My brother lives in Haifa. Despite his advanced age of 96, his mind is still sharp and his memory is keen. In a recent letter, he related the following episode. I was not aware of this incident since I was married and living in France when it happened.
Our family lived in Pressburg, which today is Bratislava. The year was 1938, just preceding World War II. By then, Austria was annexed to Germany and controlled by the Nazis. Their tentacles were spreading to the European countries surrounding Austria. Bratislava was only an hour’s ride from Vienna, and anti-Semitism was on the rise. At the time this story took place, my brother was in his early 20s. He was bitterly introduced to the suffering awaiting European Jewry even before the outbreak of the war.
One Shabbos, my brother and his friends took a peaceful stroll. Suddenly, they were surrounded by a group of military men, forced into a truck, and driven away. They arrived in unfamiliar territory, a no man’s land. They were confined to barracks and immediately put to work. They were part of a group forced to prepare the groundwork for a railroad. The work was backbreaking. They carried heavy stones, cut and lay them as the foundation of the railway.
Meanwhile my parents, as well as his friends’ families, were frantic. They had no idea what had happened to their sons, and could not get any information regarding their whereabouts.
The boys were in the hands of a sadistic commander but, thanks to Divine Providence, this cruel commander suffered a heart attack and was forced to relinquish his duties. His successor was a younger man who contained humane qualities. Two days after this younger commander took over, my brother was summoned to the main office. He was terrified.
The commander asked him, “I see you’re from Bratislava and your surname sounds familiar. Does your family by chance own a store downtown?”
My brother answered, “Yes, that is my father’s store.”
The commander continued. “Well, I am also from Bratislava. My name is Ondrej Nadvorny. My mother was a maid in your parents’ home. At one time, my father faced a very difficult crisis and your father helped him tremendously. I will try to help you as well.” The commander said no more, and simply told him to return to the barracks.
The next morning, a jeep pulled up in front of the barracks and the driver handed my brother two envelopes. One contained a note discharging him of his duties due to “incompetence.” The other contained a train ticket to Bratislava with enough money to hire a taxi to get him home from the train station. The driver advised him not to wait a minute longer. Needless to say, my brother was dumbfounded – and ecstatic beyond words.
When my parents saw that my brother was alive and well, their joy was boundless. Little could my father have imagined that his benevolence to a gentile would one day be repaid in such a miraculous way!