“Give her the fruits of her hands; and let her be praised in the gates by her very own deeds.” (Proverbs 31:31)
In a previous letter, we began to discuss how
our prayers are to awaken within us the
potential to care for others and to empathize
with their suffering. In this letter, I will
share with you some information about the loving
life of Sarah Lederman, a religious Jewish woman
who “lived” her prayers. She passed away last
week at the age of 105. May her memory be a
source of blessing and inspiration for all of
During the late 1930’s, Sarah Lederman lived with her husband and her two young children, Dov and Leah, in Warsaw, Poland. Although the majority of Polish Jews were very poor, the Ledermans were considered to be middle-class. At the beginning of World War II, when the German army invaded Poland, they began rounding up the Jews. These events caused Sarah to become separated from her husband, but she somehow managed to escape Warsaw with her two young children and cross the border into the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union put her and her children, along with other Jewish refugees, in a slave labor camp, and even the children were forced to do hard work all day. When the war was over, she and her children returned to Poland, and she discovered that her husband was in Israel.
In gratitude to the Creator for their survival, she decided to devote herself to Jewish orphans who had eluded the German extermination by living as non-Jews in Catholic orphanages or as part of Catholic families. When the war ended, most of these children’s custodians balked at returning them to surviving family members or to Jewish institutions. One can imagine the great grief of the surviving relatives and other concerned Jews when the Catholic foster parents or orphanages refused to allow these children to return to their people. The Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, Rabbi Isaac Herzog, met with the Pope in an effort to get his help in getting these children released, but the Pope refused to get involved.
Sarah Lederman threw herself into the work of
rescuing these children and returning them to
their people. Until she was able to smuggle them
out of Poland, she took care of the children in
an orphanage, and with love, gentle patience,
and tenderness, she helped them to rediscover
their Jewish faith and traditions. She and a
group of the children, including her own two
children, were in a transport that hoped to
reach the Land of Israel. At the border of
Czechoslovakia, however, she was arrested by the
Polish authorities and imprisoned, but the
children, including her own two children,
managed to safely cross the border.
The story of her family’s miraculous escape from Warsaw and how she and her two children managed to survive in Russia, as well as the amazing stories of how she managed to return hundreds of Jewish orphans to their people, is told in the book, “These Children are Mine,” which is written by her son, Dov Lederman (Feldheim). With remarkable dedication to historical accuracy, the background of this book provides a well-researched and authoritative account of Jewish middle-class life in Poland at the outbreak of World War II, the little-known story of Jewish refugees in Russia, and the difficult and dangerous life of Jewish refugees in post-war Poland. Even after the war, the Jewish survivors who returned to Poland experienced anti-Semitism, including pogroms.
Where did Sarah Lederman get the faith and courage to enable her to defy and outwit the oppressors of her people? The beginning of an answer can be found in the story of Sarah Lederman’s own family background. Her father was a Chassid, a follower of the Rebbe of Radzin. He was highly regarded by the Rebbe, who would spend hours discussing matters of importance with him whenever the Rebbe visited Warsaw. Her father’s Torah values had an enormous impact on Sarah, especially his honesty in business, and his concern for the poor and the downtrodden. For example, her father manufactured cloth ribbons; however, the demands for his merchandise were not too steady, and there were times when there were no orders at all. During such slow periods, his shop, like others in the trade, remained idle. It was then common practice for factories and firms to employ workers only so long as the demand lasted and then to fire them when the last order had been filled. In those times, when unemployment compensation was non-existent, this was tantamount to reducing the workers to begging for their bread, if they did not want to die of starvation. Her father would have none of this. Any worker that he hired was told that the wages in this workshop were slightly below the standard wage for the trade, but once accepted, the employee would be assured of a salary for the entire year, irrespective of the number of days he would actually work.
After she got married and had two children, Sarah Lederman hired as a governess for her children a young Jewish woman named Rachelka, who was a member of the outlawed Communist party. Rachelka’s boyfriend was also a Communist, and he was put in his prison because of his illegal political activities. Sarah helped her governess send her boyfriend food and books when he was in prison. Sarah’s son, Dov Lederman, writes the following about his mother’s relationship with Rachelka:
”Rachelka would often tell Mother that judging from the way she treated those in her employ, she would have made a good Communist. For her part, Mother was also quite unhappy about the prevalent treatment of the working class, who toiled long hours for low pay, at times under unhealthy and even dangerous conditions. She even sympathized with the fiery proclamations about the need for change, but being deeply religious, she rejected Communism, with its materialistic-atheistic notions of Utopia.” (These Children are Mine)
Rachelka later married her boyfriend who became a high-ranking official in the Polish government after the Communists took over Poland. It was Rachelka who persuaded her husband to help Sarah Lederman leave Poland and settle in Israel, where she was able to rejoin her two children, along with many of the children that she had rescued from Catholic homes and orphanages.
Dov Lederman writes that his mother tried her best to keep tabs on the children she had shepherded through the difficult transition from wartime to normal life – as normal as their lives could ever be. They would often stop by the bakery where she worked for a chat. These visits afforded both parties great happiness and satisfaction. And he adds: “To them, Mother was family, and over the ensuing decades she was the honored participant at many happy occasions celebrated by her former charges” (Ibid).
The following message of the Prophet Isaiah
therefore has a special and personal meaning for
Sarah Lederman’s beloved “children” who were
able to return to their roots:
“Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who
gave birth to you.” (Isaiah 51:2).
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. I recently heard from Rebbitzen Leah Feldman, Sarah Lederman’s daughter, the following story: An older girl that her mother had rescued arrived in Israel, but she became depressed and would not eat. The authorities wanted to send her to a psychologist, but her mother had a different strategy. She understood the sense of loss and loneliness that was causing the girl pain. She therefore took the girl into her home and gave her tender loving care – making sure to give her many hugs and kisses before the girl went to sleep. She began feeding the girl and managed to persuade her to begin eating again. She later helped the girl to get married, and today the girl she rescued is a proud grandmother of children who are living a Torah life in the Land of Israel.
2. A day after Sarah Lederman passed away in the hospital in Bnei Brak, her great, great-grandson was born in the same hospital.
Sarah and her two children managed to escape the
Holocaust and to also survive the slave labor
camps in Russia. Today, Sarah’s many
grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great,
great-grandchildren are living a Torah life in
the Land of Israel. Rebbetzen Feldman mentioned
that her mother’s many descendants can no longer
fit into a single room; thus, when there is a
family reunion, they need a hall.
3. “These Children are Mine” by Dov Lederman is
published by Feldheim: