Friday, August 19, 2011

The courage of Leon Weinstein

Leon Weinstein, a young Polish Jew, was living in Warsaw with his wife and baby daughter shortly after the Germans invaded. "We got no chance," Leon told his wife. "But the little one, she is special. She must survive."

He chose a new, Gentile name for his daughter Natalie, put a crucifix around her neck, wrote on a piece of paper that he was a war widow unable to take care of her, left her and the note on someone's doorstep and forced himself to walk away.

He wound up in the Warsaw Ghetto. He did amazing things, talking his way out of the ghetto and smuggling weapons back inside.

When the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began, he was one of the fighters. He remembers running along rooftops, shooting at Germans with a machine gun. "Every five minutes," he says, "I could have been killed."

When the Germans began to destroy the ghetto and everyone in it, he hid in the sewers, too weak to lift a manhole cover to escape - until he saw his grandfather in a dream, telling him "You must keep going. You must. Don't stop."

With new energy, he managed to open a manhole cover and climb out. Looking like he might die and stinking of sewage, he found a couple who would take him in.

When the war was over, surviving Jews began to leave the country. Month after month Leon, a widower now, pedalled a bicycle from convent to convent, looking for his daughter.

Finally he saw a nun carrying a little, blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl. "That's my daughter," he said. How could they know she was his, the nun asked. "She has a little birthmark near her right hip," he said. She had. Leon had found his Natalie.

They later emigrated to the United States.

Leon is now 101. (You can read a little more of his story by clicking here.)

He is frail now, but still mentally alert. Scarcely two hours go by during the day without he telephones his daughter. Every Friday night, they have their Sabbath meal together.

She speaks affectionately of her father. "To have a father with such courage," she says. "I owe everything to him. I owe him my life."