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May 4, 2015 / 15 Iyar, 5775
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Learning Pirkey Avot In Buchenwald


From week to week the study group grew, but the walks were kept short so as not to attract attention. A few more study groups grew out of this one – one that studied the Torah portion of the week, another headed by a Gerrer chassid who remembered the teachings of the Gerrer rebbes.

My father recalled this as one of the spiritual high points of his years in Buchenwald. He and his friends saw it as a triumph against the Nazis, a small victory in their ongoing battle for spiritual survival in the concentration camp. Throughout the long summer Saturdays the groups continued to walk and learn, even after some of the participants were deported to other camps.

But the Nazis were not the Orthodox prisoners’ only enemies.

“At one point we were the victims of ‘Jewish anti-Semitism,’ ” my father recalled, “when we were persecuted by a number of the more fanatic communist camp functionaries, some of whom were Jewish.” The groups were forced to go underground but even then they refused to give up their moments of spiritual freedom, continuing the momentum of Torah study under such abnormal conditions.

This was the story my father would tell us at the Seder every Passover before he would open the door and recite “Sh’foch Chamatcha” (“Pour out Thy wrath”), and every year since his death I tell this story to my children, to remind them how the Jewish spirit survived and triumphed even under conditions that were meant to destroy it.

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There are only a handful of mitzvot about which the Torah hints to their reward and even fewer about which we are told precisely what the reward will be. One of these is kibbud av va’em, honoring our parents, the fifth of the Ten Commandments given at Sinai.

Various types of fruit cross our doorstep during the course of the Jewish year. But for me, the symbol of Judaism is the apple. Not the Rosh Hashanah apple dipped in honey but the one I learned about from my father, which began a chain of events that became a lesson of faith during the darkness of the Nazi years.

“I was arrested by the Gestapo on the 9th of September 1939, and taken out of the house to a prison in Frankfurt a/M. There I met quite a number of people in the same situation who had been arrested in and around Frankfurt and they knew as little as I did about what was happening, except that we have been arrested by the Gestapo.”

My father, Chaskel Tydor, was among the Jewish prisoners liberated in the Nazi camp of Buchenwald on April 11, 1945. Born to a chassidic family in Bochnia, Poland in 1903, the year Orville Wright first successfully flew an aircraft at Kitty Hawk, he had grown up in Germany where his family had fled at the outbreak of the First World War, marrying and raising a family.

Passover is a festival of freedom, chag hageulah, when we remember our deliverance from slavery in Egypt. For my father, Chaskel Tydor, Passover was also a reminder of the slavery he experienced during his lifetime – of his five and a half years in the Nazi camps of Buchenwald and Auschwitz.

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