By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) - Leon Gersten could not bear to watch “Schindler’s List,” the movie about Czech industrialist Oskar Schindler who saved 1,200 Jews from Nazi extermination camps. It was too painful for the Holocaust survivor, too close to reality.
But now, almost 70 years after his village in Poland was liberated by the Soviet army, Gersten is meeting the man who is the Oskar Schindler of his own life: Czeslaw Polziec.
Like Schindler, Polziec is Catholic. His family secretly sheltered Gersten in rural Poland for two years during World War II.
As though such a reunion between survivor and rescuer were not emotional enough, this one is taking place Wednesday on the eve of Hanukkah, which coincides this year with Thanksgiving. Two celebrations of gratitude.
Gersten, 79, had tried to imagine how he might feel when he would finally meet his Polish friend at John F. Kennedy International Airport. He said only this: “I think it will be a physical reaction.”
And it was. The two men embraced. Then, they embraced again.
"Hi, hi, hi," Polziec said, his English limited to just a few words.
But words seemed useless now anyway. For Gersten, none seemed adequate for a man who saved his life. A man who had, through his actions, given him precious assurance there was goodness left in a world that seemed purely evil.
“I am alive because of them,” Gersten said of Polziec and his family. “They are heroes.”
Gersten had waited for this day when he could express his gratitude in person. When he could show Polziec his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They were the greatest proof of the enormity of the Polziec family's actions.
As a boy, Leon Gersten hid for two years with his mother and other family members in the attic of a barn.
On Thanksgiving, the two men will sit down for a formal dinner and on Sunday, several generations of Gersten’s family, including a granddaughter traveling from Israel, will share a meal with Polziec at a New York restaurant.
“How wonderful to be able to see him,” Gersten said earlier this week, each word laced with the kind of anticipation a soldier coming home after battle feels. “How wonderful to be reunited, share memories.”
With Polziec by his side, Gersten’s Hanukkah promises to be special. He plans to perform an act he was never able to do when he was in hiding on Polziec’s family farm, one that will celebrate the miracle of his survival.
Life in the attic
The shared memories will take Gersten back to Frystak, Poland. To July 1942.
Gersten’s mother, Frieda Tepper Gersten, worked as a peddler and traveled throughout southern Poland, selling fabric and other items. She and Leon moved from the town of Rzeszow to Frystak to live with her parents shortly after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Gersten’s father, Yonasan, was unable to get work in Frystak and stayed in Rzeszow with Gersten’s sister and three brothers.
Gersten never saw his father or siblings again. He has no photos except one of his sister. He knows they all perished but everything else is blank. Where? When? How?
Then one July day, the Germans ordered the Jews of Frystak to assemble in the marketplace. They rounded up 1,600 people, mostly children and the elderly, marched them outside town, slaughtered them and tossed their bodies like garbage into a mass grave.
Among the dead were Gersten’s grandparents.
His mother knew she and her son would die, too, unless she escaped the Jewish ghetto. She disguised herself as a Catholic, a cross around her neck. With her boy, she walked into the countryside and knocked on the doors of her customers to ask for shelter for herself and her son - as well as her sister and brother-in-law and their son.
Many turned her away. It was risky to come to the aid of Jews. It could prove fatal.
But the Polziecs were different.
Now almost 70 years later, Gersten has been reunited with one of his rescuers.
Maria and Stanislaw Polziec lived on a farm in nearby Zawadka with their four daughters and son, Czeslaw. They had barely the means to feed their own family, let alone buy food for five strangers.
But they took in the desperate Jews and created a living space for them in a dark attic above their barn. Czeslaw Polziec brought them food and stood guard when other people came to the farm.
Gersten remembers receiving one big loaf of bread a week. It was divided into five – the two boys got first pick. And there were potatoes. Gersten offered his uncle an extra potato for every two hours he entertained the boys with stories.
“Food was very tight,” Gersten said. “But we weren’t starving.”
