Yad Vashem Chairman presenting Barbara Rybczyńska with the Righteous Among the Nations medal awarded to her late grandparents
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11 October 2018
On Thursday, 11 October 2018, Yad Vashem held a ceremony honoring the late Mikołaj and Helena Sajowski and Aniela Debińska from Poland as Righteous Among the Nations. Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev presented the medal and certificate of honor to Aniela's daughter Barbara Rybczyńska, who traveled from Poland especially for the ceremony, in the presence of members of the rescuers’ family, including survivor Sala Armel-Goldhar and her son Mitch Goldhar, as well as the Ambassadors of Canada and Poland to Israel.
When Sala Armel-Goldhar was five years old, World War II broke out, and her hometown of Stryj, near Lwów (today Lviv), Poland, was occupied first by the Soviets and then by the Germans. In order to save her, little Sala’s parents Israel Ber and Feiga (née Leibenhaut) Armel gave her, along with two or three family photos and a few addresses abroad, to a Polish woman named Aniela Dembińska who a worked as a teacher in Stryj. Dembińska brought Sala to the farm belonging to her mother and stepfather, Helena and Mikołaj Sajowski. She took the risk of presenting the blonde and blue-eyed Sala as her own child, even though she had a daughter of her own in Stryj.
Despite their old age, the Sajowski treated Sala well and made efforts to protect her. Still, it was very hard for the five-year-old girl. The cold, the darkness, the foul smells from cows and goats on the farm, and missing her parents deeply all made her very unhappy. She managed to run away once, but returned immediately after seeing a gallows with the bodies of Jews hanging from it. She spent approximately two years with the Sajowskis.
After the war, Sala was entrusted by the Sajowskis to a Jewish man by the name of Dr. Schorr. He lived in Czortków with his wife, and the two of them took in several Jewish children so that they would have a home with a Jewish family. Sala stayed with the Schorrs for two years, until their departure to Israel. She decided to stay in Poland, in case her parents should come looking for her; but they never did. Sala managed to contact her mother’s aunt in Toronto, and left for Canada in April 1948.
On 27 December 2017, Yad Vashem recognized Mikołaj and Helena Sajowski and Aniela (Zachariasiewicz) Dembińska as Righteous Among the Nations. Their names were added to the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.
At the ceremony, Shalev spoke about the tremendous courage of the Sajowski family, who had no support from their neighbors, acquaintances or even the state itself – and were in danger of being informed upon daily:
"We should appreciate them. We should tell their stories. We should educate young people that we can overcome brutality; we can overcome murder and evil deeds… This is the hope of a new generation. This wonderful Jewish family you see here today – this helps us understand the meaning of saving a single life."
Barbara Rybczynska thanked her family for their incredible tenacity in saving Sala's life. "We have to do everything we can so that children will never lose their parents and parents their children," she warned.
"Yad Vashem commands us: zachar…remember," said Sala's son Mitch. "We can never mourn too hard. We can never honor too high. We can never remember too much. The Sajowski family are the epitome of human kindness, great courage, fearlessness and selflessness." Evoking the worrying phenomenon of rising antisemitism and racism across the globe, he stressed the importance of recognizing "acts of goodwill and human decency."
To date, Yad Vashem has recognized some 27,000 individuals from over 50 countries as Righteous Among the Nations.