Remembering Moshe Bejski

by Marc-Henri Fermont

Moshe Bejski and his wife Erika

Moshe Bejski and his wife Erika

I am deeply moved today as I always  am when I participate in Ceremonies in the Gardens of the Righteous in Milan, but participating in the inauguration of the Gardens of the Righteous here in Warsaw on the square of the Ghetto is even more moving for me. Warsaw  carries a significant resonance for all of us. It was the capital of the heroic Resistance during WW2 for the Jews and the Poles in their hopeless battles against Nazism.  
I am speaking here today as a relative of Dr Moshe Bejski the Israeli Supreme Court Judge and President of the Righteous Commission from 1970 to 1995 who was also one of the initiators of the Garden of the Righteous in Jerusalem. 

Born in Dzialoszyce in 1921, Moshe Bejski miraculously survived the war on Oskar Schindler’s list. I had the privilege to be close to him since my childhood as he got his PhD in law at the Sorbonne College in the early fifties. France is my own native country, where I was born after the war. Moshe Bejski spoke fluent French and was a Francophile. When he learned French in Paris in the early fifties, his teacher was no other than the famous poet Paul Celan from Tchernivtsi, known as the “Poet of the Holocaust”.

Curiously for Bejski as for many Holocaust survivors there was no distinction between the Past and the Present , both were blurred  in their souls  along their entire lives. Their dreadful wretched experiences during the war left deep scars which they lived with every day.  Bejski made a remarkable legal career in Israel where he landed in 1946. He became a noted lawyer and served as  Supreme Court Judge to which  he was nominated in 1979.  At the same time, however, he never lost sight of the past, the destruction of Polish Jewry, the loss of his family and the role of those who saved the few survivors. In 1961, he came for the first time into the spotlights as he gave witness  at the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem . I still remember reading the report about his testimony in the French paper “Le Monde”. When he was asked “Why didn’t you defend yourselves?” He was shattered and answered desperately “How could we do that as we were dressed in orange coats and carried chains?”

As most Schindler’s survivors, he remained grateful and loyal to Oskar Schindler, their saviour. After the war, the survivors in Israel supported him and welcomed him   into their homes on his yearly visits to Israel.
As Chairman of the Righteous Commission, Bejski maintained close awareness of the past, honouring many of the Righteous Gentiles who saved Jews during the war. In 1969, he awarded the Medal of the Righteous to Jan Karski whom he deeply admired. He kept praising him for his courage and determination while Jan Karski himself thought he had failed to convince Churchill and Roosevelt that the carnage he had witnessed was the reality.
Bejski was staunchly convinced that all Jews ought to show their gratitude to those who had saved persecuted Jews, risking their lives and those of their families. This is the profound message of the Gardens of the Righteous in Jerusalem, in Milan and in Warsaw. These Gardens are monuments of appreciation and gratitude.

A challenging topic is the relationship between Moshe Bejski and his native country from which he fled in 1945.  There is no need to recall his history until he reached Plaszow and Schindler’s factory in Krakow which is well documented in Nissim’s book “Il Tribunale del Bene”).

Moshe Bejski was deeply disturbed by the troubles Jews faced upon attempting to return to their homes or villages in Poland in 1945/1946. As far as his own hometown is concerned, 90 survivors returned to of Dzialoszyce, three were murdered and the others ran away.
However, like Karski, Edelmann or Mazowiecki, Bejski never lost hope for a better, more democratic and more tolerant Poland. He was initially surprised by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, but afterwards and until his death in 2007, he expressed renewed hope for his  native country as he witnessed the progress in the new Poland no longer driven by the  demons of the past but rather by the renewed  values of peace, fraternity and democracy. I have no doubt that Bejski would have liked to be present here today for the inauguration of the Warsaw Gardens for the Righteous which will hopefully inspire future generations.

The generations of Holocaust survivors and the victims of Communism were largely driven by their traumatic past and gloomy present; the new generations ought to be  motivated by a better present and a brighter future.

Moshe Besjki in all his activities as an educator, a lawyer and a Judge, showed integrity, honesty and loyalty. He staunchly defended what he believed to be right without paying undue attention to those who challenged him. Most importantly, he was altruistic, generous and dedicated to express gratitude to those who helped him and saved his life, like Oskar Schindler.  A man of duty, discreet, a bit shy and unassuming, he never boasted about his   achievements. I am proud to have known him and am much inspired by his example!

Marc-Henri Fermont, relative of Moshe Bejski

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4 June 2014

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