The space was adequate, too. The main problem was inactivity. There was nothing to do. Gersten watched spiders catch flies. Or plucked lice from his cousin’s head. That’s how he passed time.
Gersten was only 8 then; Polziec, 10. Their interaction was limited.
Stanislaw and Maria Polziec hid Leon Gersten and his family from the Nazis in rural Poland.
Sometimes, in the early morning, Gersten climbed down the ladder to help Polziec in the stable. There were two cows, a horse and pig.
Other times, Polziec picked mushrooms and brought them up for soup.
On some winter nights, the attic got cold and the Polziecs invited their Jewish guests into their home to spend the evening in warmth.
They built an earthen bunker in the barn to hide Gersten and his family for the times when Germans raided the farm. It measured 4 feet by 3 feet and was just big enough to hold five people. It resembled a grave, really. The Polziecs slid a big, wooden grain storage bin over the opening to deflect suspicion.
One night, Nazi collaborators raided the farm and heard the footsteps of Gersten’s family scurrying into the bunker. They questioned Stanislaw Polziec, who blamed the noise on children in the attic. The collaborators beat Stanislaw, bloodied him without mercy. Gersten could hear the Polziec family’s screams. Still, the Polziecs did not betray the Jews.
Gersten said he remains impressed the Polziecs never showed any resentment toward their Jewish guests for the enormous danger they had brought them.
Gersten remained in the Polziec’s attic for two years, until the day in 1944 when Soviet soldiers liberated the area. Gersten and his mother eventually moved to America.
'Should we have let them die?'
For many years after, Gersten had dreams of being shot by the Nazis. He liked sleeping when it rained. All those months in hiding, he’d felt secure on stormy nights, knowing the Nazis would not go out to look for Jews then.
He grappled with his own survival as he made a new life for himself in New York.
“My mother was very religious,” he said. “She had a more positive outlook about surviving, although we could never answer why God would want us to survive over others.”
Gersten and his mother kept up with the Polziecs after the war. They sent a few dollars and care packages with clothes back to Poland.
Gersten earned a doctorate in educational psychology from Columbia University and started his own practice. He stopped speaking Polish – his mother tongue was Yiddish - and forgot it with time. He never yearned to return to the town where he lived as a boy. His house and the life he once knew were gone. So were most of his loved ones.
“I have ambivalent feelings about going back there,” he said.
Over the years, he lost contact with the Polziecs. But after his mother died, Gersten wrote to the Jewish Historical Society in Poland about what the Polziecs had done. About two years ago, he decided to submit the family’s name to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust. The memorial also recognizes non-Jews who helped Jews survive. Schindler’s name is in that database, as are the Polziecs'.
In America, The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous helped Gersten find Czeslaw Polziec in Poland. His parents had passed away years before.
The New York-based foundation supports non-Jews who refused to remain passive during the Holocaust. About 650 rescuers in Europe receive funding for food and essential goods like heating fuel.
The foundation is sponsoring Polziec’s visit to New York, including a dinner honoring him and his family.
Stanlee Stahl, the executive director of the foundation, visited Polziec in Poland. It was not possible for CNN to speak with him before the reunion - he was preparing to make the long journey across the Atlantic.
But Stahl described him as someone who has the handsomely rugged looks of a retired Marine. He served in the Polish army and then worked in security for many years.
Polziec doesn’t think of himself or his family as heroes, he told the foundation. They were God-fearing people, ordinary people, who simply did what they deemed the right thing to do in a desperate situation.
Gersten's entire family will share a meal with Czeslaw Polziec in New York.
Should we have let them die? he asked in a statement to the foundation.
“The question alone does not bear thinking about,” he said. “They had every right to live. Nobody who has not lived through those desolate days will ever really understand what my parents did, and I am sure, were they still with us, they would be surprised that an honor has been bestowed upon them.”
