Originally Posted Online: Oct. 03, 2013, 5:16 pm
Last Updated: Oct. 03, 2013, 5:40 pm

'Righteous Gentiles' earn monumental smile at St. Ambrose

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By Leon Lagerstam, llagerstam@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti / pcolletti@qconline.com
Maxine Russman lays her hand on the newly unveiled Holocaust monument at St. Ambrose University in Davenport on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. The inscribed stone will serve as a monument to the 24,000 non-Jews who risked their lives to save persecuted Jews during the Holocaust. The monument is a gift from the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities and is on permanent display outside Christ the King Chapel.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti/pcolletti@qconline.com
Actress Judy Winnick portrays Irena Sendler, the "Angel of the Warsaw Ghetto," during the Holocaust Monument dedication ceremony at St. Ambrose University on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. The monument is dedicated to the non-Jews who helped save persecuted Jews during the Holocaust; Sendler was responsible for saving 2,500 Jewish children in Warsaw.

DAVENPORT -- It appeared as if God stopped crying for Holocaust victims long enough Thursday to smile upon thousands of "Righteous Gentiles" who prevented the deaths of even more Jews.

A ray of sun peeked out of cloudy skies as people gathered in front of the Christ the King Chapel at St. Ambrose University to dedicate a monument to honor 24,000 non-Jews, known as "Righteous Gentiles."

The 1,500-pound Santa Fe Red Stone was presented by the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities. It bore a Star of David and a Christian cross, and read: "in honor of Father Pierre Marie-Benoit, Irena Sendler and the more than 24,000 non-Jews who saved persecuted Jews during the Holocaust.

Whoever saves a single life saves an entire universe.' Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5," also was etched into the stone monument.

Rev. Marie-Benoit and Ms. Sendler were specifically recognized on the monument because of their and St. Ambrose University's shared Catholic affiliations, Jewish Federation executive director Allan Ross said.

They and other "Righteous Gentiles" needed to match three main requirements, Mr. Ross told the gathering. They could only be nominated by a Jewish person, their assistance to Jews had to be repeated and substantial, and had to be done without financial gain, he said.

Ms. Sendler, known as "The Angel of the Warsaw Ghetto," died in 2008. She was 98. She was a Polish Catholic social worker who saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw, Poland, ghetto.

Judy Winnick, a Colorado Distinguished Teacher award winner, portrayed Ms. Sendler during the dedication. Ms. Winnick has been in town since Tuesday, portraying the Polish heroine and speaking to about 1,500 people at the Tri-City Jewish Center, Rock Island Public Library, St. Ambrose and local schools.

During her portrayal at the monument dedication, Ms. Winnick said it was fitting to be at St. Ambrose, with its motto of "faith, learning and justice."

She also cited the same Talmud passage that was etched into the stone about how saving one life was like saving the universe, preceded by a prayer given in Hebrew and English by Rabbi Tamar Grimm, of the Congregation Beth Israel at the Tri-City Jewish Center, before Ms. Winnick and Ambrose vice president of academic and student affairs Dr. Paul Koch unveiled the monument.

Dr. Koch said he could think of no better role model than Irena Sandler, to epitomize Righteous Gentiles.

He also cited what U. S. President Lyndon Johnson once said about how the Rev. Marie-Benoit's actions inspired Americans to fight to protect and preserve their rights as citizens.

Rabbi Henry Karp, of Davenport's Temple Emanuel, called the deeds of Rev. Marie-Benoit, Ms. Sendler and other Righteous Gentiles "models of God-loving behavior," while the Rev. Chuck Adams, St. Ambrose campus ministry director and chaplain, said courage shown by them, as memorialized by the monument, should inspire and remind Ambrose students to be courageous, too.