SESCIL BY Leon Wells

While attending one of Rabbi Bemporad’s inspirational Saturday morning talks, I asked, “Is the Bible an example of positive human behavior? When Noah was told to build the ark, why didn’t he see other people’s children and try to take them in, too? Was it only his wife and three daughters, and pairs of each animal species that he cared about? Isn’t such blind obedience to God—without regard to the moral implications of Noah’s “selfishness”—a crime against humanity?

I think about the Kalwinskis when I read this Biblical tale. I don’t believe God spoke to Josef Kalwinski or his wife and daughter, or his son, Kaziek, when they embarked on their mission.

In 1943, during the Holocaust, I was 18 years old when, after almost two years, I escaped from the Death Brigade. The Brigade exhumed the murdered bodies of the Nazi victims and burned them to erase any trace of the atrocities. At the time, I was the only survivor of my entire family, 70 members in all. Thinking I had hidden away a cache of gold, a fellow inmate, Korn, took me along with him to the farm of Josef Kalwinski. Korn assumed that I had gold because it was my job to keep count of the gold sieved from the ashes and to turn it over to the Nazis. It never occurred to me to take any of this loot for myself and I used some of it only to bribe the SS guards to treat our group with leniency. This is what made it possible for us to escape, because as we approached the gate on the day we decided to escape, the guard assumed I was bringing him gold and opened the gate. We struck him down and ran away.

I had no idea where I was, but Korn, who worked with the locals before the war, did. When we met Mr. Kalwinski, Korn asked him to hide both of us, and assumed I had gold to pay for it. When he realized that I had nothing, he told Josef Kalwinski he could lose me, because I was a stranger and did not know where I was.

Mr. Kalwinski gave me a long look and said, “how can I leave him to get lost? He’s only a baby. Baby was the only English word he knew, and that became my nickname. I joined 22 other Jews hidden on his property. They were not overjoyed to have me, because of the extremely cramped quarters.

The Kalwinskis were risking their lives, since Aany Pole found hiding Jews was hanged, together with his entire family. The Kalwinskis fed us, cleaned our living space, carried out our slops and did it without raising the suspicion of their neighbors. With kindness and care, his wife,helped by her young daughter and son—a boy my age—worked night and day. Their youngest son had been sent away to distant family, lest he forget and mention our presence to the neighbors.

Why did the Kalwinskis make this great sacrifice for a boy they did not know and for the other twenty-three Jews they hid? Was because of their sense of righteousness and a feeling of humanity for their fellow man? They did not think only of themselves and their safety. Should their tale be added to our Bible, to the literature that describes this as ultimate way to conduct one’s life?

You can read this story and others in Janowska Road by Leon W Wells, published by the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.