Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Believe...

I thought I'd share this poem that I found on the internet. It was written during WW2, on the wall of a cellar, by a Jew in the Cologne concentration camp.

"I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love,
even when there's no one there.
And I belive in God,
even when he is silent.

I believe through any trial,
there is always a way
But sometimes in this suffering
and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter,
to know someone's there
But a voice rises within me, saying hold on
my child, I'll give you strength,
I'll give you hope. Just stay a little while.

I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love
even when there's no one there
But I believe in God
even when he is silent
I believe through any trial
there is always a way.

May there someday be sunshine
May there someday be happiness
May there someday be love
May there someday be peace...."

- Unknown

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sisters Reunited with the Jews They Saved From the Nazis

Cesia Miller looked at the pages of Reader's Digest and realized almost immediately that the story in front of her was about the two sisters who had saved her life all those years ago.

There were the names, Stefania and Helena Podgorska, and the story of how the young girls had saved so many during the German occupation of Poland. It told of how they had hidden 13 Polish Jews for two years in a single room and a cramped attic, of how they had scrounged for food and risked their lives so often to keep them all alive.

It had to be them, Miller thought, the ones she had been seeking for almost 50 years -- the teen-ager and her 7-year-old sister who somehow hid the 13 until the Russian army arrived near the end of World War II.

"It has been like trying to find a rock in the ocean," Miller said. "But it was a thrilling end. I read the story on Sunday
and couldn't wait for Monday so I could call Reader's Digest."

Miller read the story of the Podgorska sisters late last summer. What has happened since then is a story of reunion, joy, memories and tears.

The culmination of all this will occur today when the two sisters -- one now living in a Boston suburb, the other a doctor in Poland -- will be honored at a luncheon sponsored by the Martyrs Memorial of the Jewish Federation Council of Los Angeles.

It will mark the first time the sisters have been honored together, the first time Helena has ever been to any kind of
ceremony dedicated to her. And it will bring together six of the 15 people who for two years were crammed into the sisters' tiny apartment with no running water.

The story of the Podgorska sisters is well known to Holocaust scholars. In the late 1950s, a tree was planted in Israel in their honor. Stefania, the older sister, last year shared a podium with President Clinton at the opening of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

The story begins in 1942 during the German occupation. Stefania, then 16, found herself working in the Polish city of
Przemysl. Her father had died before the war began, and her mother and brother had been pressed into German labor camps.

Stefania started by smuggling food into the city's Jewish ghetto to the family that had once been her employer. Then came the day she decided to hide the first of the Jews, a young man who had escaped from a train headed for the death camps. His name was Max Diamant. In later years, he would change his name to Josef Burzminski and he would become Stefania's husband of 50 years.

As time passed, Diamant asked Stefania to hide others, and still others heard about the haven and showed up at the doorstep. German nurses were in the apartment next door, and there were long periods of absolute silence among those hiding in the cramped attic. Each knock at the door brought another surge of fear.

Stefania's task each day was to gather enough food for her wards without arousing suspicion. Helena often acted as a courier because a young child was less likely to draw attention to herself.

When money ran out, Stefania and others took to knitting sweaters as a way of raising cash. When the Russians finally entered Poland near the war's end, all 13 left their hiding place for the first time and scattered to points around the globe.

In 1957, Stefania and Josef immigrated to Israel, where he opened a dental practice in Tel Aviv, while Helena remained in Poland to study medicine. In 1961, the couple moved to New York and later to the Boston suburb of Brookline, raising two children along the way.

Cesia Miller went in another direction but eventually found her way to New York, and then Los Angeles. Though a child at the time of the German occupation, she never forgot the two sisters. When she traveled to Israel in 1970, she tried to find them there. But Diamant was by then Burzminski and there was no trail to follow.

When she was in Poland a decade ago, Miller again launched a search, but found nothing. Helena by then was married and working as a radiologist in Warsaw.

There were two times when Miller, who lives in West Los Angeles, could have have seen Stefania on television. The first was at the dedication of the Holocaust museum; the second was an appearance by Stefania and Josef last year on Oprah Winfrey's TV show. Miller missed the first event and never watches daytime television.

Ironically, her daughter, Sharon, did see the "Oprah" show but did not make the connection. Neither the town nor the number who had been saved were mentioned, so she had no reason to think the people on the screen had anything to do with her mother.

