While "the story of rescue in the Holocaust has been largely ignored and even marginalized" according to a statement from the Institute for the Study of Rescue and Altruism in the Holocaust (ISRAH) Demarest resident Debbie Teicholz-Guedalia is no stranger to stories about heroes.
Her father, Bruce Teicholz, was one of them.
"He told me about his work," she said, "and his story was depicted in a television miniseries as well as in books such as ‘Lost Hero: The Mystery of Raoul Wallenberg,’ by Rabbi Frederick E. Werbell and Thurston Clarke."
Debbie Teicholz- Guedalia, third from left, holds the medal accepted on behalf of her father, Bruce Teicholz. Louise von Dardel, Raoul Wallenberg’s niece, holds the Wallenberg memorial stamp. Yasmine and Shira Guedalia, left, accompanied their mother to the event.
On Sunday, Teicholz-Guedalia accepted a medal on her late father’s behalf at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum during an ISRAH-sponsored ceremony launching the exhibit "Visas for Life: The Righteous and Honorable Diplomats."
Through photos, historical documents, narratives, and other memorabilia, the exhibit, which will be on view through Sept. 1, chronicles the actions of diplomats and consular officials from ‘7 countries who helped Jews escape Nazi persecution between 1933 and 1945.
"My father was the only Jew" among those honored Sunday, said Teicholz-Guedalia. "But Jews helped each other. They didn’t go blindly" to their fate.
In his ‘0s, Teicholz left Lvov, Poland, to warn the Jews in Hungary about Nazi atrocities. According to "The Lost Hero," he "formed a Jewish underground group in Budapest that smuggled Jews into Romania, built secret bunkers in which Jews could survive a final fascist pogrom, and stole and forged identity documents to protect Jews who carried them."
In 1944 having organized a successful underground unit to produce counterfeit passes and false passports Teicholz was sought out by Swedish Raoul Wallenberg, who was trying to save the lives of Hungarian Jews by issuing them protective passports from the his embassy.
"He heard that my father was producing false Swedish passports," said Teicholz-Guedalia. She said that Wallenberg, who disappeared in the Soviet Union and whose fate is unknown, feared that the Nazis would become suspicious of the large number of passports being issued and invalidate them, but that didn’t happen.
On Sunday, in a fitting historical gesture, Teicholz-Guedalia received her medal from Wallenberg’s niece, Louise von Dardel. "Wallenberg approved of the counterfeit passes," said Teicholz-Guedalia. "He realized that [he and my father] could save more people by working together."
Yad Vashem credits Wallenberg with saving 15,000 lives. Teicholz, who also helped save thousands of Jews, later moved to Canada and then, in 195′, to New York, where he lived until his death at 79.
While Wallenberg and other non-Jews have been featured in exhibits on rescue efforts, "there’s been no organized effort to recognize Jewish rescuers" something that ISRAH head Eric Saul is trying to change, said Teicholz-Guedalia, who was joined on Sunday by her two daughters, Yasmine and Shira, ages 15 and 1′.
"It was a very moving event," she said. "As day school students [my daughters] were already aware of the importance of the Holocaust, but this put a face on it. They met people saved by these diplomats."
For her part, she said, "it’s not only my own personal history" but it helps as an educational tool "to teach my children that you step up when you need to. If something is fundamentally wrong, you help."
Teicholz-Guedalia, a fine-arts photographers whose work involves "creating collages and photographs representing the emotional impact of the Holocaust and the transference of memory," said the ceremony was also an important way to reach out to people who don’t know about this aspect of history.
"It was particularly moving to hold the ceremony in the main immigration hall," she said. "You could feel the history [and] deeply relate to the essence of freedom. My eldest daughter really got something," she said, adding that while her children didn’t really know their grandfather, "this showed them the true impact of his efforts to save lives."