Two grandchildren of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations – Matylda Liro, a Polish journalist in the United States, and Michael Bulik, who operates a Mississauga bakery – were honoured recently at Congregation Habonim in Toronto.
They were presented with awards by the March of the Living for their grandparents’ heroism during the Holocaust.
Anita Ekstein and Sally Wasserman, who were both saved by Polish Righteous Gentiles during the Holocaust era, presented the awards.
Eli Rubenstein, national director of March of the Living of Canada, said “although the Holocaust is a story of how humanity can descend to the ultimate depths of almost unimaginable cruelty, yet there is another story which also must be told.
“It is a story that involves, bravery and altruism beyond belief where people took enormous risks to save others. The study of the Holocaust does not cause us to give up completely on humanity.
“It is courageous people like your grandparents,” he told Liro and Bulik, “who serve as role models in our own lives.”
In 1995, the film Wanda’s Lists: Children Without a Name was shown on Polish and Israeli television. In it, Israelis who had survived the Holocaust told the childhood stories of their rescues during the war in the hopes that someone could reveal to them their identities.
Matti Greenberg’s story was one that was told. Liro, then 15 years old, remembers watching the film with her grandmother, Antonina. Her grandmother became very emotional and revealed that she put three-year-old Tolek Weinstein – who was later named Matti Greenberg – on a train when she could no longer protect him from the Nazis.
She had been a good friend of Tolek’s parents, who were caught up in the Warsaw Ghetto. She promised the Weinsteins that she would try to save their son.
A Polish nurse, Wanda Bulik, rescued young Tolek. She took him home to her parents, Jozefa and Ignacy, and they hid him in their home and bakery.
The Buliks took a great risk even though they saw their neighbours and their families executed for hiding Jews.
After the war, Weinstein, by then known as Greenberg, was taken to Israel, where he became a well-known and respected officer in the Israel Defence Forces.
Antonina Liro contacted Greenberg after she saw Wanda’s Lists. Now in his 50s and living in Israel, Greenberg, who was unaware of his real name, learned he was really Tolek Weinstein.
Matylda Liro and Michael Bulik met for the first time at the March of the Living event, where Wanda’s Lists was screened.
“I am here for my grandmother, to remember her,” Liro said. “My grandmother was just being human in this situation. She was a very good, generous person.
“It’s amazing that I can finally meet Michael. This story changed my life, and thanks to that I am a great friend of Israel.”
Bulik recalled that his father talked about the German army coming to his next-door neighbour and in front of his eyes shooting the whole family because they were hiding Jews.
“My parents were good decent people. It must have been in their hearts to risk their lives to save this boy. Perhaps they saw their own children in this little boy,” Bulik said.
“On a human level, they knew this little boy would be dead if they did not take him in.”
He described his family as quiet and private. “Matti’s story is a sequence of events which are so extraordinary, you can’t even imagine how they happened,” said Bulik, whose family moved to Toronto after the war and now run a COR-hechshered bakery in Mississauga.
“All of us think we would do the same, but in reality, when it comes to it, you cannot answer that question until you are in the same position.”
Rubenstein told The CJN that “when the people who attended the award event first met Liro and Bulik, you could sense how uplifted they immediately felt.
“To be in the presence of these noble people whose families had acted in such heroic ways and to witness their admiration of their grandparents, and at the same time their absolute and utter humility, was to be in the presence of pure goodness. It was awe inspiring,” Rubenstein said.
“Courageous people can serve as role models in our own lives so that young people are given hope for the future and an understanding that evil was resisted during the darkest of times and can still be confronted today.”