Many of the athletes flying into Israel this week to participate in the 19th Maccabiah Games would say this is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. But for one 86-year-old Polish-Catholic woman who will be among the crowd of tens of thousands attending the opening ceremony at Teddy Stadium on Thursday evening, it marks the realization of a very different sort of wish.
Czesława Żak had always dreamed of flying to Israel so that she could reunite, after all these years, with those Jews she and her family had saved during the Holocaust. This week, thanks to a fundraising campaign launched by March of the Living Canada, it has come true. And as a side bonus, she’s also received a complimentary ticket to the best show in town.
For a period of two years and seven months, Żak and her family provided shelter to 14 Jews from several different families, in their Warsaw apartment. These Jews, who had fled the Warsaw Ghetto, were hidden in a spare room that was blocked off from the rest of their second-floor apartment on Grzybowski Square and not visible from the street. In 1993, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum recognized Żak as a Righteous Among the Nations – an honorific used to describe people who risked their lives to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.
Of the 14 Jews her family saved, some moved to Switzerland after the war, some to France, and one family, the Treflers, moved to Israel.
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