Meanwhile, in Brookline, Stefania began working on her memoirs, which would eventually grow to 350 typed pages.

"I wanted people to know about helping one another, not to kill but just to be human beings," said Stefania in recalling why she began writing the memoir. "People should learn to live together."

On the Monday after Miller saw the article in Reader's Digest, she did, indeed, find Stefania in Brookline.

"That's you, really you?" asked Miller.

"Yes," Stefania replied.

"I found you," said Miller.

"You found me and I found you," she replied.

Since that time, one thing has led to another. An anonymous benefactor donated a round-trip ticket from Poland to the United States, and Helena has been here for the last three weeks.

The Burzminskis, both now retired, have been here as well. Their son, Ed, lives in Los Angeles and they will visit for the next two months.

Another of the group flew in over the weekend from Germany for the occasion.

On Monday, Stefania and Josef were having lunch, talking about the past. The only thing they didn't want to discuss was the actual time of hiding. They had done it enough, including telling their story in detail as part of research for a proposed movie about the sisters.

Then Josef spoke fondly of Stefania, of all the years they had spent together.

"She put her life in jeopardy to save my life. That was a good test," he said. "She's not only a good wife, she's a friend."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Hero's Kiss Goodbye

Too often in life, extraordinary people pass away and leave a legacy behind worthy of the world’s notice but never receive it. They lived lives that many of us could only dream of, lives that are so rich in history and experience that they are what good books is made of. Pain, sorrow, anguish all mixed together with joy and happiness—that is what makes for an extraordinary life.

Mr. Alex Kiss was this kind of man. He died over the weekend in White House, Tennessee—a tiny little town nestled among beautiful hills that serve as footnotes of time and mystery. He was just a boy in Hungary when the dawn of World War II threatened to change his life forever. When Hitler rounded up young men to serve in the Nazi Youth, Mr. Kiss and his best friend were among them. Thus began his legacy…

I cannot imagine being swept into a movement anything like the Nazi Youth. When I was a child, life was more carefree than what should have been allowed. But to be forced to learn to hate and fight in the way that the Nazis did…is unthinkable. Mr. Kiss and his best friend were handed a gun and a uniform. They were sent out on patrols that I imagine started out innocent enough. The grown men probably offered them their first cigarette on a blistery dark night as they stood nervously clinging to their guns. They would have learned how to use swear words correctly in the rough and tumble military world they were falling into. The hate was all around them. The Jews were bad. They were the root of all evil, the cause of all the world’s problems. They must be held at bay. They must be killed.

I cannot imagine…

Alex Kiss saw hate in its raw form: unadulterated, unleashed, unrestrained and ugly. Eventually, the thin veil fell away and revealed the true intent of what the Nazi Youth was being trained to do. They were to kill—murder their fellow citizens.

Alex was only a boy when he witnessed what the heart of man was capable of. Being drug from their homes, Jewish men were stripped of their clothes in the town square for all to see. In the frigid temperatures, buckets of water were poured over their heads. Some passerby’s mocked the men and ridiculed them. Others tried not to hear the blood-chilling cries of the wife who begged the Nazis to stop only to be silenced by the slap of a hand or crushed by the butt of a rifle. Children cowered, much like Alex Kiss did—confused and afraid of what was happening before their eyes. The nightmare was only finished when the poor Jewish man froze to death, naked, exposed and left lying in the town square.

“Sich in Reih und Glied aufstellen!”

I cannot imagine what must have raced through Alex’s mind as he and his best friend held innocent Jews by gunpoint. His heart must have raced, afraid of what would happen next as Jewish men, women, and even children were lined up along a river. I am sure he stared into the eyes of a boy just like him—eyes wide with fear—heart pounding like mad.


When the shots were fired, he flinched. The echo shook the earth and birds exploded from the trees. The world slowed and spun around him as the bodies fell lifeless into the water. Rich, velvety blood was caught up in the rushing ripples that washed over the dead. Tears hung from his lashes as Alex’s breath caught in his throat. What kind of world had he been born into?

It was during the night that he and his best friend decided that they had to escape. They would not become monsters. They refused to kill innocent men and women. They could not watch another child be killed ever again. But it was risky. Anyone caught fleeing would be shot on sight.

