Thursday, March 24, 2011


"Even though it may be scary, confession is the right thing to do."
Alexis Arnold
After the incident with Manek and the vodka, Sarah took her children and left the house of refugees.  She continued to walk down country roads with the children with no destination in mind.  There was no food, no shelter, just the monotony each day of getting up and wandering, and the fear that at any moment someone may figure it all out.  One day, in the Polish town of Jaworze, Sarah stopped some people walking by her and asked them if they had anything to eat.  They looked from her to the two shells of what was once children next to her.  They only had 1 hardboiled egg that they could spare.  She took it and thanked them, and thanked them, and thanked them.  She and the children sat down on the curb on the side of the road.  Sarah then took that one boiled egg, and split it into small pieces, gave each child a small piece, and saved the rest for "later".
It's funny how a memory stays with you forever.  When we were driving through Jaworze on our trip to Poland in 2009, my father and aunt actually stopped the car and pointed out the very spot they sat and ate that boiled egg.
As Sarah and the children indulged in their hearty meal, a woman, Bronca, walked by them.  She was by herself, and noticed the mother and her two young children.  She stopped and asked Sarah, "Who are you, and where are you from?"  Sarah replied "I am Francesca, and these are my two children Maryan and Sophia.  We are from Brzostek (they were far enough away that she felt safe to name her home town)."  Bronca looks at her and continues her questions, " Why are you alone with two children?  Where is your husband and family?"  Sarah continued to make up an elaborate tale and excuse.  Bronca, seeing the sorry state of the threesome tells Sarah "You know what, why don't you and the kids come to my house and I will give you something to eat."
And so they went with Bronca a short distance to her home.  She fed them Borscht and Potatoes.  It is hard to imagine but this was their first half decent meal in almost 2 years!  After the meal, Bronca asked Sarah where she was going to stay.  She answered "I'll be honest with you, I have nowhere to go."  Bronca looked from Sarah to her children and said "OK I understand, why don't I keep you here for a little bit."  Sarah was hesitant but she decided she would graciously accept the offer.
After a few days, Bronca came to Sarah and told her that people were beginning to talk about her and the children because they looked so different, they started to suspect that perhaps she was not who she said she was.  Sarah asked "Who was saying such things?  Let me see if it is who I think it is."  Bronca pointed out the woman that started the talk.  Sarah immediately responded "Aha, that is who I thought you would say.  You see I think SHE is a Jew and she is trying to put the suspicion off herself and onto anybody else.  I'll go tell her!"  Bronca assured Sarah not to worry that she would take care of it and told Sarah not to start anything.  Of course Sarah had no idea who the woman was that Bronca pointed out, she made the whole story up to cast the suspicion of herself.
Sarah had stayed a few days, and still had no idea where she would go.  Bronca was good to Sarah and the children and soon Sarah had to confide in her.  Sarah went to Bronca and confessed.  "I have to be honest with you.  I am Jewish and I don't know what to do anymore, or where to go."  Bronca responded "I suspected that just looking at you.  Ok, stay with us, but don't tell anyone what you have told me.  I will keep you as a refugee like all the others, and let's see how long I can keep you like that.  You must watch all that I do.  You must act like a Christian.  Tell your children that each morning they must get up and pray like everyone else.  Every Sunday we will all go to church.  All of you must watch and follow all that I do."  So life as a Catholic began for Sarah and the children.  They went to church every Sunday, took communion, and no one suspected a thing.
When you go to church, not only do you pray and take communion, but everyone is expected to go to confession.  So Sarah went to confession.  When she got there, she was at a loss.  Bronca was not near her so she had no one to mimic.  So she did what any good Catholic would do, she confessed.  She turned to the priest and told him "I am so sorry but I do not know what to do, I am not really a Catholic."  The priest immediately understood her meaning.  He had seen her and her children at church.  He put his hand on her head and said "You are a very brave woman, the war is getting closer to the end and being a hero woman you will survive and you will be fine and G-d will bless you."  When Sarah walked out of the church Bronca was standing with a few other towns people.  Bronca commented on Sarah's talk with the priest, "Francesca, you must not have had many sins because the priest was so nice and cheerful to you!"  This killed any and all suspicion that may have been left.
The encounter with the priest had a profound lasting effect on Sarah.  She would forever have a soft spot and a special feeling for the Catholic religion.  Even though over the years I have heard many of the stories that I have recounted during this story telling, there have been many more that I am learning about for the first time.  This story is one of the ones I had not heard before.  It brings a smile to my face that I can still learn something new about my grandmother.  I miss her so much each day. Writing this story has made me feel closer to her, and as I shed a tear writing this, I only wish I had the chance to ask her about all that I am learning.  The one thing that always struck me as odd though, was that after all that she went through, she still believed in G-d, kept Kosher and believed in religion.  I never really understood it until now. This priest truly understood the meaning of G-d and that there is only one G-d.  He gave her strength to go on and know that G-d was still with her and always would be.


  1. Ann,

    I am crying reading this, as person raised Catholic. I have also known priests like this - and it is the first time in a while that I have felt proud of my religion. Though we hear so much bad right now about priests - it is so good to know that a good priest was there at your grandmother's side.

    I continue to be deeply moved by the story of what your family endured during the war. It is so vital that you are doing this for posterity. We can never forget.

    Last weekend, my husband and I visited the newly opened American Jewish Museum in Philadelphia, and we marveled at the great contributions of Jews to American life - how grateful we are.

    Peggy Jo

  2. Thank you Peggy Jo, when I learned about this story it also moved me so much. Thank you for your kind words and hope you keep enjoying the story.