Attic, Family, Gentiles, Hid, Inspiring, Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, Jews, Legacy, melissakotlerschwartz, Non-Jews, Passover, Risking, Secret, Sedar, Stranger, strangersihaveknown, World, Worrying
Whoever saves a single life is as if one saves the entire world.
This week, my blog is in honor of the many people who risked their lives, and often the lives of their families, to protect Jews during the Holocaust.
As twenty of us were gathered at our Passover Seder meal last week, my Mom read a supplement to the Haggadah from the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, whose mission is to support the some 700 non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. The foundation also shares their legacy through a national education program.
There was silence at the table as we reflected on the fact that, if it weren’t for those brave gentiles, some of us at the table would not be here today. Later that night, I went to the foundation’s website (http://www.jfr.org) and stared in awe at the faces and stories of seemingly ordinary people who were, in fact, not ordinary at all.
How to pick one story to tell from so many inspiring ones is not an easy task, but something caught my eye when I read about the Konochowitz family, from Poland. It was the word “stranger.” The Konochowitz family did not know the two Jewish families they hid in their attic at all, yet they took care of all eight of them even though they had eight children of their own.
The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous website shares these details: “The Silvermanns and Smuszkowiczes found shelter with the Konochowicz family, who were complete strangers. The family consisted of eight children, including 17-year-old Jadviga, the third oldest. The two Jewish families asked to stay for one night. They ended up staying for more than a year. Although the Konochowiczes were poor and barely able to care for their own family of ten, they provided food and shelter for the eight Jews.”
I tried to picture what this was like for the Konochowicz children. There were probably times that they had little to eat, or lay in their beds at night worrying about a knock on their door.
I’m so glad there is a photo of Jadviga on the website. She’s a pretty young woman with her long, blonde, wavy hair pulled back. She is wearing delicate drop earrings with a crisp white blouse and black jacket. What was it like for her as a teenager, to live with the secret that there were two Jewish families hiding in her attic?
Perhaps she had a boyfriend who was never allowed in the house. Maybe her friends weren’t allowed in either. Or, if they were, she was probably afraid that one of them would hear a suspicious noise. She must have lived with the fear that her family would be caught and killed. She may have wondered if it was worth risking their lives to save the lives of others.
While growing up, the Konochowicz children learned a powerful message – their mother and father could not live with themselves if they let strangers die for no other reason than the fact that they were of a different faith.
Passover comes once a year, but stories of courage like the Konochowicz’s need to be told again and again, both at the Seder table and outside the Seder table, to Jews and non-Jews alike, to remind people when they are feeling less then courageous that they are capable of so much more.