Based on the testimony given by Dovid Landau to Shmuel Globa (from the original Yiddish).

In a small city in Galicia, Poland, during the 1930s, a Jewish dentist by the name of Dr. Dovid Landau established a thriving practice in Piaskes, a thoroughly Christian neighborhood. A warm and genial man, Dovid formed friendships quickly and easily with Jews and non-Jews alike, and patients came to his office not only to have their teeth fixed, but also to unload their hearts and ask him for advice. His wife, Shifra, was a beautiful blonde who shared her husband’s charisma. When she finished her advanced degree in elementary school education, she opened a Jewish kindergarten in the heart of town and, like her husband’s practice, it too flourished.

These halcyon years for the young couple came to a swift end with Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and the subsequent merciless attacks on the Jewish communities. The German soldiers in Piaskes constantly feasted on stolen Polish delicacies and liquor. Soon their stomachs started to swell and their teeth began to rot. Even though patronizing a Jewish doctor was strictly forbidden, they heard that Dr. Dovid Landau was a good dentist, and surreptitiously went to him for treatment. They befriended him, and as a result of these “connections,” he was able to help the Jewish community by having a number of harsh decrees annulled. He used his friendships with his Nazi patients to ensure a somewhat easier life for his brethren.

But the day arrived when even Dovid could no longer influence events. Three Jews had been arrested for some minor infraction and were condemned to be hanged. No amount of pleading, bargaining or bribing could effect any positive change. All the Jews in the town were ordered to witness the hanging, a tactic frequently used by the Nazis. The Nazi commander looked at the masses of frightened Jews gathered in the square, and, for some reason, his eye fell upon Dovid Landau.

“You!” he pointed. “Step up!”

Dovid didn’t know why he had been singled out.

“Put the nooses around the necks of these Jews!” the commander barked sharply. Dovid stepped out from the rows of Jews and said, “I cannot do this.”

Infuriated, the commander’s wrath now spilled down upon Dovid himself.

“Shoot this dog!” he instructed two German soldiers. They grabbed his arms and pulled him forward. “We’ll take him to the fields and do it there,” they told the commander.

Fortuitously, both men happened to be Dovid’s patients. When they arrived at the outskirts of town, one whispered to him: “Don’t be afraid. We’ll dig a shallow grave. Climb in, and stay there until it gets dark. Run deep into the forest; we know there are Jewish partisans hiding out there, and maybe you can join them. But remember, whatever you do, don’t ever show your face in our town again.”

Then they took out their guns, shot twice into the air, returned to the site of the hanging, and told the commander the job was done. Everyone gathered in the square had heard the shots, including Shifra. Her body had tensed, but her face remained expressionless; she did not collapse into tears or fall onto the ground in hysteria, as everyone had expected. Rather, she stood there, calm and stoic. As far as she or anyone else knew, Dovid was verifiably dead.

Dovid wandered through the forest at night, when it was safer, and rested during the daytime, hiding between tall stalks of wheat. Hunger gnawed at him, and he felt faint and weak. After several days, he felt ready to surrender to death. When he spotted a small cabin in the distance, he made a decision: Whatever is going to happen, let it happen, but I must try to get some food and water. He knocked on the cabin door and was greeted by an elderly peasant man whose face registered shock.

“Oh, you must be so hungry,” he said instantly, in sympathy and quick understanding. “Come inside; I’ll give you some food.”

Dovid told the peasant his story, and the man gave him food, drink and fresh clothing. The man took Dovid to an empty barn, and told him that he could sleep in the hayloft. “In the morning, I’ll point you in the direction of the Jewish partisans,” he said.

When Dovid finally found the partisans, they were as excited as he, declaring his arrival to be “providential.” Many of them knew him from town, and knew him to be a skilled dentist. Hiding out in the forest for so long, their teeth had become neglected, their gums badly swollen.

The next day, two of them ventured out of the woods to steal dental equipment and medicine, and Dovid thus began a second thriving practice—in the forest. In addition to his dentistry work, Dovid also fully participated in partisan activity against the Germans, and was involved in skirmishes where many of his comrades were mortally wounded. He was nearly captured or killed several times himself, but somehow he always managed to escape death at the last minute.

