Walking with the President

We bought lunch at a kiosk before boarding the bus from Zurich to Lucerne along with the passport survivors and their families. Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, sat next to us and I took the opportunity to show him the documents I had brought with me. He closed his eyes and gave a visible sigh. 

Lichtenstern Paraguayan passport

When we arrived at the cemetery Friedhof Friedental there was a buzz of activity: press, security, police. They were all preparing for the arrival of Andrzej Duda, President of Poland. Duda’s people gave us some basic instructions as to where to wait and how the afternoon’s events would unfold. Unfortunately the presidential motorcade was delayed so we were unable to spend time with President Duda before the ceremony as originally planned. 

We did greet him and his wife, Agata Kornhauser, with handshakes and then walked together to the site of Konstanty Rokicki’s grave. Rokicki had died poor and was buried in an unmarked grave. The Polish Consulate spent months locating the site. They even compared the DNA of these remains with the DNA of one of his relatives to be sure they had the right spot. 

There was a Polish honor guard. There were dozens of reporters and photographers at a respectful distance. Andrzej Duda knelt on one knee before the grave and arranged the sash of a wreath. Next Rabbi Schudrich spoke eloquently. He mentioned that a recent Torah parsha was from Genesis when G-d created Adam and Eve. The Rabbi went on to say:

We ask ourselves the question, what kind of person did G-d want us to be when G-d created them so many years ago? The answer is simple — G-d wanted us to be like Konstanty Rokicki — a person that was able to understand that morality was more important than even his own life.

I was as moved by his words as he was by my documents on the bus. 

Then President Duda spoke and his translator repeated each sentence in English. He had no notes and he spoke authentically, passionately, and with respect for this Polish hero and the Jewish people. He noted that Konstanty Rokicki was a “brighter star in that black night of despair” that was the Holocaust. He also said that the Polish diplomats were demonstrating humanity and this was all about the mission of saving human lives.” I couldn’t help but note that if not for Rokicki’s bright star the family Lichtenstern (my grandfather’s last name means “starlight”) would have been snuffed out completely. 

After the ceremony we all walked back to the reception area and I found myself side-by-side with Duda himself. I told him how the Paraguayan passport, produced by Rokicki, saved my grandfather’s life. I thanked him for being here and said that the most important thing to remember from all this is that humanity comes first. I intentionally used his words so as to capture his attention. I wanted to stress my message of the need to care for people above politics. I hope he heard me. 

(To see a short video of the days events by Doran Gal click here)

Agata Kornhauser-Duda, President Andrzej Duda, and me

One thought on “Walking with the President

  1. rfilkoff says:

    Heidi. You are truly doing something remarkable. Thank you for keeping us in a front row aeat with your blog

    Roy

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