“We’ll run.” His friend’s voice was hushed, his eyes serious. “We’ll run and never stop…never look back. Do you hear me?” Alex barely nodded. “If we hear gunshots, we won’t stop. No matter what, Alex, don’t stop!”

It was a dark night with pristine snow casting an eerie look over the land. The men were on patrol when Alex and his friend slipped away. Taking a deep breath, they stared ahead, looked one last time in each other’s eyes where a silent pact shone…

…And then they ran.

The German shouts only made Alex’s legs pump harder, his heart racing. “Keep running!” His friend commanded…

…And then the shots rang out.

Alex flinched, heard a hollow thud in the snow behind him, but he never stopped running. Silent tears slid down his cheeks. His best friend, his co-conspirator in boyhood mischief…was gone.

Over the last many years, Mr. Alex Kiss was just an old Hungarian man to most people in White House, Tennessee. He was a nice man that made friends easily. A member of the White House Methodist Church, he would often visit the church office during the week. This was where he waited for his wife to pick him up for Chemo treatments. He was dying of cancer, but no one would have known it by the life that radiated from him.

He came to the church office to sit a while and talk about nothing in particular with the pretty lady that worked there. She happens to be my Aunt. If you knew her, you would understand why it was the place Alex would want to be before the dreaded Chemo. My Aunt is vivacious, to say the least. She’s easy to talk to, and when you spend time with her, the world doesn’t seem so serious.

On one of these visits, my Aunt’s eight-year-old son happened to notice a strange tattoo on Mr. Kiss’s arm—a faded line of numbers. Like most nosey young boys, Corey asked why he had such a funny tattoo. Alex’s answer came in the form of a story; a story about his best friend and how Alex was captured and imprisoned in a concentration camp. He told him about his days in the Nazi Youth…and the evil that one man sowed in an entire generation of young boys.

Perhaps they were stories that some may deem inappropriate to tell to an eight-year-old boy, but Corey looked at Mr. Alex like one would look at a superhero. Even though Mr. Alex told his stories with tears pouring down his cheeks, to Corey, Mr. Alex was a hero.

Some people die and the world never knows. Though Mr. Alex’s stories may never be read in a thrilling novel, be seen on the silver screen, or grace the headlines of the media—they will forever be hidden in the heart of my cousin Corey. Alex Kiss was his superhero with a legacy that will forever haunt his boyish heart.

May there be more men that live and breathe lives worthy of such boyish praise.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Gold and Ivory Tablecloth

by Howard C. Schade

At Christmas time men and women everywhere gather in their churches to wonder anew at the greatest miracle the world has ever known. But the story I like best to recall was not a miracle -- not exactly.

It happened to a pastor who was very young. His church was very old. Once, long ago, it had flourished. Famous men had preached from its pulpit, prayed before its altar. Rich and poor alike had worshipped there and built it beautifully. Now the good days had passed from the section of town where it stood. But the pastor and his young wife believed in their run-down church. They felt that with paint, hammer, and faith they could get it in shape. Together they went to work.

But late in December a severe storm whipped through the river valley, and the worst blow fell on the little church -- a huge chunk of rain-soaked plaster fell out of the inside wall just behind the altar. Sorrowfully the pastor and his wife swept away the mess, but they couldn't hide the ragged hole.

The pastor looked at it and had to remind himself quickly, "Thy will be done!" But his wife wept, "Christmas is only two days away!"

That afternoon the dispirited couple attended the auction held for the benefit of a youth group. The auctioneer opened a box and shook out of its folds a handsome gold and ivory lace tablecloth. It was a magnificent item, nearly 15 feet long. but it, too, dated from a long vanished era. Who, today, had any use for such a thing? There were a few halfhearted bids. Then the pastor was seized with what he thought was a great idea.

He bid it in for $6.50.

He carried the cloth back to the church and tacked it up on the wall behind the altar. It completely hid the hole! And the extraordinary beauty of its shimmering handwork cast a fine, holiday glow over the chancel. It was a great triumph. Happily he went back to preparing his Christmas sermon.

Just before noon on the day of Christmas Eve, as the pastor was opening the church, he noticed a woman standing in the cold at the bus stop. "The bus won't be here for 40 minutes!" he called, and invited her into the church to get warm.

She told him that she had come from the city that morning to be interviewed for a job as governess to the children of one of the wealthy families in town but she had been turned down. A war refugee, her English was imperfect.

