First time in the history during special ceremony Israel honoured four individuals who risked their lives to save Jewish men and women on January 27th, 2016 Tuesday night.
The heroism of Roddie Edmonds, Lois Gunden, and Walery and Maryla Zbijewski was recognised by the state of Israel. The commemoration took place in Embassy of Israel in Washington DC. Families of four heroes, two Americans and two Poles, were joined by Israel’s Ambassador Ron Dermer and President of United States Barack Obama.
Ambassador Ron Dermer said at the ceremony:
“We are all here tonight to honor four people who were their brother’s keeper. We are all here to honor four brave individuals who saw their actions not as an act of courage but as their most fundamental moral obligation to their fellow man.
And that is precisely what makes them true heroes.
They are heroes not simply because they had an answer to Cain’s question. They are heroes because they also had an answer to God’s question.
To the question, “where are you?”, these four had an answer.
In an age of so much indifference, they acted.
In an age of so much cowardice, they were courageous.
In an age of so much darkness, they were a source of light.
So in honoring these four righteous souls tonight, let us not only recognize their remarkable heroism.
Let us hope that their light will inspire us to live our lives so that we too will be able to give the right answers to those timeless questions – and in so doing, build a better future for all humanity.”
Facing death for getting contact with Jews
On July 22, 1942, the Germans began the mass deportations from the Warsaw ghetto. By September 21, Yom Kippur, some 260,000 inhabitants of the ghetto had been deported to the Treblinka extermination camp, where they were murdered. Janina Ferster and her daughter Elzbieta managed to flee from the ghetto and go into hiding. After staying for two months at the home of acquaintances, Tadeusz and Eugenia Kucharski, Janina brought her daughter to the home of Walery and Maryla Zbijewski, until she was able to rent an apartment under a false name and take her daughter back. Despite the enormous danger – the Germans publicly announced that helping Jews would be punished by death – the Zbijewskis cared for Elzbieta and protected her until her mother was able to take her.
In 1941, Lois Gunden, a teacher of French from Goshen, Indiana, volunteered to work for the Mennonite Central Committee in southern France. She established a children’s home in Canet Plage which became a safe haven for Jewish children whom she helped smuggle out of the nearby internment camp of Rivesaltes. Gunden pleaded with the parents to separate from their children and give them to her in order to save them from deportation.
Ginette (Drucker) Kalish, one of the children saved by Lois Gunden, told Yad Vashem: “At the time I was 12 years old and certainly scared, but Lois Gunden was kind and passionately determined to take me and these other Jewish [children]…to protect them from harm.” Gunden fearlessly protected the children when the French police arrived at the home, and continued to run the children’s center even after the United States entered the war and she became an enemy alien. She continued her work until January 1943, when she was detained by the Germans, only to be released in 1944 in a prisoner exchange.