Throughout his five-year ordeal, Dovid thought constantly about his beloved wife, Shifra, wondering if she was alive and, if so, where she was. During the moments of high drama that had preceded his staged shooting, Dovid had forgotten to ask the two German soldiers who saved him to contact his wife. He hoped that they would seek her out and tell her the truth about his so-called death, so she wouldn’t mourn needlessly. But the soldiers never told Shifra that they had helped Dovid escape. While the war raged on and Dovid fought with the partisans, Shifra grieved the loss of her husband.

Dovid searched for Shifra the moment he was liberated, but the beloved place of his youth was now empty of Jews. Not a single Jew from his town had survived the Nazi purge. As he walked the streets of his old city and returned to visit old haunts, he felt hollow. He had expected to be joyously greeted by the local citizenry, to be showered with “bravos” and “hurrahs” for having survived. But the dead eyes of the villagers did not warm at the sight of him, and their faces turned stony as he walked by. In fact, wherever he went, he felt rabid anti-Semitism directed at him—even from his former patients and friends.

There was nothing left for him here. Shifra was gone, his friends and relatives were gone; the life he’d known was over. There was no reason for him to stay. Dovid emigrated to Israel, and joined the Haganah (the fledgling Israel Defense Forces). Having honed his skills at combat and intelligence during his years as a partisan, Dovid was ably suited for his new role. At the same time, he watched other survivors marry one another and start anew. He knew he should try to rebuild his personal life, but he couldn’t stop wondering about Shifra. In Europe he had tried tenaciously to track her down, both through Jewish organizations and on his own, but all his search efforts had proven futile. His spirit was restless, and he knew no inner peace. Turmoil vibrated through every fiber of his being. He obsessed about Shifra and the question, always the same question—is there any chance she could be alive, after all?

From afar, the astute and observant captain of Dovid’s brigade watched one of his finest soldiers pace, clench his teeth, and often bury his face in his hands. He felt his pain. When the captain was asked to dispatch two competent intelligence men to Poland to retrieve three Jewish children who lived in a Christian orphanage in Cracow, he instantly knew the name of at least one whom he would appoint. The captain decided this mission would provide Dovid with the perfect opportunity to return to Poland and launch a new search for Shifra. He welcomed the providence that would give Dovid a second chance to find his wife.

Dovid and his friend Mordechai were given British passports, and instructed to pose as a pair of English journalists writing a feature story on Christian orphanages during the postwar period. Soon, they were en route to Poland.

A few weeks after her husband Dovid had been “executed” in the forest, Shifra Landau returned to her apartment one afternoon to find a sealed envelope on her kitchen table. When she opened it, she found a false Polish passport, a genealogical history of her pure Polish ancestry, and one hundred German marks. No letter was attached, and she could not guess the identity of her mysterious benefactor. Stunned, Shifra sat down at the table to ponder her options. She made a beeline to the local rabbi to seek his advice. “I am, of course, overwhelmed and tremendously grateful for this opportunity,” she told him, “but I feel guilty about abandoning my kindergarten. Who will take care of the children?” she asked.

“My dear child,” the rabbi said, “it is very commendable of you to care so deeply about your people, but according to Jewish Law, we are commanded to do everything possible to save our own selves first. And, maybe,” he added, in an attempt to console her, “just maybe, from your vantage point as an Aryan, you will also be able to help other Jews as well. You must cross over to the other side.”

Shifra followed the rabbi’s counsel and traveled to Cracow, where she obtained employment as a teacher in a Christian orphanage brimming over with blond-haired, blue-eyed cherubs. Three children—one boy and two girls—immediately stood out from the rest. They were dark-haired and dark-eyed and, somehow, they just seemed different. Could they possibly be Jewish? Shifra wondered.

When she was asked to help bathe the children, Shifra was able to ascertain that the little boy was circumcised, as she had suspected. Now that her instincts about the boy had been validated, she was even more determined to find out the truth about the two little girls, as well. One night, Shifra broke into the office where the children’s files were kept and discovered, once again, that her intuition had been correct. The two little girls were also Jewish, the files listing their real names as well as those of their parents.

