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The childhood in Poland
Moshe Bejski was born in the village of Działoszyce, near Kraków, Poland, on December 29, 1920. When he was young he joined a Zionist movement that organized the move of young Polish Jews to Palestine to build a new nation in the promised land. Shortly before the German invasion of 1939, he had to temporarily give up his Zionist dream because of a serious heart disease which prevented him from leaving with his fellow youths.
In 1942, all Jews were deported. The Bejski family was dislocated. Moshe's parents and sister were shot soon after they were separated. Moshe, along with his brothers Uri and Dov, ended up in the work camp of Plaszow. The Commander there, Amon Goeth, was a complete sadist. He enjoyed using the prisoners for target practice from the window of his bedroom, as is depicted in Spielberg's movie Schindler's List.
Moshe succeeded in dodging the guards during a shift outside and ran from the camp to vainly seek refuge from his Polish neighbors whose children had just been his schoolmates and playmates. Only a delivery boy, a peer of his from a Cracow firm, offered him hospitality; albeit, in very uneasy and dangerous conditions. The malevolence of the neighbors ended up pushing him out.
The meeting with Schindler
Moshe felt an obligation to go back to the Plaszow camp, where he found Uri and Dov again. He eventfully got to be placed on the famous list for Oskar Schindler's factory. That is how the three Bejski brothers managed to be saved and were freed by the Red Army in May 1945. When the brothers discovered the tragic fate of their parents and sister they decided to emigrate to Israel.
The new life in Palestine
Moshe was able to begin a new life in the place of his dreams that he hadn't been able to reach when he was a boy, but his Zionist dream soon clashed with the hard reality. His brother Uri was killed by a Palestinian sniper on the day the Jewish State was recognized by the UN. Moshe's dream to become an engineer clashed with the necessity to work to pay for his education. After making many sacrifices he was able to graduate with a degree in Law with a thesis on human rights in the Bible. He became one of the most reputable lawyers in Tel Aviv. To support the newly born Israeli State, Moshe chose to become a magistrate and eventually became the most prestigious member of the Constitutional Court.
The Eichmann trial
Moshe Bejski left his past in German-occupied Poland behind him. For years no one knew of his tragic history; he was thought of as a Zionist who came to Palestine before the Nazi persecution or even someone who was born there. He only willingly revealed his story and origins in 1961, during the trial against Adolf Eichmann. He was called on by Prosecutor Gideon Hausner to testify about the Plaszow camp. Bejski delivered an upsetting account of the circumstances at the camp and he conveyed the tragic despair and helplessness of the prisoners to the court. For the first time in Israel, the deep unease of the European refugees who survived to the Shoah was revealed. There were those who were unable to integrate themselves and be accepted by a populace who despised them and accused them of cowardice and lack of rebellion against the Nazis. A huge debate opened around the world, also stirred by the polemic contribution of Hannah Arendt, a German philosopher of Jewish descent who escaped to America in the 1930s. The hardships connected to the history of the Jews in Twentieth century Europe was divulged.
The Righteous Commission
The Yad Vashem Memorial was established in Jerusalem for eternal remembrance and acknowledgment of the Shoah victims. In 1953 the State of Israel committed itself to bestowing an honor to the non-Jews who had saved Jewish lives; they were awarded with the highest title, that of Righteous among the Nations.
The Righteous Commission was established and given the task of running investigations to discover the acts of rescue and to find who the title must be awarded to. The most well-known judge in Israel at the time, Mr. Moshe Landau; who had presided over the Eichmann trial and issued the death verdict; was appointed president. Landau soon left the position and proposed that the nomination be given to Bejski. Bejski replaced him in 1970 and kept the presidency until 1995, when he retired. In that time nearly eighteen thousand Righteous had been honored and had been able to plant a tree in the avenue dedicated to remembering them and their gestures at Yad Vashem.
Bejski as the President of the Righteous Commission
Moshe Bejski's role in the activity of the Righteous Commission was crucial. At the risk of clashing with Landau's views, he wanted to award not only the small number of significant cases, but also all who expressed the intention to rescue a persecuted Jew, those who hadn't succeeded in saving them, and those who had rescued without risking their lives. As the new President of the Commission he decided that it wasn't necessary to have behaved like a hero to obtain the honor. The great number of cases reported to Yad Vashem proves that there had been a real involvement of many people, common people, in the attempt to wrench the Jews from extermination. Making the stories of the righteous known meant debunking the myth that opposition against Nazism was an impossible deed and that there wasn't any possibility of helping the persecuted without running extreme risks. Many times a little intervention was all that was needed to prevent a big tragedy. This is why it is important to value and publicly feature every gesture that was made in favor of the Jews in Nazi occupied Europe. To obtain results Bejski dedicated everything he had to the cause. He dedicated the best years of his life to it. He gave up much of his private life and remained late at work to run the meetings of the Commission after the intense days at the Constitutional Court. His commitment spread enthusiasm to the other members and raised competence. He created subdivisions that were able to deal with more cases and investigate every last useful element for a correct and authentic evaluation.
The dilemmas he found himself confronted with were enormous. How do you judge he who has saved a Jew, but killed another man after the war? What about the woman who hid the persecuted while she prostituted herself for the Nazi officials? Or those who saved dozens of Jews in Poland but remained steadfast in their anti-Semitic opinions? What about those who helped but only for a price? There was also the idea of individual moral debt of the survivor that stemmed from thankfulness to their saviors. This moral debt led Bejski to become personally involved with his rescuer, Oskar Schindler. After finding him again at the beginning of the 1960s and wrenching him out of bankruptcy and imprisonment in Germany, he invited him to Israel where he valiantly committed to honoring Schindler's actions. Because of Bejski's commitment to him, Spielberg was able to create him film, which made him famous across the world. Bejski committed to helping other Righteous people besides Schindler. He fought hard to obtain the Israeli state's commitment to help those who lived precariously in the Eastern European Countries or those who needed medical assistance.
Moshe Bejski leaves us a precious heritage. His quest for the Righteous taught us that it is possible to act against evil with a simple good action and without becoming a martyr if one has the moral push to do so. He taught us that there are no barriers; neither ethnical, nor religious, nor ideological when one puts the human being at the center of one's world of values. He proved that the best way to safeguard the example of the Righteous is to feel personally responsible for them, just like they felt responsible for those persecuted human beings.
Benefiting from Moshe Bejski's heritage means keeping to his path and honoring the Righteous all over the world every time genocides or other crimes against the humankind are perpetrated.
- Gabriele Nissim, "Il Tribunale del Bene", Milan, Mondadori, 2003. ISBN 88-04-48966-9 (This, with its translations into a number of languages, is the only existing book about Moshe Bejski.)