Gertruda's room in the Gertrud Luckner Home for the Aged in Nahariyya, with a view of the Mediterranean, is homey and personal. Except for a picture of the Pope, pictures of Mickey, the Jewish boy she rescued, fill the room: Catholicism and Mickey are central to her life. A native of Poland, she speaks Polish and German, never having learned Hebrew since arriving in Israel in 1947 in order to fulfill a promise to raise Mickey as a Jew. Despite her eighty-five years, she is still a large, imposing woman with an incisive mind. She is delighted for our company, especially for our lively caring translator, Lusia Schimmel, who is herself a concentration-camp survivor from Poland.
I was born in the North of Poland, near Danzig, in 1902. I had five sisters and two brothers, and I was the oldest. My father worked in the post office. We were a good religious family. The proverb in our home was "Love your neighbor as yourself." My mother was always concerned about everyone else. For instance, when I went into the ghetto to see Mickey I was gone for several days. When I returned home my mother opened the door, and instead of saying, "How are you?," she asked me, "How is the child?"
For fifteen years I worked for a very rich Jewish family named Stolowitzky, taking care of the children, a daughter and a son. [Gertruda is crying as she talks of the family.] First the father was taken to Auschwitz. When the daughter died Mrs. Stolowitzky thought it would be safer in Warsaw, so I left Danzig and went with them. Then she heard it was better in Vilna, so we went there. We got an apartment, but things were very bad. Mickey's mother asked me to promise her that I would take care of Mickey if anything happened to her.
In Vilna, I rented an apartment which I kept for the four years I was there. The Lithuanians in Vilna were very anti-Semitic and mean. One day one of them hit me. We were having a very difficult time there. The Nazis would give poison candy to the children. I had to teach Mickey never to take anything to eat from anyone.
Then Mickey's mother became sick and died. Mickey came to me and said, "I have no mother. Will you be my mother?" I could not tell him right away. I asked him to wait, and in three days I would give him an answer. I was a single, forty-year-old Catholic woman. How was I going to raise a Jewish child? But I finally told him I would be his mother and he could move into my apartment with me, and he was so happy that he threw his arms around me.
Once Mickey got sick and the only doctor I knew was in the ghetto, so I had to take him to a German doctor. I lied and said that I was his older sister, but I don't think he believed me. After several visits, Mickey was well. When I asked the doctor what I owed him, he wouldn't allow me to pay him. He said to me, "No, you have helped me feel like a man." So he did know Mickey was a Jewish boy.
As soon as the war ended I knew I had to get Mickey to Israel. There was no other way that I could raise a boy to be a Jew. All during the war he had gone to church with me. He learned all the prayers and he even became an altar boy, but I knew I would tell him as soon as I could that he was not Catholic, that he must always be Jewish.
We were on the first ship to Israel, the Exodus. The British were so terrible. The ship was crowded and we were not allowed to dock in Palestine. A chef on the ship gave me cookies for Mickey. But we finally arrived, and I tell you, a miracle happened. From the moment Mickey stepped onto the land of Israel he became a Jewish patriot. It was a miracle.
Mickey's mother had told me that her relatives in Israel would help us, so I went to them right away. I will never forgive them for what they did to me. They gave me a little room upstairs, with no water and no toilet. They paid for one-half year for Mickey to go to school. Mickey cried when he came home. They wanted to adopt Mickey and send me back to Poland. They said they would not pay for school for Mickey if I stayed in Israel. Mickey cried and said to me, "You are my mother. I don't want them for parents." And he said to them, "I don't want to be a son of your family. I want to stay with my mother forever. Where she will go, I will go."
So I went to work as a maid to pay for Mickey's schooling. He went to Be'er Shemin to school, to a program especially for children from Europe like him. And for eighteen years I lived in this same room with no water and worked as a maid so I would have money to pay for the room and for things for Mickey. And Mickey grew up to be such a good Jew. I am so proud of him. He is the most wonderful son in the world.
Mickey worked for Copel Tours in Israel, arranging tours, and then they moved him to Miami in 1975. I miss him very much. Now he lives in New York, and brings tours to Israel for another company. He visits Israel often, and he always uses his Israeli passport. It would be easier and cheaper for him to use an American passport, but he believes in being a Jew and an Israeli. And every time he comes to Israel, he comes here to visit me.
If I had known, forty years ago, that after bringing a Jewish boy to Israel I would be living my last years in this old-age home, I would never have done it. There's no one to talk to here. I still speak only Polish, but I would love to discuss things with people. But the intellectual level is very low. To go to church is very important to me, and yet my priest is a converted Jew. Father Daniel will never be a real priest. A Jew who becomes a priest is never a priest. Just as Mickey became Jewish as soon as he stepped onto Israeli soil, so also, for me, the priest is not a real priest.
Mickey doesn't want me to move to the United States because he returns to Israel often and he wants to remain an Israeli, so he wants me here in his homeland. And I don't think I would want to move anyway. I visit him in the United States. He is the best son in the whole world.
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