The woman sat down in a pew and chafed her hands and rested. After a while she dropped her head and prayed. She looked up as the pastor began to adjust the great gold and ivory cloth across the hole. She rose suddenly and walked up the steps of the chancel. She looked at the tablecloth. The pastor smiled and started to tell her about the storm damage, but she didn't seem to listen. She took up a fold of the cloth and rubbed it between her fingers.

"It is mine!" she said. "It is my banquet cloth!" She lifted up a corner and showed the surprised pastor that there were initials monogrammed on it. "My husband had the cloth made especially for me in Brussels! There could not be another like it."

For the next few minutes the woman and the pastor talked excitedly together. She explained that she was Viennese; that she and her husband had opposed the Nazis and decided to leave the country. They were advised to go separately. Her husband put her on a train for Switzerland. They planned that he would join her as soon as he could arrange to ship their household goods across the border. She never saw him again. Later she heard that he had died in a concentration camp.

"I have always felt that it was my fault -- to leave without him," she said. "Perhaps these years of wandering have been my punishment!" The pastor tried to comfort her and urged her to take the cloth with her. She refused. Then she went away.

As the church began to fill on Christmas Eve, it was clear that the cloth was going to be a great success. It had been skillfully designed to look its best by candlelight.

After the service, the pastor stood at the doorway. Many people told him that the church looked beautiful. One gentle-faced middle-aged man -- he was the local clock-and-watch repairman -- looked rather puzzled.

"It is strange," he said in his soft accent. "Many years ago my wife - God rest her -- and I owned such a cloth. In our home in Vienna, my wife put it on the table" -- and here he smiled -- "only when the bishop came to dinner."

The pastor suddenly became very excited. He told the jeweler about the woman who had been in church earlier that day. The startled jeweler clutched the pastor's arm. "Can it be? Does she live?"

Together the two got in touch with the family who had interviewed her. Then, in the pastor's car they started for the city. And as Christmas Day was born, this man and his wife, who had been separated through so many saddened Yule tides, were reunited.

To all who hear this story, the joyful purpose of the storm that had knocked a hole in the wall of the church was now quite clear. Of course, people said it was a miracle, but I think you will agree it was the season for it!

True love seems to find a way.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Holocast Wedding Gown

This is a very interesting story.
The Wedding Gown That Made History!

Lilly Friedman doesn't remember the last name of the woman who designed and sewed the wedding gown she wore when she walked down the aisle over 60 years ago. But the grandmother of seven does recall that when she first told her fiancé Ludwig that she had always dreamed of being married in a white gown he realized he had his work cut out for him.
For the tall, lanky 21-year-old who had survived hunger, disease and torture this was a different kind of challenge. How was he ever going to find such a dress in the Bergen Belsen Displaced Person's camp where they felt grateful for the clothes on their backs?
Fate would intervene in the guise of a former German pilot who walked into the food distribution center where Ludwig worked, eager to make a trade for his worthless parachute. In exchange for two pounds of coffee beans and a couple of packs of cigarettes Lilly would have her wedding gown.
For two weeks Miriam the seamstress worked under the curious eyes of her fellow DPs, carefully fashioning the six parachute panels into a simple, long sleeved gown with a rolled collar and a fitted waist that tied in the back with a bow. When the dress was completed she sewed the leftover material into a matching shirt for the groom.
A white wedding gown may have seemed like a frivolous request in the surreal environment of the camps, but for Lilly the dress symbolized the innocent, normal life she and her family had once led before the world descended into madness. Lilly and her siblings were raised in a Torah observant home in the small town of Zarica, Czechoslovakia where her father was a melamed, respected and well liked by the young yeshiva students he taught in nearby Irsheva.
He and his two sons were marked for extermination immediately upon arriving at Auschwitz. For Lilly and her sisters it was only their first stop on their long journey of persecution, which included Plashof, Neustadt, Gross Rosen and finally Bergen Belsen.
Four hundred people marched 15 miles in the snow to the town of Celle on January 27, 1946 to attend Lilly and Ludwig's wedding. The town synagogue, damaged and desecrated, had been lovingly renovated by the DPs with the meager materials available to them. When a Sefer Torah arrived from England they converted an old kitchen cabinet into a makeshift Aron Kodesh.

