A day to remember righteous rescuers from the Holocaust
Stanlee Stahl, the executive vice president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, will discuss the topic of Righteous Gentiles as the keynote speaker for the University’s observance of Yom Hashoah, the Day of Remembrance.
In her speech, at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in Seigle Hall L006, Stahl plans to discuss the Righteous Gentiles, who were rescuers in Poland during the Holocaust. These rescuers were often Christian and sometimes Muslim.
Stahl will also tell the stories of rescuers and those who were rescued, which have had a great impact on her.
Stahl believes this should be discussed because it is an important part of the Holocaust narrative that is often overlooked.
“The Holocaust is complex…It is not simply [that] Hitler became chancellor, he hated the Jews, he murdered the Jews, he murdered others, he conquered Europe, the Allies came and liberated,” Stahl said. “Part of that complex narrative…was when non-Jewish people, mostly Christians and a few Muslims in Albania and the former Yugoslavia, said that they were not going to abide by what the Germans wanted.”
She believes in honoring those who took the risk to help save Jews during the Holocaust.
“We celebrate those men and women who not only had the courage to care, but the courage to act,” Stahl said.
Stahl’s favorite rescue story is that of Jerry Bielcki and Cyla Cybulska. Jerry was transported to Auschwitz in 1940 as a political prisoner. Upon arrival, he met and fell in love with Cyla, a Polish Jewish girl. When planning his escape from Auschwitz, Jerry decided to take Cyla with him. He stole an SS uniform and went into the women’s camp, pretending he had to take Cyla for questioning. After leaving the camp, they ran away for 10 nights, until Jerry secured a Polish home where Cyla could stay. Jerry then joined the resistance movement himself, but the two lost contact with one another.
Many years later, Cyla moved to the United States and married. Meanwhile, Jerry remained in Poland. Each assumed that the other was dead. But one day, when Cyla was talking to her cleaning lady, she was told that Jerry was in fact alive. Cyla remained married to her husband, but visited Jerry many times until she died.
According to Stahl, no one thought Jerry could actually escape. Not only did he escape, but he also saved Cyla.
Stahl thinks people should use men and women like Jerry as role models.
“I think rescuers serve as role models, as to what one person can do. And yes, one person can make a difference. And it is possible to stand up to authority when it’s wrong, it’s evil and it’s bad,” Stahl said.
Therefore, Stahl would specifically like to share information on the righteous gentiles with Washington University.
“I think the message that I’m going to give is that everybody has the opportunity to make a difference, and at some point in someone’s life, one may be called upon to make a difficult decision, and they need to hopefully have the courage and the fortitude to make that difficult decision,” Stahl said. “So you can make a difference…One person can change the world. You just have to believe in yourself and have the courage in your convictions to do the right thing.”