishness."

It is an issue that must be addressed.

I spoke with a boy of sixteen who, with his father, was at holiday services for the first time. His grandparents were killed and the father fears for his son. He had only recently revealed to his son that he was Jewish. The boy?s name was Chris. Another kid told me that she had always "felt Jewish", even though she had been raised Catholic by nuns, who, of course, never told her of her Jewish heritage. Through careful research, she had recently found out the truth. Anyway, you get the idea. Multiply these by thousands more that are just emerging. Sitting in Severyn Ashkenazy's house, which serves as a synagogue in Warsaw, I felt as though I were participating in something exciting and unique.

Yet, from what I could see, there are very few other than Severyn Ashkenazy funding the needs of this community. They are in dire need of books, classes, education, and just the basic things that are necessary to answer the growing questions. We had High Holiday services, but there were no books. A cantor had been brought in, but he wasn't a rabbi, nor was he what was needed for this group.

Where was the help of the Israeli Embassy for these people? Something is wrong. Something is missing. Maybe Embassy personal and the Jewish Agency people feel that all of these people should be in Israel. And, maybe, one day they will be. But now, the Israelis are needed to become involved. If the money isn't there, surely the education for the Jews of Poland can be found. I'll wager if they sat down and thought about it, someone from over there could be sent, on a regular basis, to teach Jewish cooking, dance, Hebrew, politics and culture. Worth a try?