"My sisters and I lost everything - our parents, our two brothers, our homes. The most important thing was to build a new home." Six months later, Lilly's sister Ilona wore the dress when she married Max Traeger. After that came Cousin Rosie. How many brides wore Lilly's dress? "I stopped counting after 17." With the camps experiencing the highest marriage rate in the world, Lilly's gown was in great demand.

In 1948 when President Harry Truman finally permitted the 100,000 Jews who had been languishing in DP camps since the end of the war to emigrate, the gown accompanied Lilly across the ocean to America. Unable to part with her dress, it lay at the bottom of her bedroom closet for the next 50 years, "not even good enough for a garage sale. I was happy when it found such a good home."

Home was the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. When Lily's niece, a volunteer, told museum officials about her aunt's dress, they immediately recognized its historical significance and displayed the gown in a specially designed showcase, guaranteed to preserve it for 500 years.
But Lilly Friedman's dress had one more journey to make. Bergen Belsen, the museum, opened its doors on October 28, 2007. The German government invited Lilly and her sisters to be their guests for the grand opening. They initially declined, but finally traveled to Hanover the following year with their children, their grandchildren and extended families to view the extraordinary exhibit created for the wedding dress made from a parachute.
Lilly's family, who were all familiar with the stories about the wedding in Celle, were eager to visit the synagogue. They found the building had been completely renovated and modernized. But when they pulled aside the handsome curtain they were astounded to find that the Aron Kodesh, made from a kitchen cabinet, had remained untouched as a testament to the profound faith of the survivors. As Lilly stood on the bimah once again she beckoned to her granddaughter, Jackie, to stand beside her where she was once a kallah. "It was an emotional trip. We cried a lot."

Two weeks later, the woman who had once stood trembling before the selective eyes of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele returned home and witnessed the marriage of her granddaughter.

The three Lax sisters - Lilly, Ilona and Eva, who together survived Auschwitz, a forced labor camp, a death march and Bergen Belsen - have remained close and today live within walking distance of each other in Brooklyn. As mere teenagers, they managed to outwit and outlive a monstrous killing machine, then went on to marry, have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and were ultimately honored by the country that had earmarked them for extinction.

As young brides, they had stood underneath the chuppah and recited the blessings that their ancestors had been saying for thousands of years. In doing so, they chose to honor the legacy of those who had perished by choosing life.

It is now more than 60 years after the Second World War in Europe ended This e-mail is being sent as a memorial chain, in memory of the six million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10 million Christians and 1,900 Catholic priests who were murdered, massacred, raped, burned, starved and humiliated with the German and Russian peoples looking the other way!

Now, more than ever, with Iraq, Iran and others, claiming the Holocaust to be 'a myth,' it's imperative to make sure the world never forgets, because there are others who would like to do it again.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Abducted from the Hands of the Aggressor

The Rescue of Jewish Children in Belgium
by Dr. Mordecai Paldiel

On 20 May 1943, just before 10:00 p.m., the doorbell of the Très- Saint-Sauveur convent in Brussels, Belgium rang. Two armed men forced their way in, shouting "Hands up!" They were followed by several other armed men and one woman who stormed the convent, cut the phone lines, and ordered all the nuns to assemble in the Mother Superior's office. The nuns were forced to prepare 15 of their wards—Jewish girls who had been hidden under the guise of Catholic children in need—for a journey. In under an hour, the abductors had taken the children, locked up the nuns in the office, and Sister Marie Amélie (Leloup Eugénie)—the Mother Superior—in an upstairs room. On the way out, to reassure the children, one of the men whispered a few words in Yiddish. Who were these unusual abductors? In September 1942, Cardinal Van Roey, head of the Belgian Catholic church in Malines/ Mechelen, and the Comité de Défense des Juifs (CDJ), a Jewish clandestine rescue organization, encouraged the Mother Superior of the Trés-Saint-Sauveur convent to take 15 Jewish girls into hiding.

