Joseph Sungolowsky is a French Literature professor at Queens College, and a member of the Faculty Advisory Board of Chabad. I have found Professor Sungolowsky to be a warm, kind man, with a fascinating life story.
He was born in Charleroi, Belgium, where his father was the rabbi of a small Jewish community. When the Nazis invaded Belgium on May 10, 1940, his family fled to France. Once in France, they moved to Vichy, where many other Jews had hoped to escape the Nazis. Among them was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory (who was not yet the leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement).
The Rebbe and Professor Sungolowsky’s father had occasion to meet a few times while in France. Amazingly, in 1991, Prof. Sungolowsky went to visit the Rebbe in Brooklyn, and was greeted with the words, Ich gedenk dein tatte — I remember your father.
As the war progressed, Prof. Sungolowsky and his brother were separated from their parents, and they all went into hiding. He and his brother were placed with a couple who lived near Nice, Madame Lemas and Monsieur Paul; officially, their villa was a boarding house for children. The young Joseph was able to surreptitiously correspond with his parents.
In a memoir in The Hidden Child, a newsletter published by the Hidden Child Foundation, Prof. Sungolowsky recounts:
“…in October 1943, we were suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by Madame Lemas. She told us that the Gestapo had arrived on the premises to pick up the Jewish families she was hiding. She told us to pretend to be asleep during their search and she left. Once again, we were extremely frightened. A few moments later, she returned to the pavilion accompanied by the Gestapo agents. I could see them through my half-closed eyes. She picked up the little girl who had awakened in tears and told the Nazi policeman that the little girl and we were “her children” and that we could not be touched. They flashed the lights into our faces, opened a back door that led to the street to make sure that no one was escaping and left the pavilion without any further verification. An open miracle had occurred.”
After the war, Joseph was reunited with his parents, and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah — the first since the Liberation to be celebrated in the synagogue of which his father had become the rabbi. Eventually, his family moved to America.
I think there are many lessons from this story. Perhaps one is that even in the darkest depths where even the light itself comes from evil, there is still hope. One can always be saved, even by a miracle.