The Journey Continues: Harvey & Helena Bartash

My journey this week is a continuation of the life-force story started last week about my Jewish friends, Harvey and Helena Bartash, and their ministry to two Vietnamese refugees that Harvey served with in Vietnam.

“My wife Helena and I were stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1975 when I got a telephone call from the Vietnam Refugee Resettlement Center at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. A group of eight men with whom I had served said, ‘Captain Bartash, we are here, safe in the U.S.A.’ These were intelligence operatives who would have certainly been executed by the North Vietnamese had they not escaped. They commandeered a Vietnamese skiff and sailed to Singapore. Not being allowed entry by the Singapore Navy, they were given water and rice and told to leave. They sailed on to the Philippines where they turned themselves into the American authorities. I consented to be their sponsor.

“Helena and I and our only child, Joshua, drove 14 hours to the Philadelphia International Airport to meet them. For whatever reason, two (L.V.D. and T.D.D.) arrived to live under our sponsorship. On to nearby Levittown, Pennsylvania, to the house that we owned. I had to return to Fort Benning, Georgia, for the balance of my tour. Helena alone shared our house with these two strangers. My mother was concerned, ‘Safety and strange men and Helena all alone?’. I told my mother, ‘I trusted them with my life in Vietnam, and I trust them with my family here.’”

“The next two years Helena supported these men in many ways (teaching American culture, language, driving, opening bank accounts, obtaining employment at a turkey processing plant, obtaining drivers licenses, driving them daily to work and to the Catholic Church for daily mass). The men never paid anything for room and board. Helena quoted Rabbi Akiva: “If I am not for myself, who will? But if I am just for myself, then who am I?” as the reason for the generosity she practiced. After many months, with a grant from the Catholic church, they purchased an old car and drove themselves to work at a local door manufacturing plant.”

“One of the men, T. D. D. was a faithful husband and sent all his money via France to his wife still in Vietnam. One night, Helena found him crying with despair that he would never see his wife and children again, she counseled, ‘don’t give up, at one time I was in your position and I believe you will see your family again.’”

At the end of two years, L.V.D. moved away to be with newly located family, and T.D.D. went to Alaska to work on blue crab harvest. From there he went to Seattle and was employed by the public school system, where he retired. Helena and all her extended family wrote petitions of support for T.D. D’s wife and children to join him in Seattle. When T.D.D. met his family at the airport, the first person he called was Helena, saying “They are here!”

For the benefit of the reader, the total number of Vietnamese refugees to the United States, including the surge of 1975, was over a million.

In Matthew 2:12-14, the scripture reminds us that baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees in Egypt before returning to Nazareth. Like the Bartash family, I believe we need to open our hearts and homes to refugees languishing around the world today.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666