Not Yet Hanukkah: A Story of Miracles

By BERNIE FARBER

November is Holocaust Education Month, a time we tell stories of survival. My father, the sole Jewish survivor of his small Polish village, used to say that it took 1,000 miracles to survive the Shoah because 999 were simply not enough.

The following is not only the story of 1,000 miracles, but at its conclusion we will understand what the circle of life is really all about.

In 1939, when Samuel Pisar was 10 years old, both the Nazi and Soviet armies invaded his native Poland. Interestingly, Samuel came from Bialystok, 50 kilometers from my father’s village of Bothki. When Adolf Hitler broke the Nazi/Soviet pact in 1941, Samuel was captured along with thousands of other Jews. He was young and strong and survived incarcerations at Majdanek, Auschwitz and other camps whose only purpose was to murder Jews.

His final camp, Dachau, became the concluding volume in this first chapter of his life. It was the spring of 1945. Young Samuel was out on a Nazi slave labour detail as Allied forces approached. Nazi SS guards gathered the work detail and marched them away from the advancing Americans. They marched for three days with little water or food. Many succumbed. Still young, Samuel stayed alive.

It was on the third day when a number of Allied fighter planes spotted both the Nazis and their slave labour detail. Thinking it was a column of Nazi soldiers, the planes’ pilots descended sharply and strafed the area. Taking advantage of the ensuing confusion, a number of prisoners made a break for the forest. The bombing and Nazi bullets mowed most of them down but young Samuel used up one of his thousand miracles and made it to the safety of the embracing forest.

Starving, emaciated, Samuel hid in an abandoned hayloft. A few mornings later, he was awakened by the sound of a rumbling motor. Cautiously looking out from his hiding place, sure that he would see the dreaded swastika, he saw instead an American insignia.

Washed over with relief, he stumbled from the hayloft in tears of joy. The hatch of the tank popped open and emerging was Corporal Bill Ellington, the son of a former slave and member of the storied 761st Tank Battalion, known for being comprised primarily of African-Americans. They were the original “Black Panthers.”

The son of a former slave and the young survivor of the Nazi death camps held each other while Samuel cried the only words he knew in English, “God Bless America.”

He was just 16, the sole Jewish survivor of his family in Poland when he emerged into what would become the second volume of his life.

Miracles followed Samuel. He was raised by the remnants of his French and Australian family, graduated from the University of Melbourne, and later earned doctorates of law from Harvard and the Sorbonne.

His rise was rapid. He worked for the United Nations and UNESCO and was appointed a special advisor to President John F. Kennedy. He counseled the State Department and worked as legal adviser to both the House of Representatives and Senate. He was one of the youngest, most respected government advisers – so much so that in 1961, through a special act of Congress, Pisar was awarded U.S. citizenship.

His legacy continued. He counselled governments and world- renowned personalities from pianist Arthur Rubenstein to tech whiz Steve Jobs. His passion became human rights and he took up the causes of the novelist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

He became a trustee of the Brookings Institute, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and has addressed international conferences and world leaders at Davos, the International Monetary Fund and the European Parliament.

Samuel was twice married upon his death in July 2015 and left two daughters, one from his first marriage, Leah and Norma, from his second wife, Judith.

Here’s the promised kicker: Samuel also left a step-son from his marriage to Judith: Antony Blinken who, on Nov. 23, was nominated to become U.S. Secretary of State in the administration of President-in-Waiting Joe Biden.

Samuel Pisar was a man of many miracles, maybe even 1,000. May his memory continue to be a blessing.


Bernie Farber
Bernie Farber

Bernie Farber is publisher and co-founder of the Canadian Jewish Record, Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a writer and human rights advocate. 

Antisemitic Priest Barred From Edmonton Archdiocese

Oct. 14, 2020

By JEREMY APPEL

An antisemitic Polish priest with an international following has been formally banned from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton after lobbying from B’nai Brith and Alberta’s former deputy premier, Thomas Lukaszuk.

Father Tadeusz Rydzyk runs the far-right radio station Radio Maryja, which has a television affiliate, Trwam, as well as a national newspaper and Catholic college. He has the dubious distinction of being denounced by two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, for antisemitism.

Father Tadeusz-Rydzyk
Father Tadeusz-Rydzyk

In on-air comments in 2016, Rydzyk lambasted “synagogue-type behaviour” among some of his followers, and in private conversations, leaked to a Polish magazine said that then-Polish president Lech Kazcynski was taking orders from Jews. His radio station has also promoted Holocaust denial, with a guest in 2000 claiming that gas chambers at Auschwitz didn’t exist.

The station has also featured diatribes against “gender ideology” and the “Islamification of Europe.”

“Most anti-Semites are racist in many different ways,” said Abe Silverman, B’nai Brith Alberta Manager of Public Affairs, referring to Rydzyk as an “equal opportunity” bigot.

And Rydzyk isn’t a fringe figure. Poland’s ruling ultranationalist Law and Justice party has reportedly offered subsidies of about $7.5 million to affiliates of Rydzyk and Radio Maryja. The Polish post office printed a stamp in honour of Radio Maryja’s 25th anniversary in 2016, the Anti-Defamation League reported.

“He has a massive following,” said Lukaszuk, who served as deputy premier under former Alberta premier Allison Redford and is a dual Canadian-Polish citizen. “His following isn’t so much religious as it is political.”

Lukaszuk said there’s major overlap between Rydzyk’s followers and supporters of the government.

“He controls a lot of votes. That’s all there is to it. The current governing party before the election campaign literally goes to him for a blessing and he endorses him through his media, and that carries a lot of sway.”

Lukaszuk brought Rydzyk to Silverman’s attention when the priest celebrated Mass at Calgary’s Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in 2018, which was approved by the diocese.

In response, Silverman met with Archbishop Richard Smith to express his concerns.

“The effect of this was that virtually all churches and diocese in Alberta will no longer invite Father Rydzyk to preach,” Silverman said. “I was very well-received and treated with the highest level of respect.”

Since Rydzyk’s programs and speeches are in Polish, Lukaszuk says the archdiocese likely wasn’t aware of the full extent of his bigotry.

At the time of Rydzyk’s visit, Bishop William McGratton of the Archdiocese of Calgary said the priest had changed his ways, pointing to a museum Rydzyk founded in Poland dedicated to the stories of Poles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, and to a 2016 meeting he had with an Israeli ambassador.

But Lukaszuk said the museum offers a sanitized view of Polish history, downplaying the role many Poles played in carrying out Nazi atrocities. And according to Silverman, the Israeli ambassador reprimanded Rydzyk when they met.

When Rydzyk tours the world, he doesn’t just celebrate Mass but also sells tickets to lectures to raise funds for his various projects.

“If we can somehow cut off his funding by having churches agree not to invite him and give him money, then that’s a win for us,” said Silverman. “If we can successfully start cutting off his funding, and this has to be done on an international level, including the funding he receives from the Polish government, we can maybe put a stop to this guy.”

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Edmonton said it had no plans to bring Rydzyk back to Alberta.

“If a request was made, it would be denied given Father Rydzyk’s history of making controversial comments that at times have caused distress and division,” the statement read.

Silverman said the ultimate goal is to prevent Rydzyk from visiting Canada again.

“We will go to other jurisdictions that have Catholic leadership and we will have the same conversations with them, and little by little we hope to have Father Rydzyk banned from Canada period. There may be a time when we go to the federal government and make a case, and hopefully they won’t issue him a visa.”

Said Lukaszuk, “if this guy is offensive in Calgary, he’s offensive in Toronto too.”

– This article first appeared in the Alberta Jewish News, where Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.