Latest update: May 20th, 2012
Reb Pinchos, born in Romania, moved shortly after birth with his parents to Vienna. As a teenager, he learned in another city and took his Gemara with him. Pinchos remembered how his rebbe always liked to teach from his Gemara. He remembered Kristallnacht vividly, as he and his parents left Vienna fearing for their lives. Upon returning to their house, the family found all the books and furniture smashed, but miraculously, of all the sefarim that had been destroyed, the Gemara that he took with him to yeshiva was untouched. In addition, the sefer Torah they had hidden on top of a bookcase in their home had fallen behind the bookcase – but was untouched.
Shortly after, Reb Pinchos and his parents left Vienna for England. Little did he know what the future had in store for him. Hundreds of people had escaped from Europe to England and the British were afraid that Nazi spies might have been among the escapees. His parents, being in their 70s, were allowed to remain in England, but Reb Pinchos and 2,000 other Jews were told that they were going to be deported from England. With a heavy heart he bade farewell to his parents, knowing that this would be the last time he would see them.
He and his fellow Jews were taken to a large ship, the infamous Dunera, which had a transport capacity of 800 – but was now packed with 2,000 people. They had no idea where they were going, and most only had their personal belongings in a small bag. The ship’s British soldiers went through all those belongings and stole anything of value – while personal papers were thrown into the sea. Conditions on board were terrible, with little food available, and the deportees were allowed on deck for fresh air for only an hour a day.
One day while at sea everyone was told, without explanation, to go below deck. Suddenly, the whole ship shook as if something had hit it. Little did they know that a torpedo had hit the ship, but miraculously didn’t explode. Not long after the war, the captain of the U-boat that had fired the torpedo wrote that he had noticed papers in the water and sent divers in to retrieve them. It turned out that about 200 German prisoners of war were on the Dunera, and when the German submarine’s commander found papers belonging to these prisoners, he commanded all the U-boats in the area not to fire at the ship. He accompanied the boat into safe waters.
After about 7-8 weeks, the ship arrived in Australia. The headline in the paper there read, “Enemy Aliens Arrive In Australia.” Reb Pinchos and the other Jews were taken to Tatura in New South Wales, where they were interned and kept behind barbed wires.
With World War II in progress, all able-bodied men had gone off to war and people were needed to pick fruit. Reb Pinchos and others were taken to the orchards to pick the fruit. As the first Shabbos was approaching, Reb Pinchos was concerned about having to work on Shabbos, but as he was officially a prisoner of war he questioned as to what to do. He decided to speak to the farmer, explaining to him the prohibition of working on Shabbos and offering to work on Sunday instead. To his surprise the farmer said that he would honor the request to not work on Shabbos, and he added that he did not want Reb Pinchos to work on Sunday either, since that was his “Shabbos.”
While working there, Reb Pinchos discovered that there was a shul in the area belonging to the Feiglin family. After his first visit to the shul, one of the Feiglin sons picked him up every Friday in order to spend Shabbos with the Feiglins. Reb Pinchos was returned to the farm on Sunday. When Reb Pinchos completed his job of picking the fruit at this farm, the farmer told him that he found a job for him picking fruit at a neighboring farm. And the farmer mentioned to Reb Pinchos’s new boss that Reb Pinchos did not work on Shabbos, a condition she accepted.
Eventually Reb Pinchos joined the Australian army. He married and raised a heimishe Jewish family – instilled with the values of Torah and Yiddishkeit.
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