Heroine of the Day
It has been 62 years since deaf and mute Irena Walulewicz risked her life to save a Jewish neighbor from the Nazis, but her heroism was never forgotten.
"I've thought about her so much," Golda Bushkanietz said tearfully as she hugged her savior for the first time since 1945 at Kennedy Airport Friday.
"I'm 94. I never thought I would see her again. I cannot fully express how grateful I am."
Desperate and terrified, Bushkanietz staggered into the Walulewicz household in Swieciany, Poland, after escaping a ghetto whose population the Nazis were preparing to kill.
"I knocked on a window and they let me in," said Bushkanietz.
"I thought there was an angel in the house."
For six months, the Catholic Walulewicz and her mother, Zofia, hid and fed Bushkanietz in their attic.
"I still remember lying under Irena's bed, trying to keep quiet because the family had friends in their house," said Bushkanietz.
"They opened their home and their hearts to me, risking their own lives in order to save me. Their altruism and bravery is what has allowed me to live and build a wonderful family of my own."
"I knew it was dangerous. I knew I could be killed at any time," Walulewicz, 82, said through a translator yesterday.
"I'm so happy to see her again. I didn't know she was still alive."
The reunion was planned by The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.
After the war, Bushkanietz reunited with her husband, who had fled the ghetto with her and had been fighting with partisans.
The couple moved to Israel. They have two children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
"It's difficult for me to travel to the U.S. at my age, but to see Irena was a special treat," she said.
Walulewicz, who still lives in Poland, kissed Bushkanietz's son and grandson, who were with her yesterday.
"None of us, the whole of our family, could be here without Irena's heroic acts," said Jonathan More, 26, Bushkanietz's grandson.
"It's hard to put into words."