This Shabbat, 20th Av marks 16 years since the Sbaro bombing in Jerusalem. Here is a heart-warming story to emerge from that horror.
When a train filled with a large transport of Jewish prisoners arrived at one of the Nazi killing centres, many Polish gentiles came out to watch the latest group as they were taken away. As the disoriented Jews were gathering their possessions to take with them into the camp, a Nazi officer in charge called out to the villagers standing nearby, “Anything these Jews leave behind you may take for yourselves, because for sure they will not be coming back to collect them!”
Two Polish women who were standing nearby saw a woman towards the back of the group, wearing a large, heavy, expensive coat. Not waiting for someone else to take the coat before them, they ran to the Jewish woman and knocked her to the ground, grabbed her coat and scurried away. Moving out of sight of the others, they quickly laid the coat down on the ground to divide the spoils of what was hiding inside.
Rummaging through the pockets, they giddily discovered gold jewellery, silver candlesticks and other heirlooms. They were thrilled with their find, but as they lifted the coat again, it still seemed heavier than it should. Upon further inspection, they found a secret pocket, and hidden inside the coat was …. a tiny baby girl!
Shocked at their discovery, one woman took pity and insisted to the other, “I don’t have any children, and I’m too old to give birth now. You take the gold and silver and let me have the baby.” The Polish woman took her new “daughter” home to her delighted husband. They raised the Jewish girl as their own, treating her very well, but never telling her anything about her history. The girl excelled in her studies and even became a doctor, working as a paediatrician in a hospital in Poland.
When her “mother” passed away many years later, a visitor came to pay her respects. An old woman invited herself in and said to the daughter, “I want you to know that the woman that passed away last week was not your real mother …” and she proceeded to tell her the whole story. She did not believe her at first, but the old woman insisted.
“When we found you, you were wearing a beautiful gold pendant with strange writing on it, which must be Hebrew. I am sure that your mother kept the necklace. Go and see for yourself.” Indeed, the woman went into her deceased mother’s jewellery box and found the necklace just as the elderly lady had described. She was shocked. It was hard to fathom that she had been of Jewish descent, but the proof was right there in her hand.
As this was her only link to a previous life, she cherished the necklace. She had it enlarged to fit her neck and wore it every day, although she thought nothing more of her Jewish roots.
Sometime later, she went on holiday abroad and came across two Jewish boys standing on a main street, trying to interest Jewish passers-by to wrap Tefillin on their arms (for males) or accept Shabbos candles to light on Friday afternoon (for females). Seizing the opportunity, she told them her entire story and showed them the necklace. The boys confirmed that a Jewish name was inscribed on the necklace but did not know about her status. They recommended that she write a letter to their mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT”L, explaining everything. If anyone would know what to do, it would be him.
She took their advice and sent off a letter that very same day. She received a speedy reply saying that it is clear from the facts that she is a Jewish girl and perhaps she would consider using her medical skills in Israel where talented paediatricians were needed. Her curiosity was piqued and she travelled to Israel where she consulted a Beis Din who declared her Jewish. Soon she was accepted into a hospital to work, and eventually met her husband and raised a family.
In August 2001, a terrorist blew up the Sbarro cafe in the centre of Jerusalem. The injured were rushed to the hospital where this woman worked. One patient was brought in, an elderly man in a state of shock. He was searching everywhere for his granddaughter who had become separated from him.
Asking how she could recognize her, the frantic grandfather gave a description of a gold necklace that she was wearing. Eventually, they finally found her among the injured patients.
At the sight of this necklace, the paediatrician froze. She turned to the old man and said, “Where did you buy this necklace?”
“You can’t buy such a necklace,” he responded, “I am a goldsmith and I made this necklace. Actually, I made two identical pieces for each of my daughters. This is my granddaughter from one of them, and my other daughter did not survive the war.”
And this is the story of how a Jewish girl, brutally torn away from her mother on a Nazi camp platform almost sixty years ago, was reunited with her father.
[Adapted from the book “Heroes of Faith”, via Cindy Greenstein Vaughn]