One at a Time

At the door to Toebbens factory, Henia Koppel squeezed and kissed her six-month-old daughter as if for the last time. She had already done it once but ran back to do it again.

As the high warning of the work-whistle sounded, the green-eyed blonde kissed the child on the forehead, handed her off to a friend and staggered inside to her sewing station. It took all the strength and hope in her soul not to crumble to the ground. As she sat down at her post, her hands shook violently. The only way she could calm them was by pulling out the little book that was tucked in her breast pocket, beneath the big yellow star she was now forced to wear.

If she ever escaped from this madness, she would use that little book, a checkbook for a bank account in Switzerland, to start a new life for the two of them. Henia would find no new life though, executed on November 3, 1943, with 15,000 others in the Poniatowa labor camp.

Back outside, Henia’s friend wandered the filthy, crowded streets, eventually stopping in a construction site. There, she produced a little vial from her pocket and poured its contents down the throat of the babbling infant. Within a few minutes, the babe was sound asleep.

At her feet was a wooden tool box. She placed the child inside and headed back out into the streets, waving to a deliveryman on his way in.

The man casually picked up the box, placed it amidst a load of bricks on the back of his truck and drove unsuspected through the checkpoint.

Thanks to Irena Sendler and the Żegota, nearly 3,000 Jewish children like Elżbieta Ficowska would escape the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland, one at a time.

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