Mindel (Mindu) Candle Weinberger was born in 1923 in Remeţi, Romania to a family of Vizhnitzer chassidim. She, her husband and their three children made aliyah in 1962 and she has been living in the same apartment in Kfar Avraham in Petach Tikvah for over 50 years. Today, at 94, she could be mistaken for a woman 20 years younger. Although she is small in stature, her personality is large and one always finds her smiling and exuding positive energy.
I ask her, “How is it you’ve reached such a dignified age and are still so spry and energetic? What’s your secret?”
But she doesn’t want to talk about that. She wants to talk about the Holocaust. That’s not the story I came for but this isn’t a woman you argue with. So I listened politely.
She doesn’t want to talk about how she suffered in the Holocaust; she wants to tell me of her heroic act. It’s a story that anyone who does know her personally would have never heard, and, honestly, if her sisters had not been there to bear witness to what happened, most likely no one would believe it.
Her family (parents and seven siblings) was rounded up and sent to the Tadj ghetto where they celebrated the bris of Mindel’s sister Surah’s baby. On Shavuos, they arrived in Auschwitz. The Nazis told Surah to give her one-month-old baby to her. They were sent to the left and Mindel, Surah and another sister, Devorah, were sent to the right.
They were put in Block 27. Soon Surah was crying for a knife to end her life. Aside from the pain of losing her child, she was in excruciating agony because her breasts were engorged with milk. Mindel told her not to speak that way, that it was forbidden. Then she knelt down and suckled the milk out of her sister’s breasts.
“You saved my life,” her sister said. I will never forget your chesed.”
Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death himself, then walked into their barracks accompanied by an officer and a female Jewish warden, a blocksvester. Mindel didn’t know who he was; Mindel doesn’t know how she knew he was a doctor and she doesn’t know how, all of a sudden, she was able to speak German. She spoke Yiddish but not German. She likens it to when Yosef Hatzaddik had to speak with Pharaoh, Hashem put the right words in his mouth.
“Herr Doctor,” she said, “can I please ask you a question?
Mengele very politely touched her shoulder and said, “Bitteschön.”
“Dankeschön,” Mindel answered. She then told him her sister was suffering from milk-engorged breasts. What could she do?
Again, politely, he answered, telling her to put wet compresses on her breasts every two hours. That would relieve the engorgement. She thanked him and he left.
A little while later, an officer came in with the female warden and asked if there were any women who wanted to nurse babies? Apparently Mengele had come up with a cruel idea from their conversation. But behind the officer’s back the warden shook her finger at Surah, who wisely said nothing.
Despite the source, Mindel was determined to follow the doctor’s advice. She took a bowl, then tore off her undershirt made of netting, leaving herself exposed. When they were allowed to get water, she got water for her sister and, soaking her netted undershirt in it, made compresses with it for Surah. Mindel also shared her rations with Surah so she could regain her strength.
Surah survived the war and was reunited with her husband. They had four children. Devorah also survived and both sisters and their families made aliyah before Romania’s gates were closed in 1946. Mindel and her family joined them in 1962. Mindel learned Hebrew working in the kitchen of a yeshiva in Pardess Chana and then in Mossad Ha’aliyah, a school in Petach Tikvah.
Her daughter Tzipi Shenkar, who lives in the yishuv of Moreshet, travels around Israel telling her mother’s story.
Every three weeks, Tzipi comes with her family to spend Shabbat with her mother and every time her mother retells the story of how she saved her sister Surah, who told her she was a shaliach of Hashem. No detail changes as she relives it over and over again.
Finally, Mindel answered my original question, How has she lived so long and been so positive? Mindel has tremendous faith. “Everything is from Above,” she says, “and I accept everything with love, whatever Hashem does.” And then she laughs, a rich resounding, joyful laugh.
She has been a widow for 26 years, but she enjoys her children, her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and her great-great-grandchildren. Her daughter-in-law was my son’s teacher in third grade and her great-grandson Sagi is one of my son’s best friends. He would not be here if not for his great-grandmother’s resilience, bravery and kindness and the miracles that she experienced. May she merit celebrating until 120.