For nine months, the girls lived comfortably in the convent, adapting to their new surroundings and attending Christian religious lessons. On 20 May 1943, having received information of the Jewish children, the Gestapo raided the premises. Discovering that three girls were absent, they decided to return the next morning to collect all the children at once. "It is not to kill them," the head Gestapo agent told the Mother Superior sarcastically, "but to unite them with their families." Frantic, Sister Marie Amélie contacted Miss Jeanne (the wartime pseudonym of Ida Sterno, a Jewish activist with the CDJ) for help. She also appealed to Cardinal Van Roey who contacted Elisabeth, the Queen Mother of Belgium, through one of his aides. Elisabeth intervened but failed to persuade the German authorities to alter their plans. Throughout that day, Sister Marie Amélie and her nuns prayed for divine intervention, while simultaneously preparing the children's belongings for the following day's "departure." That night just before 10:00 p.m. their prayers were answered in the form of an unusual abduction. The leader of the raiding party was 23-year-old Paul Halter, a Jewish commander in the Belgian armed resistance.

Earlier that day, he had visited his friend, Toby Cymberknopf. "I found him very upset," Halter recalls. "He informed me that our friend, Bernard Fenerberg, had learned about the Gestapo's visit to the convent and their intent to return to collect the children. We realized that we only had a few hours at our disposal and thus decided to take it upon ourselves to rescue the children."

Halter, Cymberknopf, and Fenerberg, were joined by fellow-Jew, Jankiel Parancevitch, as well as Andrée Ermel and Floris Desmedt from the Belgian resistance. The six waited for dark, knowing the operation had to take place before the 10:00 p.m. curfew.

"We then forced our way in at gunpoint. We locked up the Mother Superior, ripped out the phone line, and tied the nuns to chairs in the convent's office," says Halter.Half an hour after the "kidnapping" one of the nuns managed to reach the window and alert a passer-by who called the Belgian police. The nuns told the police of the kidnapping and the police carried out their investigation until the next morning, before alerting the Gestapo (giving the kidnappers time to escape with the children). When the Gestapo appeared at the convent the next morning at 11:00 a.m. the children were long gone. From the convent, some had been handed over to their parents, four were brought to Halter's home, and others were taken to Cymberknopf's house. That morning, they had all been transferred to safe locations with help from the CDJ. The Gestapo interrogated the Mother Superior, who said she was certain the men had been sent by the Gestapo.

"Did they have a Jewish appearance?"

"No, not at all."

"Were they all armed?"


"Why didn't you scream?"

"Scream? We didn't dare; they said they would shoot if we shouted."

Unable to disprove the nuns' story, the Gestapo left and the children were saved. Halter was later arrested and in September 1943 was deported to Auschwitz. Only after the war did he discover that all 15 girls had survived. Years later in 1991, as a participant in the first Hidden Children reunion in New York, he was reunited with several of the girls he saved. Sister Marie Amélie, Mother Superior of Très-Saint-Sauveur, was honored by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations in 2001, as were Andrée Ermel and her parents, Marcel and Céline Ermel (with whom one of the children, Myriam Frydland, was placed). Yad Vashem equally pays tribute to the CDJ, and the four Jews who participated in this rescue operation—a unique episode in the annals of the Holocaust in Belgium.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Girl and a Half

Stefania’s Story:
For the last sixteen months of the war in Nazi occupied Poland, 17-year-old Stefania Podgorska and her seven-year-old sister Helena hid 13 Jews in their apartment's attic. It began with sheltering Max Diamant (he later changed his name to Joseph after the war due to prejudice) and later invited his brother and his brother's girlfriend, Danuta. But as time passed, the group multiplied. Despite the constant threat of imprisonment and execution if her thirteen Jewish friends were discovered, Stefania continued to provide them a safe haven. Not only that, she fed, clothed and disposed of their waste the entire time. Even when a young suitor attempted to court her, she turned him away. Towards the end of the war, an empty building from across the street was converted into a makeshift hospital.

One afternoon, two SS soldiers knocked on her door. “You have been ordered to vacate the premises within two hours.” They read to her from an official-looking sheet of paper.

“This residence has been commandeered by the Third Reich. The penalty for noncompliance is death.”

“Two hours! How will I find a place for my sister and me in just two hours?” she cried, but the soldiers merely repeated the orders and left.

For the next hour and a half Stefania ran through every street in town - but she could find nothing that would shelter all fifteen of them. After three years of looting and deprivation, the buildings were in worse shape than ever. There were doorways but no doors; houses without ceilings; rooms filled with the rubble of loose masonry and roofing material.

[In a 1990’s interview Stefania recalls] “Just ruins, nothing more. Almost two hours had gone already. So I came home. I started to cry. I said, ‘How can I leave thirteen people to certain death? I can run out, but these people will be dead…’ There was nothing available, nothing. Only twenty minutes left. I came home. I said nothing. All my thirteen came down to me, with the three children. The pressed against me, so tightly, they looked at me. My decision. Will I leave? My decision. Will I leave them or not?

