"Hope and perseverance helped me survive," says professor Shevah Weiss.
Professor Shevah Weiss was born in Boryslaw, Poland, in 1945, into a Polish-Jewish family. Rescued during the German occupation of Poland, he emigrated to Palestine in 1947. He eventually became a professor of political science at the University of Haifa in 1975. He was Speaker of the Knesset and a long-standing Member of the Israeli Parliament, was Ambassador of the State of Israel to Poland between 2001–2003. A Knight of the Order of the White Eagle, Weiss still lectures at Warsaw University, living in both Warsaw and Haifa. Many see him as Poland’s honorary ambassador in the world. Aleteia’s Iwona Flisikowska spoke to Professor Weiss about his life.
Iwona Flisikowska: Professor, you and your family miraculously survived the Holocaust, or the extermination of the Jewish people prepared by the German invaders. How do you see it today?
Professor Shevah Weiss: The fact that I was saved is truly a miracle. Just as it was a miracle to save any single Jew during this inhuman war. Throughout my life I have been wondering if — since this is a miracle — you must believe in God? And all the time, even now, I have been looking for an answer: “Why did all this genocide ever happen? Why?” I cannot hear the answer, even though so many years have elapsed since.
As a six-year-old child, I needed help. And we were helped by ordinary yet heroic people, our neighbors from Borysław. Let us remember that only in Poland, everyone who was helping the Jews was killed — immediately and without trial. When we escaped from the ghetto, our first hiding place was the home of Ms. Anna Góralowa, a friend of my mother’s, her schoolmate. Anna was a deeply religious Catholic and she simply hid us in a chapel. I sat in this unusual place with my mother and sister: we found shelter in the shadow of the arms of the Crucified, literally.
Ms. Maria Potężna helped us, too; her name, which means “powerful” in Polish, matched ideally her unbreakable character, because she helped us until the end of the war. I remember how Ms. Potężna brought me, a small boy hidden under the bed, a glass of milk. I will remember this simple gesture till the end of my life. The escape and the hiding were just the beginnings of our national Gehenna. It was difficult to live, hoping against hope.
Yet it was this hope that helped you to survive. Still, I cannot imagine living for eight months behind a double wall only 60 cm in width, with several people at that.
I think you would have been able to survive. We have no way of knowing how much we can bear. It’s life itself that is the ultimate litmus test. My father prepared a hiding place for us: between the wall of our store behind the cabinets and the wall of the warehouse he fashioned a room about 60 centimetres wide, where we all hid: my parents, my sister, my brother and I, my mother’s sister, her husband and son. There was also our neighbor Bachman.
Unfortunately, my uncle could not cope with this mentally and left the hiding place, leaving his wife and son. Later I found out that the Germans had killed him.
My father had prepared our “wall” well: he built the bunks, one on top of the other, up to the ceiling. We had to lie down all days. Many years later, when I was in the Netherlands, I visited Anne Frank’s house and saw that her father also hid in a double wall. Still, Anne did not survive, and we did.
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