Stahl said the foundation has helped arrange 18 reunions between survivors and rescuers. But this year, because Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving, Gersten’s reunion with Polziec is truly special.
“We owe a great deal of gratitude to these righteous gentiles,” Stahl said. “They saved the honor of humanity.”
Gersten, meanwhile, said he remains amazed by the loyalty of the Polziecs, especially Czeslaw and his sisters, who were so young then. They went to school and church and interacted with so many people. Yet they never uttered a word.
That’s something Gersten plans to point out when he sits down for Thanksgiving dinner with Polziec. He will be grateful that for two years, his Polish friend kept a secret.
But before that, on Wednesday night, Gersten is looking forward to lighting a Hanukkah menorah, which commemorates the rededication of the ancient temple and the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting eight.
Gersten was never able to light a menorah when he was hiding in Polziec’s home. The light would have given away the family’s presence, put an end to their survival. Now with Polziec finally by his side again, Gersten’s menorah will symbolize his own family’s miracle.
Leon Gersten (at the far left end of the third row back) with other schoolchildren in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the war.
OK, lets get the ball rolling.
"Britain agreed to split the land we know as Jordan and Israel today into two parts – an Arab state and an Israeli state"
The British Mandate did not create an Israeli state...a state has geographic borders, no such borders were created by the
British mandate which gave Jews land rights...please cite the reference from the British Mandate or elsewhere that supports your assertion if you want to debate this further.
I have formulated a thorough response but nothing I try will allow me to get it through CNNs prescreening filter...will try later.
"Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconst1tuting their national home in that country"
And thats it...that's the most relevant excerpt from the British Mandate....and pay close attention to the phrase "in that country" What does that mean?...it means that Mandatory Palestine is a sovereign nation which is granting Jews immigration rights per the Mandate.
The main thing that the British Mandate did was to give Jews the right to freely immigrate to the land area defined as
Mandatory Palestine. Which is what is today the area comprised of modern day Palestine and Modern Day Israel (as defined by the UN 1948 resolution which the Arabs rejected) In other words, it gave Jews immigration rights to Mandatory Palestine. However it DID NOT create a state of Israel which would have given Jews land rights to Mandatory Palestine. Again, the British Mandate allocated immigration rights...not land rights.
And they did immigrate, by 1946 there was a population of about half a million Jews over a land area comprising 6% the total land area (6000 km^2) of Mandatory Palestine. This equates to a population density of about 1400/km^2 (compare to Modern day South Korea at 1288/km^2).
When viewed in terms of actual land owned the population density is 1288/km^2, however when viewed in terms of the fact
that Jews had the right to immigrate to the the entire state of Mandatory Palestine the population density is the figure
I referenced in my original post of 57/km^2. The point is, Jews were given citizenship rights to Mandatory Palestine...a place which based on the existing population densities provided plenty of room for repatriation after the Holocaust.
See, this is where you are raising a legitimate point for discussion in a rational, civil manner. I notice that I'm not seeing responses to these posts, I'm only seeing responses to the ones where you are making wacky accusations. Interesting.
“The existence of the physical world reveals the power of God and insights into His character.”
How? Why? The existence of the physical world reveals no such thing. It merely confirms that reality has form and structure. Does your god have form and structure? If so please be the first to elaborate.
“The perfect law reveals man’s incapacity and duty to obey”
What perfect law? What does that even mean? Why do you believe it’s perfect when it was penned by(using your logic) imperfect men? You are so far down the rabbit hole that the light of reason is completely hidden.
Thank you Jesus for the wonderful meal today.
@Positron : What was the justification for allocating more land [after 1950] for the Jews by taking it from Palestine when the population density of Israel was more than sufficient to accommodate the returning Jews?
