'Righteous' Moved to Israel After Saving Jews in Holocaust

Numbers Dwindling, Holocaust Rescuers Gather in new Home

By Nathan Jeffay

Published October 06, 2011, issue of October 14, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

It’s a bigger sacrifice than most people could ever imagine. But for Hester Grinberg-Boissevain, risking her life by hiding innocent Jews during the Holocaust just wasn’t enough of a contribution to the Jewish people. The Dutch nurse also decided to move to Israel.

Thankful Rescuer: Jaroslawa Lewicki, who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, was grateful for the chance to move from Ukraine to Israel.
Nathan Jeffay
Thankful Rescuer: Jaroslawa Lewicki, who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, was grateful for the chance to move from Ukraine to Israel.

Until three years ago, the residents of Ramat Yishai, near Nazareth, knew nothing of the remarkable story that brought their now retired community nurse to Israel. Then, the social charity Atzum urged Grinberg-Boissevain to share it.

As a child, together with her parents and siblings in Haarlem, Netherlands, Grinberg-Boissevain helped to hide a Jewish family. After the war, she trained as a nurse, and at 27, she packed her bags and moved to a kibbutz.

“Israel was a special state, a new state, and there was an opportunity to help build and help care for people,” she told the Forward at a Rosh Hashanah party for so-called Righteous Gentiles, who are known as such for hiding Jews from the Nazis.

Grinberg-Boissevain is one of at least 130 Righteous Gentiles who made the decision after the war to move to Israel. It is only now with the group dwindling fast from old age that members are starting to tell and write down their stories. Grinberg-Boissevain, for example, has a homemade pamphlet that she shares with friends and acquaintances.

“People in Israel, even in the communities where [Righteous Gentiles] are living, just have no idea that they are there,” said Yael Rosen, coordinator of Atzum’s 9-year-old project to make records of their stories. “People are amazed when they hear about the heroes living in their midst.”

Atzum also helps the immigrants secure the medical and social services they need in their old age, recruits volunteers to visit them, provides financial assistance and arranges events like the Rosh Hashanah party, viewing these undertakings as part of a moral responsibility.

“We think that these people did so much and that anything we can do for them is a drop in the ocean by comparison — but that we must still provide that drop in the ocean,” Rosen said.

Righteous Gentiles started moving to Palestine soon after World War II. The new Israeli authorities welcomed them, giving them citizenship and special pensions since the mid-1980s.

Those who came in the early days tend to speak fluent Hebrew and have integrated into Israeli society. Grinberg-Boissevain met a Jewish man on a kibbutz, converted to Judaism “for the sake of our kids” and married him.

For others, especially the later arrivals like Jaroslawa Lewicki, their strongest connection to Jews remains their wartime acts of heroism.

As a child in Lvov, Ukraine, Lewicki, together with her mother and grandmother, took food to 25 Jews who were hiding in a bunker in the local ghetto. She also helped her grandfather hide two Jews.

Lewicki moved to Haifa in 1995 after hearing that Israel was offering citizenship to Righteous Gentiles.

Lewicki faced a bleak social and economic situation in Lvov. “I felt that this was Israel saying a big thank you to me all these years after I helped Jews, and that meant a lot,” she commented.

The rescuers chatted at the Rosh Hashanah party as waiters brought lunch, and it became clear that their heroism has determined not only where they live, but also their personal relationships.

For Lewicki, her closest Israeli friend was Avraham Shapiro, a man she helped to save. Shapiro, who moved to Israel 50 years before her, died early this year.

Lidiya Krimer, who in 1991 moved to Upper Nazareth from Odessa, distributed food to Jews near Odessa when she was a child and then helped her family to hide a Jewish doctor along with her mother and her two children. Inspired by the doctor, after the war she trained as a nurse and accepted return hospitality: She lived with the doctor during her training. She loves Israel and describes herself as “the happiest person in the world.”

Remarkably, one of the people at the party would never have been born if not for her family’s heroism. The romance of Tzipi Shurani’s parents blossomed through the fence of a Nazi work camp in Hungary.

Her father, Latzi, was a Jewish prisoner, while her mother, Irena, was a Christian whose family home faced the fence.

“When he was still in the camp, my father told my grandmother, ‘If I come out of here alive, she will be my wife,’” Shurani said. Shurani’s grandmother made sure he did. She dug a tunnel, through which 35 Jews escaped. Her mother led one of the groups, which included Latzi, and the couple married after the war.

The final episode of Shurani’s story holds the irony of the Righteous Gentiles: Many of them have a devotion to Israel stronger than that of the Jews they rescued. Her parents made aliyah in 1949 together with most of the 35 escapees, and her mother, widowed in 2002, still lives in Nahariya.

Many of the escapees chose to search for greener pastures.

“The others left Israel, for New York and elsewhere,” Shurani said. “My father begged my mother to go. But she said that this is her country and refused to leave, insisting, ‘I stay here.’”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.