Parliament hears the Wallach story

August 17, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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MLC Walt Secord delivered a speech in the NSW State Parliament this week outlining to members the story of a Polish woman’s bravery in saving the life of a Jewish woman…the mother of a Sydney barrister.

Secord’s address:

Members of this Chamber are well aware of my personal interest in the Shoah. This is often a topic so immense in its scale and ugliness that we struggle to take it in.

So today I would like to make the Parliament aware of one Australian’s story. And it is an inspiring one. That man is a Sydney barrister, Mr Irving Wallach.

Irving Wallach at the former headstone

With his sister, Dr Sabina Wallach, he has taken great personal efforts to honour the memory of the woman who hid their late mother during World War II.

In 1939 the Nazis and local collaborators rounded up the local Jewish community of Brzostek in Poland. Their mother, Rivka, managed to jump out of a moving truck and escape.

While most of the Brzotek Jewish community, including their grandfather Hersh Reiss, were murdered and dumped in a mass grave, Rivka hid in the woods for two winters with a friend, Genka. After Rivka broke a leg and could no longer hide in the woods, they returned to their home village where a neighbour hid them in a barn roof for two years. That woman’s name was Maria Jaloweic.

Years later Mr Wallach remembered—as a child in Sydney—how his mother would send a mysterious parcel to Poland each year. He has realised that the parcels were for Maria and her family.

In September 2011 he was in Brzostek researching his late father’s family, who was from the same region. While in Brzostek, Mr Wallach came across his mother’s birth details and this eventually led him to go to her home village. In conversation with the oldest person in the village, he was told:

A few Jews hid, but only one, Rivka, survived.

Walt Secord visits Auschwitz

That Rivka was his mother. Eventually, he learnt the name of his mother’s protector and met her grandson, Tadeusz. Tadeusz recalled how his grandmother instructed him to take food into the barn and leave it on the floor, while never looking up. It goes without saying that Maria hid Rivka at great personal risk. At one point, German soldiers even stayed in the farmhouse, just metres away from the barn.

Accordingly, Mr Wallach wanted permanently to remember this woman, her family, and their great courage in the face of brutality. He returned to Poland this year where, on 17 June, they re-dedicated the restored grave and tombstone of Maria, who died in 1979.

The re-dedication was attended by the mayor of Brzostek, the local parish priest, the Australian Ambassador to Poland, and the Chief Rabbi of Poland as well as more than 120 locals.

The ceremony was part of the Brzostek Jewish Heritage Project created by Professor Jonathan Webber and Connie Webber. Other Wallach family members travelled from Israel, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands to witness the event. Inscribed on the restored tombstone was a Talmudic proverb which read:

Whoever saves one life, it as if they saved the whole world.

Mr Wallach said: “Maria’s courage and her decision to save my mother’s life came at the risk of possibly sacrificing her family’s and her own life. Such people deserve to have their names and deeds shouted from the rooftops.

Mr Wallach hopes one day to have Maria included and officially recognised as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

At the ceremony, on her tombstone were gum leaves representing Australia and, in turn, the life that Maria made possible for them. The grave was also decorated in red and white—the colours of the Polish flag. It is a life worth celebrating.

I have known Mr Wallach since the late 1980s. To use a Yiddish word, he is a mensch, which in a loose translation into English means a person of integrity and honour.

He has been active in many humanitarian causes, including reconciliation, the Aboriginal Legal Service and promoting the two-State solution for Israel and the Palestinians as well as encouraging local dialogue between Sydney Jews and Palestinians.

He lives in the Eastern Suburbs and continues to be active in progressive causes. His wife, Ms Ronni Kahn, is also an activist in her own right. Ms Kahn is the founder of OzHarvest—a national not-for-profit service that collects and delivers 320,000 meals a month in Sydney alone.

This illustrates how the act of bravery by Maria Jalowiec was like “ripples in a pond” creating generous and positive lives over many generations. That is worth commemorating.

Finally, the Wallach family have requested that I publicly thank the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr. Within minutes of my request to him, Mr Carr arranged for the Australian Ambassador, Ms Jean Dunn, to be present at the commemoration.

The Wallach family deeply appreciates his assistance and wants it noted by this House.

 

Comments

One Response to “Parliament hears the Wallach story”
  1. Yael says:

    May the memory of Maria Jaloweic be a blessing.

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