As long as she lived, Recha Sternbuch would not speak of her incredible exploits nor would she allow her story to be told. Why indulge personal vanity and curiosity seekers?
But now she is gone and the world must know it possessed a charismatic, resourceful, selfless woman who belongs on the all-time honor roll of Jewish heroines.
Recha Sternbuch was a young Swiss mother who, with her husband Yitzchak, ran a growing, thriving business. But when clouds of torture and murder darkened Jewish life in Europe, the Sternbuchs gave first priority to saving lives.
She enlisted the aid of the Papal Nuncio, the Polish ambassador, and Latin American diplomats. She organized informers and “smugglers,” whose cargo was human lives. She fought the Swiss bureaucracy and was put on trial for her trouble. Her home became a clearing house for international rescue efforts.
Her physical courage was astounding. Once she crossed the border into Nazi-occupied France and through the sheer force of her personality induced a brutish Gestapo commander to release twelve Jews into her custody. The Sternbuchs were strictly Orthodox Jews, but they left the Sabbath observance of their only son’s bar mitzvah, and spent the entire day calling and badgering diplomats, police and officials until they secured the release of three illegal Jewish refugees who were about to be deported into the jaws of the Nazi beast. Was the deserted bar mitzvah boy crestfallen? Surely. But he had come to understand the lesson that permeated the entire Sternbuch household: There is no greater gift than the privilege of saving lives.
This book, too, is a gift. It is the inspiring gift of knowledge that in the decade of its worst degradation, the human race was capable of producing a Recha Sternbuch.