You're spreading misinformation with your question. Let's do a level set before we address your question. Around WWI (i.e. 1920ish), Britain agreed to split the land we know as Jordan and Israel today into two parts – an Arab state and an Israeli state – to reward them for their efforts in defeating the Ottoman Empire (re: Balfour Declaration of 1917 / Churchill White Paper of 1922). These agreements were also similar to several other agreements that were in the works from other European countries, so there was international support for a Jewish national homeland. So, they split the land into Jordan and an Israel state, divided by the Jordan River. Riots broke out in the area and Britain reneged on the agreement until 1948. When the Jewish concentration camps were discovered, the international community was horrified. They realized the British inaction played a part in the Hitler's Jewish Solution. Jordan's statehood was promptly granted, but issues continued to rise over the establishment of the Jewish national homeland. In the end, the territory promised to Israel in 1917 was subsequently divided between the Arabs and the Jews.
So, the correct question that should be addressed here is What was the justification for allocating LESS land in 1948 for the Jews and giving it to the Arabs when they had already received their territory?
Happy Thanksgiving Live4Him.
The verse of the day on biblegateway,
Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people. 1 Chronicles 16:8 AKJV
Happy Thanksgiving to you too! Not much activity these last few days on the forums. However, this thread was one I thought I should jump in on. What's going on for you this holiday? Visiting relatives?
We've been having Thanksgivings at the relatives since the first of the month. Feasting at home Today, very nice. How about y'all ?
Yep, visiting the in-laws side of the family this week.
Live4Him, thank you for responding to my question with something other than ad hominem attacks.
I will be posting a reply shortly...in fact... I challenge you to a duel...I agree that if I lose I will cease to post on this thread.
This is an incredibly important issue that needs to be hammered out down to the molecular level....our involvement in these
wars has cost the lives of many innocent Iraqi people, many US soldiers, and a tremendous expenditure of resources. I
will not stop posting until we arrive at loggerheads I can assure you of that
One last major question:
The following chart shows that the population density of Israel was only 57/km^2 in 1950 at the time of the UN
resolution to carve up Palestine and give some of it to the Jews:
What reason, can ANYBODY offer, for the need to allocate more land for the Jews returning from Europe after WWII
when the population density of Israel at that time was about 1/4th that of present day Luxembourg (200/km^2)?
There was clearly enough room to accommodate all of the returning Jews so why add fuel to a fire when there was
ABSOLUTELY no reason to do so.
What was the justification for allocating more land for the Jews by taking it from Palestine when the population
density of Israel was more than sufficient to accommodate the returning Jews?
What is your major goal here?
I seek the truth...and you?
The truth of what, exactly ?
The truth of this:
Why do you think the borders were unfair? Remember, Palestine wasn't even a country; but all that aside, why do you think the population of Israel would never grow?
Do you think that they should have been confined to a smaller area, perhaps in ghettos?
Such a beautiful story of endurance and love!! Why are some of you on here bickering??
It's a belief blog and what you see here is what you get on every story.
That's great story.
Town's was/is called FrysZtak, BTW, not Frystak. ;-)
if this story does'nt bring a tear to you're eye then nothing can. god bless both families. happy hollidays to both families from boston mass
today I'm thankful that Pius X11 was instrumental for saving over 800,000 Jewish live's...I'm proud the Catholics did their best for all mankind!
Apparently you don't know about the Reichskoncordat. The effects of that were to quiet the church, giving strength to the rising Nazi party in Germany. The protests of breaches to the agreement were near whispers from Pius 12. He was not pope during Krystalnacht, but was close to the pope, and the catholic church was strangely silent about those days.
Did his best? His best was pathetic.
Can you say "Ratlines" boys and girls?
Sure, I knew you could.
Pius has become known as "Hitler's Pope".
“The fact that the Vatican is concluding a treaty with the new Germany means the acknowledgement of the National Socialist state by the Catholic Church. This treaty shows the whole world clearly and unequivocally that the assertion that National Socialism [Nazism] is hostile to religion is a lie.” Adolf Hitler, 22 July 1933, writing to the Nazi Party
The fact that the Curia is now making its peace with Fascism shows that the Vatican trusts the new political realities far more than did the former liberal democracy with which it could not come to terms. ...The fact that the Catholic Church has come to an agreement with Fascist Italy ...proves beyond doubt that the Fascist world of ideas is closer to Christianity than those of Jewish liberalism or even atheistic Marxism...
– Adolf Hitler in an article in the Völkischer Beobachter, February 29, 1929
That war shows what people are capable of doing ....on each side of the spectrum. Once we devalue a human life because of a different belief or skin color we have lost our ability to be human. When doing what is "right" becomes an act of heroism it shows just how lost a culture becomes when hate and fear takes control.
Excellent perspective. Nowadays doing things right is considered exceptional. Being honest, worthy of recognition. Almost like being normal is interpreted as being out of the mainstream. WORLD IS CRAZY, PEOPLE ARE ROBOTS AND DISRESPECT THE NORMALITY!
Reblogged this on uggggh.
How can these people be considered heroes? Not a professional athlete or movie star among the lot. Ask any teenager or sports nut, these people just don’t qualify.
Off topic but appropriate for the occasion:
"Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West, From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest; When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board The old broken links of affection restored, When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more, And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before, What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye? What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie? -"
John Greenleaf Whittier
Hope this doesn't offend anyone, but this story is so frightening and disgusting that people overlook another important aspect: it's stupid. The Nazis were locked in a death struggle with the Soviets on a scale the world had never seen, yet they wasted precious resources to exterminate what would be – on their terms – the most energetic and intelligent tribe in their empire. How much did it cost to go house to house again and again to search out the last few women and children?
Many things about that war defy common sense.
For example, why exactly did the Ja/panese think it a good idea to ally themselves with white supremacists?
Doc and the dreaded A bombs that US dropped on Ja-pan.
There are surviors still from that.
What makes you think fear mongers are rational?
I'm Jewish and I'm not offended by your post. I often wonder why they were so shortsighted. Sure I know why they tried to exterminate the Jews, but when you think about it, they had to know that they were killing some of the greatest minds of the time. If I were a German military commander or scientist I would be screaming, "What are you doing?"
Most of the scientists said "let's get out of here", most came to America.
The atomic (you know the atoms not from gods) bomb was created by who?
Never ever trust an atom...they make up everything.
So you're looking for a hero,
One that you can see with your own eyes,
When they don't wear the mask and cape, they are HARD to recognize!
-Jimmy Buffet, song lyrics from his song "Good Guys".
In my opinion that family, those Polziecs? They are superheros! And I'm not even Jewish.
What an incredible story. To read it from a survivor's standpoint, to feel the fear they must have felt hidden away, to hear the cries of their rescuer as the Nazi's beat him, trying to get him to say he had Jews he was hiding, to think of the rescuers children never saying a word, and being always vigilant...it is both heartwarming, and utterly heartbreaking at once. God bless the Polziec and Gerston families, and all others who dealt with this terrible atrocity.
I find it fascinating that everyone is fixated on the "3rd world country" term and nobody seems have any objection to the rest of that statement....that is other than to say that I am delusional...no hard, factual arguments against it.
That is because your real name is Jeffery Schoep.
That particular fact is ALL that matters-
Quality of Life is a subjective metric....how many times in the history of this nation has the government been forced to shut down?...the consensus out there is that our economy has been on the downturn. Also, I was responding to the posters question of why HE thought this country was a third world country...I did not use those words...I am only explaining why it is that our economy is in trouble....what is more relevant is how much our involvement in the middle east over the years has cost this country.
Then I misinterpretted you and retract some of my words. I was not privy to the entire conversation.
Fr33th1nk3r may I ask, are you Jewish? (TNT you can answer if you like as well)
No. Korean, Dutch, Scottish, and Italian.
In my entire white side of the family, for at least the last few generations– nobody supported or had any love for the Nazi's. In fact, there are a goodly number of WWII veterans, as well as Vietnam and Korean war vets. Am an Operation Enduring Freedom vet myself.
