On October 23,2003, Irena Sendler received the Jan Karski Award in Washington D.C. The Local Polish Embassy, echoed this event by honouring her in Buenos Aires. A lot of people gathered on the occasion. Jews and Christians, mostly Polish, Shoah survivors with numbers tattooed, children of survivors, members of the Polish local community, members of the intellectuality, lots of people. Irena Sendler is a Polish Catholic woman that saved 2.500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. Not only her story must be told, but it should be an example of the “positive pedagogical teaching”. Irena Sendler shows that there were acts of Absolute Goodness during the Shoah. I must admit that they were quite a few, but given the conditions, let us see them as role models to show our children and grand children the difference between legal and legitimate, the ethic affirmation enriched with pedagogic potentiality. It is essential for our persistence as human humanity.
There were some speeches at the Embassy the night of October 23. The words of the Ambassador Ratajski praising Irena´s behaviour, pointing it as a model for dignity to the Polish people covered us with oniric unreality. It overlapped with the images and stories we had about so many anti-Semitic, murderous accomplices, treacherous Poles, and built a complex mosaic coloured with hope. But I won’t write about the speeches, nor about the personalities that were present. I want to share what happened with a song. Four songs were sang. Two, from the Polish resistance, in Polish; two beautiful songs that were followed by some of the assistants, even some Jewish survivors. The other two songs were yiddish songs. Yes, at the Polish Embassy, over Polish land and with the official presence of the Ambassador, Yiddish was spoken. First “Ich benk aheim” by Leib Rosenthal, the tore woe of having lost home, street, daily horizons, belongings, smells, the song that was sang in the ghettos because it expresses the horror of the five thousand Jewish communities lost. The other yiddish song was the Partisaner hymn, the Jewish hymn by Hirsh Glick, the other face of the Hatikva, the strength and persistence of life. When announced, some of us decided to sing it along with the singer. We use to sing it in acts, in Jewish activities, where it means chutzpah, daring, rage, pain. On the night of October 23 it was pride, honour, dignity and humanity. Our Jewish voices repeating the words we all know so well: “mir zainen do!” –we are here- looking ahead, eyes wide open, chest firm and the promise “vi a parol zol guein dos lid fun dor tsu dor” –our song will be our password from generation to generation-. Around us, the non Jewish witnessed this recovery of rights with certain surprise while our voices stood firmly, may be for the first time, over Polish soil. A thousand years of Jewish life in Poland is more than transitory. More than 90% perished in the Shoah, whichh is much more that statistics. We were part of the surviving 10%, its seed and its energy, we were there and we were listened respectfully, with consideration and emotion.
It is true: one can never say that this is the last path. Life is unpredictable. And as Tevie used to say “when God closes a door, a window opens somewhere".
I regret two things. One is that my parents are no more with us therefore they did not have the opportunity to experience what I did last October 23 at the Polish Embassy. The other is the thought that if Irena Sendler would have been in charge of the salvation of my little brother, I would not be still looking for him. Why? Because Irena Sendler, not only saved 2.500 children, but she also wrote down their names and the names of the adopting families, put the lists into glass bottles, buried them, so after the Shoah was over, the children were able to recover, if not their families, at least their true identities.
The Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, that hosted the Award, distributed a biography of Irena at: http://www.irwf.org.ar/Isendler/indexen.htm. Please read it thoroughly, tell others about it, and honour her example by offering your hand to the needy without asking if he/she is the same as you, and say, as she says: “I could have done more".