Righteous Among the Nations
I was irritated at the man who butted ahead of me in the line for the taxis. Weren’t we all tired from a day of travel? He got the last cab in line, and there was a short lull before others arrived. I couldn’t be more grateful for how it all turned out, because my cab driver was a man who came to the U. S. from Poland in the 1980s.
Rightly or wrongly, I’ve held a long grudge against Franklin D. Roosevelt for letting the Russians have control of Poland and other Eastern European nations after WWII. When I was a child, I heard Pastor Richard Wurmbrand speak, and I read his books when I was a teenager. Wurmbrand and others suffered torture at the hands of the Communists, Wurmbrand in Romania, but the atrocities took place in every country behind the Iron Curtain, and I’ve been fascinated by these stories for nearly 50 years
I’d just read Irena’s Children and The Zookeeper’s Wife-- both books chronicle the lives of Poles whose names appear in Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations*, a list of gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis—so I wanted to ask so many questions, but I made a conscious decision to just listen as the cab driver talked. He told me about going to elementary school under Communist rule, and how he and other Polish children were forced to learn to speak Russian. His parents grilled him every day when he got home, correcting the history the Communists taught him.
His father and other close family members fought in the Warsaw Uprising, and he talked at length about Witold Pilecki, who inserted himself into a street round-up of Poles in order to infiltrate Auschwitz and smuggle out information. He eventually escaped and wrote an intelligence report about what he’d seen in Auschwitz. According to my cab driver, Pilecki often said Auschwitz was “kindergarten compared to the Communist rule of Poland”. I can’t find any recorded evidence of this statement, but Pilecki was accused of espionage and shot by the communists.
I asked if he had known Irena Sendler or Jan and Antonina Zabinski. He said he didn’t but he’d always heard of their bravery in helping the Jews in Warsaw.
I was disappointed when the ride was over and I said a silent and heartfelt thank you to the impatient man in the taxi line.
*Note: I suggest spending some time reading about the Righteous Among the Nations. The only one I met in person was Corrie ten Boom, who is on the list along with other members of her family. Mama took us to hear Corrie speak when I was in elementary school. It was a powerful experience.