Yom Ha’Shoah. Day of Remembering the Holocaust and Acts of Courage

Redakcja/Editorial staff; English translation: Andrew Rajcher, 25th April 2022
On 27th April, Israel will observe its Yom HaShoah national holiday – Day of Remembering the Holocaust and Acts of Courage. It is second only to International Holocaust Remembrance Day (27th January), a day devoted to the tragedy of the Holocaust. On that day, sirens sound in Israel and public life pauses, for a moment, in tribute to Jews who died in German-occupied Europe. On Yom HaShoah, which in a special way commemorates the Jewish resistance movement, we present stories of Jews helping other Jews in occupied Poland. Also, check out what we plan to publish soon.’’

“Today, I know and understand that, in the ghetto, there was a priority to save children. Was it about saving a nation’s substance, or was it about about children not being able to get away in some dangerous situation – I don’t know. But, even years later after the war, Marek Edelman said that it was necessary to save the children. It was our first order.

Today, when much is said about the saving of Jews by Poles, it is forgotten that, most of all, we were saved by Jews, Jewish parents, Jewish grandmothers and Jewish grandfathers. They were our front-line rescuers.

These Polish rescuers were also very important, but they came later,” stressed Katarzyna Meloch, who survived the Holocaust as a child.

Yon HaShoah, following the 19th April anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, is a time to commemorate the Jewish ressistance movement in occupied Europe. The full name of the day is Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG'vurah, a Day of Remembering the Holocaust and Acts of Courage.

In recent years, it has become an opportunity to to remember, not only participants in the armed underground, but also those Jews who fought the occupier in a different, but no less important manner.

Jews Helping Other Jews on the “Aryan Side” – a thematic section of the Polish Righteous website

In occupied Poland, Jews were forced to hide. They were helped, not only by Poles, but also, and perhaps most of all, by other Jews. It involved short-term and long-term help - material, emotional and help of any other kind. Jews, who provided such help, contrary to the orders of the Germans. did not report to the ghettos which had been established - or had escaped from them. Others, mainly members of the Jewish underground, crossed the borders of the “closed-off districts” and operated on both sides.

All of them were exposed to denunciation and blackmail.

Information about Jews helping each other can be found in almost every report about hiding during the German occupation. They helped each other find an apartment or a job. They lent money, provided information and shared their experiences. Jews created formal (as part of , for example, the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews) or informal help networks, including family, friends or even complete strangers

At POLIN Museum, we commemorate Jews, who helped other Jews on the “Aryan side”, by documenting their stories in a thematic section of our Polish Righteous portal.

We present selected stories of help, including those of Stanisław Gombiński – a Jewish policeman, Fajga Peltel-Międzyrzecka (Vladka Meed) – a courier of the Jewish Combat Organisation (ŻOB), Helena Merenholc – a liason of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews, or Maurycy Herling-Grudziński (brother of famous writer Gustaw) – found of the “Felicja” cell, which provided help to one-fifth of all Jews hiding in occupied Warsaw.

» See the Thematic Section on the Polish Righteous webiste: Jews Helping other Jews on the “Aryan side”

These people, named above, have never received the title of Righteous Among theNation, since that award is presented, by the Yad Vashem Institute, only to non-Jews. However, at POLIIN Museum, we believe that  participants in Jewish self-help also belong to the Righteous, the term being understood in a broader and universal sense – people, who opposed the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany and who stood up for dignity and human rights.

“It is worth documenting such stories in order to change the stereotypical notions about Jewish passivity during the Holocaust, about those in hiding ‘sitting in wardrobes’ and that each of them were selflessly helped by a few or a few dozen Poles. In reality, many Jews helped others in hiding. They were efficient, inventive, brave and full of initiative. In situations where they faced danger at every step, they risked their lives to save Jews”, notes Prof. Barbara Engelking.