“All thirteen of them said to me, ‘Run away. You don't have to die with us. We have to, but you don't have to die with us. You cannot help us anymore. Save your life and your little sister and run away, because you still have 10 minutes.’ Joseph pushed me. They said, ‘Run away. Don’t die with us. You cannot help us anymore. What you could do you did, but not now. Save your life and Helena. Go. Run away.’

“And all these people watched me, the children pressed so close I could hear their breathing, my sister too. So I really, I didn't know what to do. I said to them, ‘Well, first of all, come on. We will pray. We will ask God.’ You see, I had a picture which I bought as a little girl, of Jesus and his mother, and it always hung on my wall. And I said, ‘Come on - we will pray. We will ask God.’

“First I knelt, then my sister and all the thirteen after, behind me. And I prayed, and I turned to look. All thirteen were in deep, deep prayer. And I asked God not to let us be killed. Help, somehow. I cannot leave this apartment. I cannot leave thirteen people for certain death. I will be alive if I go, but thirteen lives will be finished - children too, and young people. I asked God, ‘Help, somehow.’

“And again I heard a voice, a woman’s voice. It was so beautiful, so nice, so quiet. She said to me, ‘Don’t worry. Everything will be all right. You will not leave your apartment. You will stay here, and they will take only one room. Everything will be all right. I am with you.’ And she told me, ‘Be quiet. I’ll tell you what to do.’ She said, ‘Send your people to the bunker. Open the door. Open the windows. Clean your apartment and sing.’

“I was like hypnotized. My head was bent down, and I was listening, I was listening and the voice said again, ‘Everything will be all right.’ Then it disappeared. I listened a few minutes more, but nothing more came.

“So I got up and said to my people, ‘Go the attic,’ exactly like the lady told me. I said, ‘I will not move from my apartment. I will stay here, so go to the attic and be quiet, very quiet.’

“And you see, I was completely different. My people looked at me, all my thirteen, and they thought something was wrong with my mind. But I said, ‘Okay now, go out, go to the bunker. Everything will be all right if you stay quiet over there.’

“And I opened the window and the doors, and I cleaned. I started to sing. I don't know how I became so happy. And all the neighbors came, and they said, ‘Miss Podgorska, what happened? Why haven't you moved? The Gestapo, the SS will come. They will kill you. This is war, this is the military. They have no mercy for the enemy - and they are our enemy. Go out. We don't want to see you killed. You're too nice, too young to be dead.’

“I said, ‘I have no place to go.’ They said, ‘Don't you have a friend? Go stay with her.’ I said, ‘No, I will not leave my apartment.’ And they also thought something was wrong with me.

“The janitor's husband came, and he said, ‘Miss Podgorska, I will throw you out. Go out, I don't want to see you be killed - I have no place to bury you.’ And he was serious. … I said, ‘No, I am sorry, I will not move from my apartment.’ And he said, ‘Something is wrong with you,’ but he left.

“I kept singing and cleaning my apartment, and exactly ten minutes past the two hours an SS man came. He was so friendly. He was laughing to me from a few yards away. He came closer to the window and he said - he spoke a little Polish, very broken but he spoke - and he said it was good that I hadn’t moved from my apartment because they would take only one room. This last room, they would take. He said, ‘Very well, you can stay.’”

However, two German nurses moved in, claiming one room as their own. But they were none the wiser of what was going on right over their heads. Months passed and the Russians conquered their village and for them the war was over. All thirteen Jews survived the persecution and were finally granted freedom. When the Russian soldiers realized what happened, they were amazed. Two girls, no, “a girl and a half” saved thirteen lives.

Max/Joseph and Stefania later married, immigrated to Israel and then eventually settled in America. Together they had one son. Stefania wrote down her inspirational story but it was rejected because according the publishers there are just too many holocaust stories out there. However, her story was adapted into a TV movie, called "Hidden in Silence" in 1996. It starred Kellie Martin as Stefania "Fusia" Podgorska, Tom Radcliffe as Max Diamant, Marian Ross as Mrs. Diamant, and Joss Ackland as a factory manager.

Max/Joseph has since passed away, but Stefania still lives in California.