A Rescuer

He carefully sketches out the dimensions of the bunker in my little black notebook: the trapdoor in the kitchen, the second door to the potato cellar. Five Jewish souls hidden under their roof, under their floor.

I let the tape recorder run and jot down phrases as they are translated. He is a forceful storyteller, using his strong hands to demonstrate, occasionally using a cup or a spoon on the table to demonstrate where something happened, how close he came to disaster.

He was nine years old when the SS came to arrest his father in the middle of the night. They took him away in his pajamas. “Thus ended the big partisan action in our little town, and then we were orphans.” He became the man of the house, entrusted with procuring enough food for seven on rations for three. A small boy with a large sack of potatoes could arouse suspicion. He tells me about certain bakers who gave him loaves of bread containing messages from the Home Army. Memories of bullets whizzing by his head, hitting trees as he ran through the woods.

I listen to his story, which he has never told in one sitting. His grandson also listens. For two decades, he’s been coaxing this story out of his grandfather, his teacher. The grandson is the one who’s convinced his grandfather to finally tell the tale he’s been carrying for so many years.

All my attempts to question the ‘why’ of the risk he and his mother assumed are ignored, do not register. Someone needed their help; they responded. The walls of the hotel dining room are painted bright pink; the color warms our faces on this freezing day. Heavy snow falls outside the windows, blanketing the streets of Radomsko, my grandparents’ town.

2 Responses to “A Rescuer”

  1. Ellen Zweig Says:

    Louise, this is such a moving account – I’m really interested in the way people who help ignore the question of why – I’m working on a new video about a South African Jew who was also asked that question and also ignored it…stay warm, ez

  2. Yes, I’ve read other accounts of rescuers who say of their actions, simply, “But this is what you do. Of course, I helped them.” It seems they don’t make a “rational” calculation of risk/benefit, as most of us would do. Many put themselves and their families, including children, at terrible risk. But for them, doing the right thing, even under these terrible circumstances, remains the right action.

    Have you read The Courage to Care?

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