New stories of Jewish self-help on the “Aryan side” – published on the Polish Righteous website

“I rented an apartment for myself using the surname ‘Majewski’ […]. I registered there. I had to bring them, not only food, but also to take out their shit. They had water, but no toilet”, recalled Wiktor Hochberg.

In 2022, we are preparing further historical studies about Jews helping other Jews on the “Aryan side”. We are devoting a special section our Polish Righteous website, which will be expanded with new stories of help. See our publishing plans, in this area, for the coming months:

  • The Story of  Basia Temkin-Berman and Adolf Berman

The meeting was held in a secret room. “Around the large table, upon which were cups of ‘coffee’ and a plate of biscuits to simulate a social gathering, were ‘Michał’ (Dr. Adolf Berman), ‘Basia’ (Barbara Temkin-Berman), ‘Bogusia’ (Klima Fuswerk-Krymko), ‘Czesława’ (Lotta Wegmeister), ‘Stasia’ (Helena Merenholc) and ‘Wanda’ (Bela Elster)”, noted Józef Zysman. “Conversation was in low voices. Time and again, someone got up, stood by the window and checked the street through a crack in the curtains. After a short introduction by ‘Michał’, those present reported on their recent activities, especially on the material aid campaign.” Adolf and Basia Berman were members of the Jewish National Committee. He served as secretary of “Żegota”. She was one of the most active women in the Jewish underground.

This story will appear in August 2022, marking the 115th anniversary of the birth of Basia Temkin-Berman.

  • The Story of Wiktor Hochberg (Witold Góra)

On the “Aryan side” of Warsaw, he cared for forty people. He led Jews out of the ghetto, found them shelter and arranged “Aryan papers”. He had fifty blank identity cards at his disposal, which he had obtained from a Jewish friend who worked in the municipal authorities. He hid his family, friends and complete strangers. He visited them in their hiding-places, providing food and medicine. His younger daughter, Barbara Góra, who survived with her father, in an interview for POLIN Museum, talked about the help her father had provided.

This story will appear in August 2022, marking Barbara Góra’s 90th birthday.

  • The Story of Marian Rzędowski

He rode a crowded tram. The hand, upon which he wore his watch, grasped the descending handle. The tram jerked, passengers fell, the watch was gone. He guessed that it was the man with his back towards him. He grabbed his wwrist. As the tram reached a stop, he leaned in. “We’re getting off”, he said. Outside, he demanded return of the watch. Years later, he explained to his wife why he had done that, quietly and calmly. He protected himself and those under his care. He was a member of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews. Working within the “Felicja” cell, he took money to Jews hiding on the “Aryan side”. Today, Marian Rzędowski’s watch is in POLIN Museum collection.

This story will appear in December 2022, marking the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the “Żegota”.

The story of Helena Merenholc (“Mrs Stasia”) – broadcast on Polish Radio Four

One of the key people in specific section, on the them of Jews helping Jews on the “Aryan side”, is Helena Merenholc (1907–1997), child psychologist and educator who, in March 1943, escaped from the Warsaaw ghetto. Because she had to go into hiding due to her Jewish origins, she helped other Jews as a liaison of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews. She provided, those in need, with false identity documents, monthly financial allowances and searched for hiding places. She worked with Adolf and Basia Berman – friends on the Jewish National Committee.

Marking the 79th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the  editorial staff of Polish Radio prepared a special program, to be aired on Polish Radio 2, dedicated to Helena  Merenholc, linked to her story, Janusz Korczak (1878/1879–1942), doctor and educator.

The program told of the professional links between Korczak and Merenholc. It was told by Marta Ciesielska from the Korczakianum Research and Documentation Centre, Olga Szymańska from the Jewish Historical Institute, and Maciej Małecki, composer and pianist. Mateusz Szczepaniak, from POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, told of Helena Merenholc’s aid activities on the “Aryan side”.

» Listen to the program: Janusz Korczak and Helena Merenholc were radio people (Polish Radio 2, 23rd April 2022) [in Polish only]