There are these people, apparently, who think it's enough with the Holocaust already. I don't understand that. The Holocaust encompassed a sea of grief, an ocean of pain. If you wrote even for a thousand years you could not exhaust it.
45. Vladka Meed:
Mrs. Meed was born Feigel Peltel in Warsaw on Dec. 29, 1921.
After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, she and hundreds of thousands of other Jews were systematically rounded up and forced into a squalid Warsaw ghetto of 1 square mile.
Thousands starved to death, others fought and died for scraps, and others were beaten and killed by the Germans in mass executions.
Rooms in the ghetto were crammed, food allotments amounted to less than 200 calories a day, and corpses decayed on the streets.
"To remain a human being in the ghetto one had to live in constant defiance, to act illegally," Mrs. Meed told a Jewish newspaper, the Forward, in 1995. "We had illegal synagogues, illegal classes, illegal meetings, and illegal publications.
"We were trying to live through the war, the hard times, in the ways which were known to us before the war," she said. "Nobody imagined any gas chambers. Jewish resistance took different forms and shapes under Nazi occupation. Our defiance of the Germans, who wanted to dehumanize us, expressed itself in varied ways."
Mrs. Meed was largely on her own after 1942. Her father, a garment worker, died of pneumonia in the ghetto, and her mother and two siblings perished at the Treblinka death camp after a period of mass deportations from the ghetto.
Mrs. Meed joined the Jewish Fighting Organization, known by its Polish initials ZOB. With her Aryan looks and fluency in Polish, she passed as a gentile, using forged identification papers, and lived for extended periods amid the ethnic Polish population. Her code name was Vladka, a name she kept for the rest of her life.
46. Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa, Archbishop of Florence:
During the Holocaust, Florence became the scene of a major rescue endeavor. Initiated by Rabbi Nathan Cassuto and Raffaele Cantoni, it became a joint effort of Church people, guided by Cardinal Elia Angelo Dalla Costa, Archbishop of Florence, and Jewish personalities. This Jewish-Christian network, set up following the German occupation of Italy and the onset of deportation of Jews, saved hundreds of local Jews and Jewish refugees from territories which had previously been under Italian control, mostly in France and Yugoslavia.
Cardinal Dalla Costa initiated and encouraged the participation and activity in the rescue activity of the clergy, and appointed his secretary, Father Meneghello, to be in charge of these dangerous life-saving operations. Dalla Costa played a central role in the organization and operation of a widespread rescue network, recruited rescuers from among the clergy, supplied letters to his activists so that they could go to heads of monasteries and convents entreating them to shelter Jews, and sheltered fleeing Jews in his own palace for short periods until they were taken to safe places.
In December 1943, following a denunciation, most of the Jewish activists were arrested. From that time on, it was the Church people who bore most of the responsibility for maintaining and upholding the rescue effort, even though some of the Church clergy too were arrested and in some cases even tortured.
47. Louis Begley:
The enigmas of Begley’s life - the source of his drive; the sudden, late emergence of his fictional voice - are surrounded by the darker enigmas of his childhood. He was born Ludwik Begleiter, a Polish Jew, in 1933, and he spent the Second World War trapped in Poland, with the Holocaust raging around him. He was saved by his mother, who kept him close to her through four years at the edge of the abyss. In June of 1941, Ludwik's father, a doctor in the town of Stryj, was impressed into the Russian Army as it retreated to the east. Three months later, the Germans and their Ukrainian collaborators in Stryj took a thousand Jews, including the boy's paternal grandparents, into a nearby forest and shot them. Ludwik's mother helped arrange for her own parents to go into hiding, and then obtained false papers and embarked on the harrowing ruse of passing herself and her son off as Catholic Poles. In "Wartime Lies," a boy named Maciek and his Aunt Tania adopt just such a ruse, manage to avoid the firing squads and the death camps, and survive the war, at great cost. Ludwik Begleiter and his mother were reunited with his father after the war, and in 1947 the Begleiter family came to New York to start over. Ludwik was thirteen.
48. Oneg Shabbat:
(For an index to the whole series, see here)