It is customary before the Yamim Noraim, the High Holy Days, to look back at the past and strive to do better the following year, through Teshuvah. It is also a time that we remember and ask forgiveness for our actions toward our fellow man. Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, in his address to the distinguished guests at the Park East Synagogue, said that it is also a perfect time to say thanks to those that have, in any way, helped make our lives better.
“Irena Gut,” he said, “deserves such an honor.”
Irena was just a young girl when the Russians and the Germans invaded Poland 69 years ago. She suffered first under the Russians, and then the Germans forced her into slave labor. Luck was with her, as her circumstances were better then most, because she was housekeeper to a high-ranking German officer.
After witnessing the brutal murder of a mother and child on the streets of Tanopol she vowed to her god: she was a Catholic, and would do whatever it took to save any life that she could.
Amazingly, she found room in the cellar of the German officer’s house to hide first 11 and later 12 Jews. Agonizing, and at times comical, events occurred during that time. There were parties and receptions that the officer held in his villa in which the hidden Jews helped Irena, in the preparations, and there was even a baby born in the cellar. A baby named Roman, the closest the young couple came to a boy’s name to match Irena.
There is now an Off-Broadway Play, “Irena’s Vow,” which relates the story of Irena’s vow to the world. The renowned actress, Tova Feldshuh, appears in the starring role. Tova puts on an amazing performance,” said Jennie Smith, daughter of Irena Gut. She brings my mother back to life for the 90 minutes of the show. I am so honored that the First Lady of Poland, Maria Kaczynski and so many other dignitaries are in attendance to hear her story and pay homage to the memory of my mother.”
(L-R) Polish Foreign Minister Mr. Radoslaw Sikorski; Polish Secretary of State Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka; daughter of Irena Gut, Jennie Smith; and Chief Rabbi of Poland Rabbi Michael Shudrich.
“It was a very interesting evening,” said one participant. When I go the theater it is usually just good fun but tonight, not only do we have a truly moving true story, we have the opportunity to see and meet and talk to the very people the story talks about.”
Before the show there was a benefit reception at the Park East Synagogue for the Museum Of The History Of Polish Jews under construction in Warsaw. At the reception Mrs. Maria Kaczynski, the First Lady of Poland, was presented with a mezuzah in honor of her and her husband’s energetic, friendly and helpful attitude towards the Jewish community, both in Poland and around the world.
At the event Irena Gut was honored, posthumously, with the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland. Secretary of State, Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, and Polish Foreign Minister, Mr. Radoslaw Sikorski, presented the honor to Irena’s daughter, Jennie Smith.