Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

Agony to Ecstasy: From the Warsaw Ghetto to Celebrating a Bat Mitzvah in Israel.

Dr Stephen Felton (Feldsztejn) recalling his experiences as a Holocaust survivor  from the Warsaw Ghetto saved by Righteous Gentiles to his children and grandchildren at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Photo (c) Tuvia Book, 2023)
Dr Stephen Felton (Feldsztejn) recalling his experiences as a Holocaust survivor from the Warsaw Ghetto saved by Righteous Gentiles to his children and grandchildren at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Photo (c) Tuvia Book, 2023)

Last week I was honoured and moved to be guiding three generations of the Brand family in Israel for a Bat Mitzvah trip.  What made this even more special and memorable was that the Bat Mitzvah celebrant’s grandfather had himself been saved as a child from the Warsaw Ghetto by Righteous Gentiles.  As a result of this heroic selfless action his extended family were able to celebrate this momentous life cycle event in Israel.

The grandfather,  Dr. Stephen Felton (born Stefan Feldsztejn), was with our entire group the day before the Bat Mitzvah celebration as we visited Yad Vashem to pay homage to the remarkable extended Polish Catholic family that saved him and his mother and hid them by moving them from place to place in Nazi-Occupied Poland for two years.  After much searching we found the inscription honouring the Matacz family and took a photograph with all thirteen family members in front of the plaque.

Dr Stephen Felton (Feldsztejn) standing with his family at Yad Vashem in front of the plaque honoring the Maztacz family who saved him and his mother during. the Holocaust. Photo (c) Tuvia. Book. 2023

There were so many reasons for non-Jews not to help Jews during that terrible period of the Holocaust.  These reasons included:

  1. Fear of being targeted yourself for sheltering Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators.
  2. Antisemitism.  Having absorbed the propaganda from the Nazi Party or Church you believed the Jews were getting “what they deserved.”
  3. Human nature or apathy.  Not wanting to get involved with something that did not directly concern you.

Yet, regardless of the above, the country of Poland, despite having those who collaborated with the Nazi regime,  also  had more “Righteous among the Nations” than any other country in Nazi-occupied Europe, including the many members of the Matacz family.  According to the Yad Vashem  Righteous Among the Nations Database,

The entire Matacz family was involved in the survival of Ewa Feldsztejn and her son. They protected her, provided for her, and treated her as one of their own.

It warms the heart and restores faith in human nature when one hears about such acts of goodness and decency.  The Matacz family, despite very good reasons for not helping Jews, went out of their way and risked their lives to save not only Stephan and his mother, but other Jews, simply because they were good decent people and it was the right thing to do.  Pure altruism.  We are all made in God’s image and we all need to respect our common humanity and then, and only then, will the world be a better place.

Ewa Wasserman-Feldsztejn and her son Stefan/Stephen together with Halina Matacz, the daughter of Stefan Matacz who saved them. Photo (c) Yad Vashem, 2023

The ripple effect of the kindness of the Matacz family’s actions was that decades later three generations of Jews were privileged to celebrate a beautiful Bat-Mitzvah on top of Masada in the Jewish homeland.

We were also deeply moved after Dr Felton shared his mother’s memories of those difficult times with our group to see IDF soldiers visiting Yad Vashem.  They reminded us that like the mythical Phoenix arising from the ashes of Europe, our state arose and was reborn.  Nobody handed us our state, in the words of Chaim Weizmann, “on a silver platter.”  It rose because of the selfless courage of generations of selfless young boys and girls who were and still are prepared to step forward and “walk the walk.”

For just as in the previous century the young chalutzim (pioneers) recreated our old-new Jewish homeland by planting one tree at a time, revived our language one word at a time, and restored our sense of self-worth one defender at a time, so today we are blessed with a generation of young men and women who are keeping the dream alive to be a “free people in our land” and ensure that “never again” indeed means never again!

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order:
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