Perhaps it’s the upcoming anniversary of Kristallnacht, perhaps it’s my children’s “Sound of Music”-inspired questions about the Holocaust. (Most recently: “Were there any Jews living in Austria when the Nazis took over?” A reasonable question, given that this population of 192,000 is never mentioned in the Von Trapp family’s story.)
In any event, the Holocaust has been on my mind more than usual lately.
Interestingly, Israel’s former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, has reportedly breathed new life into the old “intermarriage equals the Holocaust” trope in a speech he gave recently at Ohel Shem High School in suburban Tel Aviv.
According to Ynet, the rabbi, himself a Holocaust survivor who now chairs the Yad Vashem Council (Yad Vashem is Israel’s Holocaust museum), told students: "Marrying gentiles is like playing into the hands of the Nazis.”
More interesting: several students were so offended by his comparison that they walked out.
Meanwhile, another interfaith-Holocaust story caught my eye in Monday's New York Times obituaries: the touching tale of Jerzy Bielecki, a Roman Catholic Pole who fell in love with a Jewish girl at Auschwitz and helped her escape in 1944.
Bielecki just died at age 90; Cyla Cybulska, his Jewish paramour, died five years ago.
The two “though much in love” didn’t actually marry. Upon reaching freedom, Bielecki — who had been imprisoned in Auschwitz since 1940 for being in the Polish resistance — decided he had to join the Polish underground. He found a hiding place for Cybulska, and the two, who each thought the other had died, did not meet again for 39 years.
Cybulska immigrated to the United States, married another Holocaust survivor and settled in Brooklyn, while Bielecki stayed in Poland and started a family of his own.
They met again in 1983, after Cybulska’s husband had died: her Polish cleaning lady, upon hearing the tale of lost love, told her she’d seen Bielecki on Polish TV. Cybulska tracked him down and visited him in Krakow; he apparently greeted her at the airport with 39 roses, one for each of the years they had not seen each other, and the two saw each other another 15 times before her death.
Not clear from the obituary whether Bielecki was still married to his Polish wife at that point.
In any event, a moving story that serves as an interesting counterpoint to Rabbi Lau’s somewhat facile intermarriage-Holocaust equation.