No, quality of life is a RELATIVE metric. If you have not visited any foreign countries– let me assure you, our quality of life is by far, one of the best in the world.
You keep dwelling on the government shutdown (strongly hinting that you are a GOPer trying to mask your contempt for Obama under a veneer of humanistic concern for your country) as a sole metric for determining third world status.
Tell us how many other third-world countries have gay rights, some of the best technology and medical schools in the world, and are responsible for 73% of the UN's assets?
You say you did not make the assertion we live in a third world country– yet you keep echoiing it and trying to support it.
Yes our quality of life is still quite good relative to SOME other countries....that not really what people are thinking though when they use the term "3rd world country" – they are talking about the trending that they see – and the media reflects a perception out there that things are trending in a negative direction....look, if you read my original posts, you will see that they have much less to do with our economy as they have to do with WHY we are involved in the middle east and the SOCIAL impact of that. I mentioned very little about economic issues there....why not go back and read it and then we can reboot this discussion.
Admittedly– I do not have the time. So I guess I should bud out if I cannot give the debate its due.
I disagree with your assertion of us being a third world country– it smacks of the prevalent youthful rebelliousness sweeping this nation right now, not sound logic or factually accurate assessment.
If that is not your viewpoint– then I barked up the wrong tree and apologize for being rude.
I don't really see where you get the 15% of Americans support the Nazi's (IBM computers?) either. But again, if I don't have the time to argue with you respectfully now– I bow out, out of respect for a fellow debater.
You absolutely used the phrase third world country:
"The reason we are now living in a 3rd world country is because we spent trillions to fund a Nazi revival for the 15% German majority in this country who were duped by the White Jews into doing their dirty work for them…got it?"
Whether I am Jewish or not isn't pertinent to this conversation.
Geez, and you call me a nut?
I WAS USING IT TO REFERENCE HIS USE OF IT IN HIS ORIGINAL POST
Simply paraphrasing if you like...I did not introduce it into the thread.
Use quotes the next time, and refer to the poster by name.
Merely reposting it with no frame of reference will confuse people.
And don't shout. There isn 't any reason to.
Must be nice to simply write off anything one finds as troubling that does not meet with their agenda as jjibberish
I am waiting for your evidence of us living in a third world nation. Hurry up- I am almost out of popcorn waiting for you.
Buelller? Bueller? Bueller?
What would you call a country that can't afford to keep its government running?
This country has been in debt since its inception.
Get a clue.
Considering our position in the overall global market, military strength, technological infrastructure, raw resources, and most of all , QUALITY OF LIFE– I'd call it a "global superpower with a few budget problems to work out".
We are facing 9% unemployment right now and you are ready to diarrhea all over yourself. Keep in mind we were seeing unemployment at 27% or better during the Great Depression.
"Considering our position in the overall global market"
I like that one, yes we are doing great in the global market...our trade deficit is peachy....and yes it was nice to have just been downgraded by Standard and Poor for the first time ever...very precise analysis
Our country is not collapsing into a financial black hole like Greece or much of Europe. The world still bases its currency against the U.S. dollar.
We are having some economic struggles, but we are not a third world country– not by far.
Again, we are talking about trending here....nobody is really worried about where we are...they are worried about were we are headed.
Want to cite some actual links supporting your assertions?
It's not troubling at all. The fact you believe what you're writing is what is troubling.
Do you need me to cite references to support my assertion that our Government cannot afford to operate?
Our government shutdown is a protective measure put in place to perform a specific function– that being to provide incentive to fix the issue.
You are choosing the sole criteria for, and then judging based on that. THAT is not facts– that is a red herring.
You're being disingenuous , and you know it.
This is how I can tell you're a troll.
Hmmm, more and more ad hominem attacks...but no substantive arguments
You have not provided anything nearing substantive arguments either– just fabrications and rants.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.