Child Survivor of the Holocaust in Poland and Ukraine tells the story

Shimon Redlich: understanding humanity. The film screening was followed by a panel discussion, featuring Shimon Redlich and Joanna Michlic, moderated by Marina Pesenti. “We want more events like this,” said a Ukrainian member of the audience of the event on May 18, 2016, dedicated to the personal experience of surviving the Holocaust in Poland and Ukraine. It brought together the representatives of the Ukrainian, Polish and Jewish communities in London, communities which otherwise rarely cross. The event became possible thanks to partnership between four different London-based organisations: Spiro Arc, a Jewish Charity, the Ukrainian Institute, Polish Embassy and the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain which hosted the event at Ukrainian Community Centre on Holland Park Avenue.


 At the discussion that followed he  framed it like this: “The truth is very complicated. I am trying to explain to my audiences in Israel, where I live and teach, that the choices which Ukrainians, Poles had to make when faced with the Jewish Holocaust, were stark. When someone knocks on your door, would you open if you know that by doing so you risk your own life and the life of loved ones?”

 Mr Redlich, who is a professor of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, is convinced that it is not a question of nationality,  but of question of bravery and integrity. “And in my case, the Polish and Ukrainian rescuers, had it, “he said.

Lily Polman was rescued by Cardinal Sheptytsky when she was a child The film tells a story of Shimon going back to two places of his childhood in Nazi-occupied Poland: Berezhany, in today’s Ukraine, and Lodz, in today’s Poland. He contacts once again the children of a Ukrainian, Tanka Kontsevych, and a Pole, Karol Codogni, who hid his family during the Nazi occupation when Shimon was a young boy. The film also explores what the memory of Holocaust means for today’s communities of these two places. Despite the horrors of those events, there is lightness to his touch as he speak of those events and projects them into today’s reality: we have to remember and to be human.

 Only 5-10% of children who lived through Holocaust survived, pointed Joanna Michlic in a panel discussion which took place after the screening.

It's only recently that the experiences of Jews who survived it and other ethnic groups who were their rescuers have been recorded and offered for the intellectual debate, she said. Rescuers of Jewish children were one of those groups, added Ms Michlic, who is a historian of contemporary European History at the University of Bristol. Why did it take so long for their stories to be voiced?

“This is a heritage of totalitarianism,” Joanna said,“ when communist regimes suppressed any alternative discourses of WW2 and  banned any unsanctioned personal accounts of the tragedy.” One also has to keep in mind, that behind each rescuer there was a network of supporters who helped in smaller but important ways, and their contributions should not be forgotten, she pointed out.

 Try and understand the other side of the story – that was a key message in that debate. “It was unthinkable for me to travel to Ukraine in the 70s with my Israeli passport,” remembers Shimon. “I remember arriving to Lviv in early 1990s and traveling to Berezhany to meet Tanka’s family for the first time,” he said. “I remember my undefined fear of banderivtsy, Ukrainian WW2 underground resistance, lurking in the background.”

Kosher pasties were provided by the Polish EmbassyAnother Holocaust survivor, present in the audience, was Lily Polman, rescued by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. Sheptytsky, a leader of Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church at the period, is known to have saved some 150 Jewish children. Yet, he is not recognised among the Righteous by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority, something that Ms Polman has long been campaigning for.

 “Some of my colleagues in Israel are dismissive of Sheptytsky’s efforts, saying he saved just “a few” Jewish children. Ukrainians, on the other hand, tend to say he saved “lots.” It is important we stick to the facts and remember.”