Arlington Heights, Ill. -- All Saints Day is a good time to share with you the names of the people I was thinking about this past Sunday evening when Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I spoke at First Presbyterian Church here about our book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust.
I was thinking about the Jewish survivors we wrote about who have died since the book was published in late 2009. And as I said to the audience in response to a question, if we hadn't done the book when we did we would have missed some great stories because the survivors are becoming fewer and fewer.
I remember sweet Sheila Bernard (above left), who died even before the book was published. We had interviewed her in her apartment near Washington, D.C., and heard her describe how a man who was dying to cancer elected to save her and her mother to make up for all the bad things he'd done in his life as a Polish police officer.
And I recall the amazing Maria Devinki (right), whom Jacques and I always considered our patron saint. Maria opened up to us to tell us more about her survival under the floors of barns for more than two years than she had ever told her children, she said. I attended Maria's funeral and there was standing room only.
Then there was the lovely, frail Anna Schiff (left), still mourning the loss of her husband and baby in the Holocaust all these years later: "Ever since then," she told us, "I never could laugh completely with all my heart."
And, of course, Dr. Felix Zandman, an extraordinary human being who survived with others for 17 months in a pit dug under the floor of a small house in Poland -- and who later earned his Ph.D. at the Sorbonne in Paris and wound up changing the face of technology for the world with his dozens of scientific patents.
As you may think today about people you've known who now are gone, perhaps you will join me in also giving thanks for Sheila, Maria, Anna and Felix -- and also for the courageous non-Jews who risked their lives to save them from Hitler's deputized murderers.
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SEEING SANDY THROUGH FAITH'S EYES
As we all knew was inevitable, there have been various religious responses to the tremendous damage that Hurricane Sandy has caused. I especially liked this one.
* * *P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.