Anna Stupnicka-Bando, 87, remembers 1941 like it was yesterday. As a young girl in Poland, she and her mother Janina would smuggle food and books to Jews confined to the Warsaw Ghetto by the German invaders.
On one of their runs sneaking in bread and marmalade, they met a Jewish man named Mr. Alter who begged them to rescue his daughter Liliana and hide her from the Nazis.
Stupnicka-Bando, a devout Christian, told TheBlaze via email about her dramatic childhood in Poland during World War II.
She and her mother agreed to smuggle Alter’s 11-year-old daughter out of the ghetto. They dressed the child in Anna’s Catholic school uniform, a navy blue coat and a beret decorated with the edelweiss symbol, enabling Liliana to pass as a Christian. Anna herself was 12-years-old at the time.
Stupnicka-Bando told TheBlaze via a translator that she never forgot how Liliana’s father cried as he said his final goodbye to his only daughter as she left the confines of the ghetto.
For four years, the family pretended that Liliana and Anna were cousins, living together in the two-room apartment. The family secured fake identification papers for Liliana using the Christian mother’s maiden name.
Stupnicka-Bando recalled that she, her family, and their guest lived in a constant state of fear that their ruse would be discovered, including dismissing nosy questions from neighbors with lies.
“We felt great fear and danger saving those people. We knew of others killed for saving Jews, but we also knew it was the right thing to do,” she said. “We had to stand and do what was right. If we didn't, they would have been killed. My only regret is that I could not do more."
Thanks to Stupnicka-Bando’s family, Liliana survived the war.
According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Stupnicka-Bando and her mother saved four Jews including Liliana “Likle” Alter. They offered shelter to a Jewish man, Ryszard Grynberg, and secured an ID card for Mikolaj Borenstein, allowing him to work.
Stupnicka-Bando, a retired neurologist, today serves as president of the Association of Polish Righteous Among the Nations whose office in Warsaw is threatened with closure due to the inability of its aging members who once put their lives at risk to pay the rent.
"All we want in our life is to share our stories. It’s very difficult to do it without support,” Stupnicka-Bando said. “Each month we are not sure if we will keep our small office. If we will lose it, all activities will be wasted.”
After meeting several Poles who have been awarded the “Righteous Among the Nations” distinction for saving Jews during the Holocaust, Jonny Daniels, founder of the educational organization From the Depths, decided he wanted to help those who once saved the helpless.
Poland’s Righteous Among the Nations organization board member Alicja Schnepf-Szczepaniak, left, From the Depths’ founder Jonny Daniels and Anna Stupnicka-Bando, right, president of Poland’s Righteous Among the Nations organization. (From the Depths)
Daniels told TheBlaze that his group is organizing an effort to “honor the righteous while we still can, doing what’s right by them and giving them what they deserve.”
The non-profit organization’s key aim is to collect plundered Jewish gravestones in the country that once had the largest Jewish community in Europe and returning them to the cemeteries.
Now, however, Daniels feels he’s racing against time to honor the living Christians who saved Jews who would otherwise have been moved to concentration camps. He aims to help the elderly Polish heroes pay the rent for their office space, subsidize meals for the needy among them and, when too late, place flowers on their graves “just to honor decent goodness.”
“There are two bedridden members; one is 102 and the other 98, and a younger member, a 93-year-old, who drives to bring them food,” Daniels said. “I pledged to help the Righteous Among the Nations as much as I can, to buy them flowers on their birthdays and rent a new office and meeting place for them in Warsaw.”
The current tiny office space is not wheelchair accessible, forcing members to meet in the foyer when wheelchair-bound members come to meetings.
Once, after Daniels started spending time with the group, he gave one of the members flowers for her birthday.
“She was so touched and I was so shocked that nobody had sent her flowers. On the spot, I took upon myself to send each one of them flowers on their birthday every year,” Daniels said. “The youngest is 83, and the majority don’t have their spouses. They’re completely alone.”
He’s also planning a dance party for them “with 1920s music to give them a good time, because they deserve it.”
Why is he so motivated to bring joy to their lives? Daniels said that years ago, they “stood up and did the right thing” even in the face of extraordinary obstacles and the threat of being killed.
"When we see everything that is going on in the world, it is scary times, and it reminds us of how it was many years ago,” Stupnicka-Bando said. Therefore, “it warms our heart to see young men like Jonny so involved and interested in our stories and to help us."