The Story of a 20th Century Heroine



In the previous letter, we discussed the deeper and loving meaning of the following verse: 


“But the midwives revered God, and they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them; moreover, they kept the boys alive.” (Exodus 1:17)


“They kept the boys alive” – They not only refused to kill the boys, they also nourished them. (Explanation of Rashi)


The spiritual cause of their courageous and loving devotion is expressed in the following words: “The midwives revered God.” The Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 1:15) praises the midwives for their spiritual idealism, and it applies the following quote to them: A woman who revers Hashem, she shall be praised (Proverbs 31:30).



 We also discussed the concept of yiras Hashem – the reverence for the Compassionate and Life-Giving One. As we learned, there is a reverence for Hashem that comes from love, and we cited the following definition of a person who has yiras Hashem. This definition is found in “Sefer Chassidim” (Section 12): 


“One who fears that one will not be whole in the love of the Creator, as it is said, Be whole with Hashem your God (Deuteronomy 13:18).


This definition helped us to understand the yiras Hashem of the Hebrew midwives. They not only refused to kill the boys; they also “kept the boys alive.” The midwives feared that they would not be whole in their loving service of Hashem if their defiance was limited to disobeying the order to kill the babies; thus, they also nurtured them.


In the spirit of the above teachings, I will share with you a story of a 20th century heroine, Sarah Lederman (Sarah bas Avigdor). Her yahrtzeit is the 18th of Teves. Most of the information is from the book, These Children are Mine, which was written by her son, Dov Lederman.

Dear Friends,

During the late 1930’s, Sarah Lederman, her husband, and her two young children were living in Warsaw, Poland.  They were a Torah-observant family. After Germany invaded Poland, the Germans began to gather the Jews and put them in ghettoes. This development caused Sarah to become separated from her husband, but she somehow managed to escape Warsaw with her two young children, Dov and Leah, 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. It was a very difficult and dangerous period, but she managed to keep her children alive – both physically and spiritually. When the war was over, she and her children returned to Poland, and she discovered that her husband was in the Land of Israel.
At this stage of her life, she could have attempted to leave Poland; however, her loving yiras Hashem inspired her to achieve a higher level of service. She decided to remain in Poland for a period and devote her energy to the 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 anguish 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.


Sarah Lederman threw herself into the work of rescuing these children through various means and returning them to their people. Until she was able to smuggle them out of Poland, she took care of the children in a Jewish orphanage, and with love, gentle patience, and tenderness, she helped them to rediscover their Jewish identity and heritage. 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.
Sarah Lederman was greatly inspired by her Chassidic father, 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. The following story can serve as an 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).


Sarah Lederman is therefore worthy of the following tribute:


“A woman who reveres Hashem, she shall be praised. Give her the fruits of her hands; and let her be praised in the gates by her very own deeds” (Proverbs 31:31).


Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Comments:


1. Sarah’s son, Dov Lederman, wrote a book about his mother’s life titled, “These Children are Mine” (Feldheim Publishers). It gives a detailed account of how she and her two children escaped Poland and how they managed to survive in Russia. The book also includes the amazing stories of how she managed to return hundreds of Jewish orphans to their people. With remarkable dedication to historical accuracy, this book provides a well-researched account about aspects of Jewish life in pre-war Poland, the suffering of Jewish refugees in Russia, and the difficult and dangerous life of Jews in post-war Poland. For information about the book, visit: 


2. Rebbitzen Leah Feldman, the wife of my rebbe, Rav Aharon Feldman, is the daughter of Sarah Lederman. I heard from Rebbitzen Feldman 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.


3. Sarah Lederman passed away at the age of 105. A day after Sarah Lederman passed away in the hospital in Bnei Brak, her great great-grandson was born in the same hospital.


Sarah’s many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great great-grandchildren are living a Torah life in the Land of Israel. Rebbitzen Feldman mentioned to me 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.

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