On January 15, 2018, Helena (Oleshkawa) Stys, Aleksander Stys, Janinia Golebiewska, Leokadia Wojtkowska and Antoni Stys (Polikarb) were honored at the Warsaw Palace and honored with Yad Vashem's Righteous Among the Nations award for their assistance to Moishe Kwiatek, Esther Wisnia Golberg, Chaim Kwiatek, Sam Goldberg and Wolf Schneidman during the war.
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 did during the holocaust 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 with the relationships between peoples of different nations. Within the first 20 verses, the immigrant Hebrews are enslaved; and 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 Egyprtian, 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. One saved Moses.
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. Recognition of the sovereignty of the Almighty helped them make the right decisions and take the right actions.
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.
[for more pictures from the ceremony and Shlomo's trip - see photo gallery]