Eva Kuper and Sr. Klara Jaroszynska were re-united in 2005 after almost 60 years. Photo courtesy Eva Kuper

Child of the Holocaust found safety in nun’s arms

By  Eric Durocher, Catholic Register Special
  • May 9, 2017

MONTREAL – Eva Kuper believes in the power of love. It’s the reason the 77-year-old Holocaust survivor attended a Eucharistic celebration to mark the annual Christian Commemoration of the Shaoh.

More than 400 packed Holy Family Parish on April 30 for the 38th remembrance of the Holocaust in the city that is home to Canada’s oldest Jewish community.

The 90-minute celebration was organized by the Christian-Jewish Dialogue of Montreal and came at the conclusion of Holocaust Remembrance Week. It included the lighting of seven memorial candles and the recital of the traditional Jewish prayer for the departed. Following the homily, which emphasized inviting the loving God into our lives, Kuper told her remarkable and poignant story.

Born in Warsaw in 1940, just months after the German invasion, Kuper narrowly escaped death several times during her first five years of life, all due to the selfless courage of her Jewish parents, a cousin, a kindly woman and a Franciscan nun. It was through the latter, Sr. Klara Jaroszynska, that Kuper was protected for three years from the raging inhumanity that saw 12 million people murdered in concentration camps, among them six million Jews.

Kuper is among the few European Jewish children who escaped the genocidal policy of Hitler’s Germany. Only an estimated six to 11 per cent survived, mainly because they were hidden.

For most of her adult life, Kuper did not want to know too many details of her tragic childhood, nor did her father talk much about it. It was her daughter, Felisa, who later on urged her to look into her traumatic past.

In 2005 Kuper steeled herself to travel back to the country of her birth, where her mother, Fela, perished in 1942, having been summarily included in one of the regular round-ups that occurred in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Clutching two-year-old Eva, Fela was herded into a cattle car bound for the extermination camp at Treblinka. Her cousin Regina dashed to the queue, shouting that Eva was, in fact, her child and that Fela had been minding her, Kuper told the assembly.

“For some unfathomable reason, my mother was permitted to pass me hand-to-hand until I was literally thrown off that cattle car into Regina’s arms,’’ Kuper recalled.

“Only as a mature adult did I truly understand the choices made by Regina and by my mother … to pass a beloved child off forever in order to take the infinitesimal chance that she could be saved from certain death, a choice unnatural to a mother, whose every instinct cries out to hold her child close.’’

Soon after, Kuper and her father escaped from the ghetto. He assumed a Catholic identity and entrusted his daughter to a kindly Catholic woman, Hanka. However, within months the woman’s health deteriorated due to tuberculosis.

“Desperately looking for a place for me, she came upon a group of nuns, one of whom she knew,” Kuper learned decades later. “She pleaded with the nun to take ‘her little girl,’ since these nuns were already looking after a number of blind children.” The nun reluctantly agreed and Kuper remained at the convent for three years, until the end of the war when she was reunited with her father.

The family lived as Catholics in Soviet-occupied Poland, emigrating in December 1948. It was only when they were safe at sea that the eight-year-old learned she was not Catholic, but Jewish. After a short stay in Toronto, the family settled in Montreal in 1950.

“I was appalled. I was a Catholic child who prayed, had made her First Communion … it could not be true,” she recalled. “It took me many years to become comfortable with my Jewish identity. ”

During her 2005 trip to Poland, she met with American genealogist Yale Reisner, based at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. After learning her story, he researched convents instrumental in saving Jewish children and found a passage that said: “a nun, Sr. Klara Jaroszynska, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross, whose mission was to educate and care for blind children, had saved the life of a Jewish little girl.”

“I was speechless,” Kuper exclaimed, “certain that this little girl was me!”

She then learned that Sr. Klara, now 94 years old and blind, was not only very much alive but her memory and sense of humour were very much intact.

Arriving at the convent in Laski, Sr. Klara emerged, supported by two younger nuns. She immediately spread her arms wide and Kuper said she “flew into them.”

“Because I was so young during the war, I had no memory of her, not her face, her voice, nothing. Yet, when I was in her arms, and we were holding each other and crying, I felt like I had come home … a strong connection.

“She told me that she had fallen in love with me … a tiny child with bright dark eyes and an engaging manner. When she met Hanka Rembowska who begged her to take me, I apparently ran to her, put my arms around her legs and looking up at her face said: ‘please pick me up.’

“She said that God had brought me to her, and she had no choice but to risk her life and the lives of all who were with her during the war, by taking me.”

It was, the elderly nun said, “the right, the moral thing to do.”

Sr. Klara died in 2010, but during the last five years of her life, their relationship grew.

“My reunion with her changed my life. It made me aware of the most precious gifts she had given me … not only the gift of life but also the gift of love. She made it possible for me to be the person I am today.”

Comments (1)

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WOW! An amazing right now story of the beautiful charity of a catholic nun. Too many of the things we hear are negative. They get published far more often than the millions of stories of all the works of mercy that happen every day in our Holy...

WOW! An amazing right now story of the beautiful charity of a catholic nun. Too many of the things we hear are negative. They get published far more often than the millions of stories of all the works of mercy that happen every day in our Holy Church. Wonderful!

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Lynda Gulley-McInnis
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