Exhibition on Jewish children saved by Poles opens in Israel

To say that Elżbieta Ficowska was born with a silver spoon in her mouth would be a misnomer, but as it happened it was precisely a silver spoon, with her name engraved on it, is the only artefact and memory of her family and of Poles who, by giving her shelter, saved her from the German machine of the Holocaust. The silver spoon conveys a story of a Holocaust child survivor told at the “My Jewish Parents, My Polish Parents” exhibition opened at the Kiryat Motzkin Library near Haifa, Israel.

“I don’t have an image in my mind, but I have a physical object: a silver spoon coined with my name and birth date on it,” said Elżbieta Ficowska – 1 of 15 Jewish child survivors featured in the exhibition, as reported by Jerusalem Post (JP) daily.

While still a baby born in the German-established Warsaw Ghetto, Ms Fickowska was saved by a Polish family.

“It was hidden on my body with me when I was passed from the Ghetto to the Aryan side,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “Thanks to this I know my true birth date and name, which other people like me, from this exhibition, who share the same story, don’t know. This is the only true connection to this other world to which I was supposed to belong.”

Being a survivor, Ms Ficowska felt it was very important that the exhibition had come to Israel, “because at the end of the day, this is a universal story. Many people in Israel think about Poland with sentimental feelings because they, like myself, lost their families there, [but] this is not the real picture of Poland. There are good and bad people everywhere, and this is a story about the good people. Some people say Poland is an antisemitic country, which is not true, and some people say that Poland is a country of only heroes, which is also not true.” She also stressed that “there were indeed some heroes, and this exhibition is about them.”

Ms Fickowska and the other 14 Jewish child survivors’ stories are featured at the exhibition that opened on Thursday. The children were born between 1939 and 1942 and saved by Polish families “thanks to the boundless love of parents who entrusted their children,” and “the courage of the people” who took them in and “recognized them as their own sons and daughters,” the exhibition organizers explained.

Organised by the Association of Children of the Holocaust in Poland and the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv, the exhibition will remain in Israel for the next 2 months. Moving the exhibition to other locations across the country has also been considered.

According to Joanna Hofman, director of the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv, it is important to tell these stories to “preserve the memory of those who survived and were saved from the Holocaust, especially children.” Ms Hofman also told JP that the children “were adopted by Polish families, and all their life they tried to find a bridge or link between their Jewish and Polish parents.”

The official added that the exhibition was about the survivor’s “struggle to find their own identity, growing up in Polish families in a different culture, and only later realizing that they came from Jewish families.” “It’s an amazing story of how many people were involved just to save the life of one child,” Ms Hofman told JP, adding that “those children... very often talk so warmly about their adoptive parents and still managed to get through the trauma of living with this double identity.”

The head of the Polish Institute went on to say that the exhibition’s goal was “also to show that accusing the whole nation of antisemitism is not reasonable, and in those dark and dramatic times, individuals, humans, behaved differently. Some of them had a huge heart and courage, while others showed the ugly side of humanity.”