After Dovid’s death, Shifra had become listless and depressed, but now she was reinvigorated with new purpose—to mother these three Jewish orphans, to nurture them as she would her own children. A regenerative energy pulsed through her, helping her overcome the tremendous tension she had felt while living her double life. Shifra watched over the three children for the next several years, until Poland was liberated in 1945.

A few weeks after liberation, Shifra visited a hastily organized Jewish aid society in Cracow to ask for assistance in smuggling the three children out of the orphanage. “Look,” the foreign staff members told her, “we just got here, and we don’t really know how to deal with this kind of situation. Go back to the orphanage, continue to pretend that you’re Christian, and we’ll send a delegation to the manager of the orphanage, asking that the children be returned to the Jewish community.”

The Poles, however, refused to cooperate, vehemently denying that these three children were Jews. The Jewish organization tried to negotiate with the manager, offering a large sum of money to “redeem” the children, but this tactic also failed. Finally, in desperation, the Jewish aid society contacted the Haganah in Israel and asked for help.

In response, a telegram advised the Jewish organization that two Haganah shlichim (messengers) were being sent to Cracow, with orders to spirit the children away in the middle of the night. They would be masquerading as British journalists. Shifra was told about the plot, and asked to be on the lookout for two messengers from the Haganah. Their names were not mentioned.

Upon their arrival, the two British journalists were given a warm welcome by the orphanage’s manager, who affably offered to give them a tour of the premises. When Dovid noticed the lone figure in the study hall, sitting with her head down, immersed in a book, a muscle twitched in his face, but he said nothing. It had been five long years, and she had grown much thinner, but Dovid instantly recognized his beloved wife, Shifra.

Shifra, engrossed in her book, had been oblivious to the men.

But Mordechai, Dovid’s comrade, immediately noticed that Dovid had started to shiver inexplicably, and his face had blanched white.

“Dovid, what is it?” he asked.

“Shifra, my wife . . . she’s in the study hall.”

After the tour was over and the manager had left them to their own devices, Dovid and Mordechai conferred. They agreed that if Dovid were to directly approach Shifra, she might sustain too great a shock. Beyond her personal welfare, they were also concerned about jeopardizing their operation. They decided that Mordechai would speak to Shifra first, in order to gently give her advance notice and psychologically prepare her for the great miracle that was about to take place.

Shifra, like her husband, was made of iron stock. When Mordechai gave her the news that Dovid was alive and outside, she blushed deeply and tears sprang to her eyes. In a heroic effort to control her emotions and not give anything away, she nodded curtly, continuing to sing the song with the children that Mordechai had interrupted when he’d entered the classroom.

He whispered one more thing in her ear: “Two o’clock tonight.” Shifra had prepared the three children’s clothing, and a little before 2:00 AM, she opened the front door of the orphanage. Her heart sank when she saw the night watchman posted at the door.

“What are you doing up so late?” he asked. “Don’t you usually retire early?”

“I have the most awful headache,” she said. “I thought that perhaps I could get rid of it by going outside. I need some fresh air.”

“Enjoy your walk,” the guard said, politely doffing his cap.

A few minutes later, Shifra returned to the watchman’s side and told him that she had found a drunk Englishman sprawled outside on the sidewalk. Could he help her and the Englishman’s friend drag the man inside? The guard obligingly stepped away from his post and helped Mordechai pull Dovid—the supposedly drunk Englishman—into the orphanage hall. Mordechai also pretended to be a little drunk, and offered the guard a shot of whiskey from his bottle. The guard was happy to take a drink, and soon fell into a heavy sleep.

“There is enough medicine in that whiskey to keep him asleep for several hours,” Mordechai said.

It didn’t take long to sneak the children out of the orphanage and into a jeep that was waiting down the block, its motor running. A few hours later they were in Czechoslovakia, from whence they would be whisked away to Israel.

Postscript: For decades, a sheaf of precious documents belonging to Etta Ansel, daughter of a Polish survivor, gathered dust in the corner of an attic. Her father, Shmuel Globa, had founded a Jewish historical society in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and had recorded the testimonies of many survivors. It was not until Etta decided to help us unearth these heretofore unknown stories for this volume that she discovered a set of pages entitled Nissim—the word in both Yiddish and Hebrew for “miracles”—which told the story of Dovid and Shifra. A miracle indeed.