WIZO remembers the 42,000 dedicated chaverot from fourteen of her most vibrant federations that flourished in Eastern Europe before the evil massacres of the Shoah. Every one of those women gave of themselves for the advancement of their sisters in Eretz Israel – the land of milk and honey; a place so far away that they could only escape to in their dreams.
Every one of those WIZO chaverot had a family, a story and a vision. Each one possessed that WIZO spirit that collectively underpinned the foundations of the WIZO movement we know and love, and aspire to strengthen.
Today, on Yom Hashoah we remember these women who never strayed far from their mission even in the most horrific of circumstances.
One such woman was Hannah Steiner. Here is her story. Like so many others, there was no happy conclusion. May her dear soul rest in peace.
In 1939, even before the outbreak of war, Czechoslovakia became the first country to fall into Nazi hands. The WIZO Czechoslovakia Federation, one of the largest in Europe, were forced to disband. The WIZO women continued to work undercover for the rescue and care of the thousands of Jewish refugees from Germany, Poland and Austria who had fled across the borders. Until the deportations from Czechoslovakia began, our brave WIZO chaverot helped many Jews escape to freedom.
One of the heroines of that country was Hannah Steiner, a fragile woman of remarkable spiritual power. She was the founder and first president of WIZO in Czechoslovakia. She sent her son and daughter to (then) British-Mandate Palestine, but she did not seek escape herself. Despite the urges of her friends to emigrate with her husband while there was still time, she told them that she could not bring herself to use an immigration certificate that would save the life of another. She continued tirelessly with her rescue activities until her arrest by the Gestapo.
When she was released she resumed her work for refugees until she and her husband were sent to Theresienstadt, where up to 70,000 people were incarcerated in barracks built for 3,000. Even in captivity, she organized lectures on Jewish studies. There was no lack of lecturers as Theresienstadt was filled with Jewish scholars and rabbis. It did not trouble her that all her effort might be in vain. Her faith was as boundless as her energies. It did not forsake her even when she and her husband were finally deported to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
For Hannah, for all of them, we must not, we cannot, ever forget.