Some of you may remember that musty old basement shop that I like to visit when I’m in Krakow. In issue #130 of Ami Magazine, I wrote about the treasures I’ve found among the assorted items there and how the proprietor saved a Kiddush becher for me. Well, recently I got another surprise from one of my purchases.
The last time I was in Poland, I stopped by the antique store again. I spent a while sifting through the piles of old newspapers, looking for articles related to the war. Although I don’t speak Polish, I can usually figure out what the article is about by the dates and pictures. I finally found some World War II-era newspapers. I bought the whole stack and donated them to the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center. The papers joined hundreds of other artifacts and items of interest that are being carefully examined and catalogued by the collections staff at KFHEC.
I swing by the collections department regularly to see how this delicate work is progressing, and last week I watched as our team began to examine the pages. At first, nothing unusual turned up. Most of the newspapers were copies of the Goniec Krakowski (Bishop of Krakow), a Nazicontrolled Polish newspaper that was published in occupied Krakow. There was a New Year’s message from Hitler, ym”s, and news about German advances and how the Soviet beast was being crushed.
But as I was turning to leave, I heard, “Wait! Rabbi Friedmann, look at this!” Among the German propaganda, there was a paper called Nowe Zycie. The top of the front page was emblazoned with the slogan “Death to the German invaders!” It was not too difficult to translate the general message of the articles.
Nowe Zycie means “new life,” and the paper was filled with news of the anti-Nazi resistance and the impending defeat of the German forces. The newspaper was one of many underground Polish newspapers published during the war. This particular one was funded by the General Jewish Labor Bund. Perhaps most astonishing was the fact that it was dated 1944! During the darkest years of the war, after most of Poland’s Jews had been killed, a voice of resistance was still in print.
I am often asked if it’s disheartening to devote so much of my time to Holocaust related work. My answer is that although the horrible loss of life is heartbreaking and much of the work we deal with involves tragedy, I am always amazed and inspired by the remarkable perseverance and strength displayed by so many of the victims and survivors.
One such recent incident comes to mind. In Ami #136, we featured a copy of a list of people in the Salzburg DP Camp who focused on getting kosher food immediately after the war. Not recognizing any of the individuals listed, I wondered what became of them. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when we received a call from Mrs. Pearl Engelman, who had noticed the name of her father, Reb Lazer Rosenzweig, a”h, on the list and decided to donate her father’s collection of Holocaust-era artifacts to KFHEC.
A Stropkover chasid from Košice, Slovakia, Reb Lazer was deported to Auschwitz and was one of the only survivors of his family. After marrying in the DP camp, he moved to the United States and settled in Williamsburg. With great emunah and mesiras nefesh, Reb Lazer was zocheh to rebuild and became the father and grandfather of a large chasidishe family.
Uplifting stories about keeping kosher, even finding out about an underground secular newspaper, can be a spark of light that dispels a lot of darkness. Far from getting depressed, I have found a new sense of pride the more I learn of the commitment and resolve of these great Yidden. Whether in the confines of the death-filled ghettos and concentration camps or in the postwar DP camps, our parents and grandparents forged ahead despite unimaginable hardships.
As plans for the different exhibits take shape at the Kleinman Family Holocaust Education Center, we continue to focus on this theme. I believe it is very important that the lessons of the Holocaust be integrated into our everyday lives—because surely the greatest zechus for those who died al kiddush Hashem is that we are inspired by them to live al kiddush Hashem.