She Saved the Man Who Helped the World Play

The Fellowship  |  January 4, 2017

Yekaterina Lipinskaya, an elderly Jewish woman with a tree behind her.
She Saved the Man Who Helped the World Play

Yekaterina Lipinskaya

Life: 1900-1992

Why you should know her: A Christian Polish woman who saved Jews during the Holocaust by sheltering them in her loft.

On September 5, 1942, Yekaterina Lipinskaya entered the barn on her family’s farm only to hear a voice calling from the loft. The voice belonged to young Henry Orenstein, a Jewish neighbor of the Lipinskaya’s. Eighteen-year-old Henry was hiding from the Nazis, along with his two older brothers and their father.

The four Orensteins had escaped a Nazi massacre of Jews, and were starving, thirsty, and exhausted. Yekaterina hid them in her loft and gave them food and drink. A short while later, Yekaterina escorted the family to the Bug River, where they hoped to find safety.

After the Orensteins left, Yekaterina sheltered a 24-year-old Jewish girl named Matilda Gertel in her home. For 18 months, Matilda hid in the Lipinskaya house and barn, safe until liberation allowed her to settle in the United States. For her selfless actions, Yekaterina Lipinskaya was named Righteous Among the Nations on September 7, 1988.

Read Newsweek’s amazing story of one of the Jews Yekaterina saved, a man who would survive the Holocaust and go on to teach children, both young and old, how to play:

Of Poland’s 3 million Jews, just over 300,000 survived the war. “Ninety to 97 percent of Polish Jews were killed,” says Eliyana Adler, associate professor of history and Jewish Studies at Penn State. “Anyone who survived, they shouldn’t have.”

The story of how Henry Orenstein went from a small town in Poland, through five concentration camps, all the way to his 24th-floor apartment on one of Manhattan’s most expensive strips of real estate is the stuff of fiction, and science fiction. He bluffed and cajoled to survive the Holocaust, and just a few years later, armed with unrelenting drive and rare creativity, he tinkered and hustled his way to the top of America’s toy industry, helping to put dolls, race cars and one of the most successful action figures in history into the hands of generations of children. Then he transformed poker from a game played in dimly lit rooms to a billion-dollar business.

He chalks up much of his horrifying, astonishing, heartbreaking and exhilarating tale to luck, but it was luck born of guts and guile. He beat one of the most fearsome death machines man ever devised by seeing opportunities where others saw only ruin. He brought joy to millions by using that same gift—by daring to see what no one else saw, and by daring to transform himself, again and again…