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Marcia Stark Meth / Emmy Stark Zitter / Miriam Stark Zakon

Everything we Sisters do and have done — the laughing, the schmoozing, the writing; bearing a child or hugging a grandchild; making a shidduch or making dinner — we owe to Hashem, and to a chesed of His messenger, a stranger whose name, face, and story we will never know.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

It happened in Sivan 1944, as the cattle cars flung their human cargo into the madness that was Auschwitz-Birkenau. Our mother was there. She held her baby, not quite one year old, close to her. A Jewish man, assigned to work in the pandemonium of selections, saw her. A woman, young, with rosy cheeks and strong arms. A baby in those arms. He knew. She didn’t know, they didn’t know — how could rachmanim bnei rachmanim have known? — but this Polish Jew, who’d been in Auschwitz for eternity, knew. Here the world was upside down. Here, carrying a child meant not life, but death. His voice, his Polish-tinged Yiddish, was urgent. “Is your mother here?” Her mother, she explained, was helping her sisters with their children. Her mother-in-law, though, was with her. “Give her the child,” he said. And then, knowing that a Jewish mother would never do what he wanted her to do, he lied. “They’ll send trucks for the older people and the children. You’ll see them both soon.” “Give me the child,” her mother-in-law said. “I’m so tired. I can’t walk anymore.” My mother gave her child to his grandmother. There were no trucks. Grandchild and grandmother were sent to their deaths. Our mother, thanks to the kindness and lies of a Polish Jew, went to life. And went on to give life to future generations. Thankfully, we will never have to do the kind of chesed that Polish Jew did on that day in 1944. But none of us can ever know the power of a chesed performed for a stranger, no matter how small that act may be. Next time you have the chance to show kindness to a stranger, think about the nameless Polish Jew. And then do it.

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