Imagine a hideously dark time and two frightened friends, one Jewish, the other not.
Imagine that one has had her family torn away from her by the Nazis and the other has had her husband, the father of her child, taken from her by the Soviets.
They are so very young, in their early 20s, and so very alone – except that they have each other.
The Jewish woman survived because of the quick wit and selfless efforts of her Ukrainian friend. (See page 19.) She built a good life and raised a family in Israel. Her two daughters have just had their longtime wish granted: to see their mother’s rescuer, the woman they called their “other mother,” celebrated as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
Luba Saj-Cholhan is, at first sight, an unlikely hero. Scarcely 4 feet tall, she’s 91 years old and walks with a cane. But when she speaks, with warmth and simplicity, she towers over us all.
“I only wish,” she said at Monday’s ceremony in her honor at the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic, “that people could have enough love, courage, and good will in their hearts to continue helping each other.
“This world and this life are wonderful,” she added, “only some folks make it horrible. Think on this: Only love, goodness, honesty, and understanding make life worthwhile.”
The ceremony was closed to all but the invitees; there was no advance publicity and there was no media presence except for a few of us from this newspaper – no TV reporters pushing microphones at faces, no TV cameras scanning the scene.
That was in keeping with the honoree’s own personality – her humility, her lack of grandstanding. And it was fine – it was a lovely, intimate gathering, as sweet as the flowers that children in the audience ran to give her.
We hope that now we have “broken the story” and introduced Mrs. Saj-Cholhan to the world, that the world will pay attention and honor not just one woman but, as she said, “other people who saved Jewish lives but remain unknown.”