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Holocaust: Honoring Righteous Gentiles

Roger Cohen wrote a moving piece in the Times Week in Review (One Clear Conscience, 60 Years After Auschwitz) about a Polish man who saved the lives of two Jewish children during the Holocaust by helping hide them on his parent’s farm. While he clearly acted the role of hero in this ancient drama, Miecyslaw Kasprzyk always lived the life of a poor, struggling chicken farmer. He was also always a contrarian to boot hating the Nazis and Polish Communists in equal measure. None of this brought him any accolades from his peers. But he paid that no mind as he eked out his meager living in an out of the way village near Crakow. Kasprzyk, like Shindler would have been one of those minor footnotes of history (if that) had it not been for who he saved. Let’s let Cohen speak here:

In this particular case, I confess to a personal interest in the memorializing of Mr. Kasprzyk. I see him limping toward Amalia as they met again after almost six decades. I see their embrace serenaded with clucking. I hear his tender words: “Malvinka, Malvinka.”

The “Malvinka” he saved, now Amalia Baranek…is the mother of my wife.

Until this last passage I thought I was reading a small, elegiac piece about yet another poor Polish righteous gentile. But the closing words “the mother of my wife” brought home the searing power of this story.So_many_miracles_video_cover_tp

In the late 1980s I was out of work for a time. A very supportive friend, Josh Baran, was a Hollywood publicist who took pity on me and offered me spot work in promoting the projects of his film and entertainment clients. That’s how I helped promote the FarmAid concert one year. But one project especially suited me. Saul Rubinek, one of Hollywood’s finest character actors (who will forget his role as the querulous, corrupt and buffoonish reporter in Forgiven?), had just completed a documentary film (and book), So Many Miracles, about the reunion between his Holocaust survivor parents and the Polish peasant woman who kept them concealed under the floorboards in her farmhouse throughout the war. Saul was hoping that we could get the film nominated for that year’s (it was 1987 or 1988) Academy Awards. To that end, I organized a screening of the film at Wilshire Boulevard Temple with the help of their rabbi. Unfortunately, So Many Miracles did not receive a nomination.

It seems like it’s now hard to find the film, which is a great shame. The National Jewish Film Center says on its website that it is available for $36. I’d send them an e mail to check if they have it and how to go about purchasing it if you’re interested. So Many Miracles is one of those memorials to great human courage and sacrifice both on the part of the victims and rescuers. And it goes without saying that the moment of reunion between Saul’s parents and the Polish woman is devastatingly powerful. If you can ever see or buy this video I strongly recommend it.

I’ve found two sites that include short summaries of the film:

Many of the Jews who survived the Holocaust owe their lives to “righteous gentiles” who imperiled their own lives by assisting Jewish friends and neighbors. The emotions of those years remain undimmed by the passage of time, as Jews recall the fateful decisions, personal courage, and twists of luck that helped them slip through the Nazis’ killing machine.

In So Many Miracles, survivors Israel and Frania Rubinek return to Poland to meet with Sofia, the woman who hid them. Aware of German atrocities, the couple had lived in a bunker in the town of Pinczow, fled, then returned to hide with Sofia, who sheltered them despite her husband’s reluctance. They all stayed in the same house for over two years, narrowly avoiding detection at times. Their reunion, 40 years later, speaks of the power of bonds forged at a time when they were forbidden.

1987, 58 mins.
–from Jewish Heritage Video Collection

So Many Miracles
Canada, 1987/1993, 58 minutes, color (16mm/video) video sale $36
Directors: Katherine Smalley and Vic Sarin

During the fall of 1942, in the Polish village of Pinczow, as the Germans deported Jews to the gas chambers, the Banya family offered to hide Israel and Frania Rubinek in their one room farmhouse. Despite enormous risk and hardship, Zofia and Ludwig Banya, along with their young son Maniek, sheltered the Rubineks for 28 months. Interweaving docu-drama sequences with archival material, this film follows Israel and Frania Rubinek on their emotional return journey to Poland, and documents their poignant reunion with Zofia Banya, the peasant woman who saved their lives forty years ago. As a co-producer of the film, actor Saul Rubinek accompanies his parents not only to achieve a better understanding of his family’s past, but also to come to terms with his own identity.

“’…moving and uplifting, a story of love and courage in a time of horror. It is surprisingly free of bitterness and anger, and instead what comes through is a spirit and a will to live. The [viewer] is left enriched by their story.” – Chicago Jewish Star
–from National Jewish Film Center

And this brings me to another important Holocaust project on which I worked. Around that time, I lived in a Hollywood apartment building and shared the building with a Holocaust survivor, Malvina Schwartz. Eventually, I persuaded her to record some of her memories of Auschwitz on my tape recorder. I culled four hours of tape into an article. I had a friend who worked for the editorial page of the Los Angeles Times and she arranged for the article to be published on the Op Ed page in 1977. I’m very proud of that article and the tremendous survivor’s courage exemplified by Malvina. You can read it here at Malvina Schwartz: Auschwitz Survivor.


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