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The Oddball Hero

They called him the village idiot

Anton Sukhinski was an eccentric loner who lived in a squalid shack on the outskirts of Zborow, Poland. Considered to be mentally defective, Anton was cruelly mocked by the townspeople as the “village idiot.” Anton may not have been the smartest, richest or most impressive resident of Zborow but during the Holocaust, he was the only one who protected local Jews.

In July 1941, the Germans occupied Zborow and immediately murdered a thousand Jewish men. The rest of the Jews were herded into a ghetto, and the deportations began. Itzhak and Sonya Zeiger, a local Jewish couple with two young sons, escaped from the ghetto along with two orphans who had lost their entire families. Desperate for a safe haven, the Zeigers started approaching their non-Jewish former neighbors, but nobody wanted to get involved.

Only Anton, extremely poor and decidedly odd, was eager to help. Despite his small size (under five feet), Anton singlehandedly built a bunker underneath his shack that was just big enough for the group of Jews to hide in. The six Jews lived in that pit, unable to move or go outside. The only light came from a small kerosene lamp. Despite having very little money himself, Anton now had six people to feed, and he spent his days scavenging for food.

Anton cared for all the Jews’ needs, including removing the bucket that served as their toilet. He did it without attracting attention from the Germans or from his own neighbors, who were eager to get a reward for turning in Jews. At one point, the Germans heard that Anton was hiding Jews, and they searched the home. In their basement hideout, the terrified Zeigers could hear the Nazis storming through the house. They stuffed rags in their sons’ mouths to prevent any sound from escaping.

The Jews in Anton’s basement were never discovered, and they stayed in the pit for nine long months. Zborow was liberated by Russians in 1944 and Anton’s hidden Jews finally emerged, blinking at the sunlight. They went their separate ways, some to Israel, others to the US, another to Uruguay. In 1974, Israeli Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem honored Anton Sukhinski as a Righteous Gentile. The Jews he saved reunited in Israel to pay tribute to this remarkable man.

For saving six people (and all their descendants!), and for showing that heart and guts are more important than wealth, looks or prestige, we honor Anton Sukhinski as this week’s Thursday Hero at Accidental Talmudist.

Image: Anton with two of the people he saved

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