October 16, 2008

Heroes are still being discovered


Two Israeli Foundations dedicated to the Holocaust have reconstructed the biography of Stanislawa Slawinska, a Catholic Pole that saved a handful of Jews.

The numerous descendents of Esfira Maiman would never have existed if it were not for Stanislawa Slawinska, a Catholic Polish woman that saved the then young Jewish Esfira from the Nazi barbarism, becoming the protagonist of a story of solidarity of those that enable us to continue our faith in human beings.

Stacha, which is a family nickname for Stanislawa, has died in Poland on June 9, 1971, without recognition for the extraordinary feats of her life. However, today, thanks to the account of Esfira Maiman and the research made by the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation and Casa Argentina in Israel, it is now known that Stacha, without any motivations other than respect to other human beings, has protected Jews in Poland, a country in which helping out Jews was punishable with an immediate death. Stacha did not brag about her bravery, but now that her secret is unveiled, Yad Vashem, the Israeli National Holocaust Remembrance Authority, has bestowed upon her the title of Righteous among Nations.

The last path of this tortuous road that unites the lives of Esfira Maiman and Stanislawa Slawinska, has started back in March of this year, when Esfira, who is 94 years old, approached both aforementioned foundations in Israel. She was accompanied by her daughter Michele. ”My mother doesn’t want to die without divulging her story”, she said, and unveiled what had happened 66 years ago.

Esfira Maiman was born in Lodz, in 1914, and her family moved to Warsaw. During the Nazi occupation she got stranded in the Ghetto, a place in which hunger, sickness and deportations made it a synonym of hell.

In 1942, thanks to the skills of her first husband, Esfira managed to flee the Ghetto, but her husband, Roman Domb, was eventually killed by the Nazis.

Fortune and her own skills had made it possible for her to escape Warsaw and reach the small town of Grodzisk Mazowiecki, located 30 Km from the Polish capital. She had heard that help might be available there, and so it was. She found her lack at the home of Stanislawa Slawinska. Stacha, a woman 10 years her senior, was a fervent catholic, childless but with a nephew, Roman (Romek) Slawinski, a young underground fighter and protector of his aunt.

Sheltering Jews was punished with death and Stacha hid at least 10 Jews at her home. Among them was Esfira, her mother and her sister-in-law. She hid them and fed them in an environment where the most insignificant lack of care translated into death.

Esfira lived under the care of Stacha until the very end of the war. Then, they split-up. Esfira ended-up in a German displacement camp, where she met her second husband, Israel Maiman. The couple emigrated to Peru and from there she wrote letters to Stacha and even hid some money in them. However, at a certain point, Esfira stopped hearing back from Stacha. The Polish communist regime censored their communications and the common story of these two women was truncated.

In 1972, the Maiman family emigrated to Israel, carrying on the sorrow of not knowing anything about Stacha nor her nephew Roman.

In 2006, feeling the weight of her advanced age, Esfira, with the help of two of her grandaughters, conveyed the case to Yad Vashem, but the issue did not prosper. Without giving up and with her last forces, Esfira got in touch with the aforementioned foundations. With the help of officials from the Polish Embassy in Buenos Aires, they succeeded in locating Roman. He was still in Grodzisk Mazowiecki. Stacha had died but the families reconnected. Now, the State of Israel has publicly recognized the story of courage of Stacha, has issued a commemorative stamp, and her memory will live on forever.