I arrived in Paris on a Monday and over 1,500 people were waiting. I do not speak French, but no matter, for there is a language that transcends all difficulties and barriers, and that is the language of our people – the language of the heart based on our timeless truths: “Words that emanate from the heart must enter into another’s heart,” and that is at the root of our “Jewish Law of Gravity.” It is a law that never fails and its veracity has been proven in every generation, in every century. I saw it unfold a thousand and one times … Most recently, I witnessed it in France, Hungary and Israel, and I never cease marveling at its power.
Nowadays, our program is composed of two segments. As many of you may know, this past year, Hashem granted me the privilege of making a film that relates the story of my experiences in Bergen-Belsen. Actually, it was my granddaughter, Shaindy, who prompted me to make the film. “Bubba,” she called one day from Jerusalem where her husband is learning Torah while she teaches and raises her young family. “You must record those stories that you told us. You must do this!” she said insistently.
My initial reaction was to dismiss the idea….” One of these days, sheifele,” I answered. But then I remembered how, many moons ago, I made the same suggestion to my own revered holy father, HaRav HaGaon, HaTzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l and he too responded with the very same words. “B’Ezrat Hashem…one of these days.” But there was always something that delayed the project until it was too late. “One of these days” never came, and to this day, I regret not being more insistent and not pressuring more.
As Shaindy spoke, it hit me that not too many who lived through that Gehennom are still here to tell the story, and even those who are here, are sadly, mostly infirm and incapable of relating the story. So it was that the film was born. We found a producer, a ba’al teshuvah, who had the unique combination of professional expertise and sensitivity to Torah values. He reserved two days of studio time telling me that that was the minimum needed and asked me to prepare a script.
But those of you who know me and have heard me speak know that I never speak from a script. I just wouldn’t know how to do that. My preparations consist of a small prayer written by King David: “Hashem – Almighty G-d, sefasai tiftach – Open my lips so that I may proclaim Your praise” (Psalm 51).
No, I had no script, but the script was engraved on my heart, and that is something that no teleprompter can record – I started to speak to the camera, and as I spoke, a flood of memories rushed into my mind. Those memories took me back to those torturous years and my voice trembled with tears. During a small break to allow the cameraman to adjust the lighting, my friend Barbara said, “You can’t cry so much. It’s much too heavy.”
But how could I tell my story…how could I speak without tears?
Instead of two days, the entire process took two hours, but to achieve maximum impact, we cut it to 22 minutes. While many films have been made on the Holocaust, I believe that this film is unique in that it portrays the Kiddush Hashem – Sanctification of G-d’s Name – the indomitable faith of our people in that abyss of evil…. So appropriately, we called the film Triumph of the Spirit.
Most Holocaust films depict the savage brutality, the inhumanity of man who, despite his 20th century education and veneer of sophistication, descended lower than the beasts. Our film, however, focuses on the awesome sanctity, on the Torah legacy and destiny of the Jewish people that was more powerful than the flames of the crematoria.
Most Holocaust films leave you depressed and angry, but our film imbues you with a mission – a determination to follow in the footsteps of the zeides and the bubbas who are no more. The film has been made with sub-titles in several languages – French and Hebrew being just two of them.
Thus, it happened that before I spoke in France and Eretz Yisrael, people viewed the film, and as if by magic, their hearts opened and their neshamos listened. By the time I concluded, the audience was ready to embrace Torah and mitzvos with more fervor and commitment.
In France, as well as in Israel, the crowds were dense, and after the program, people came seeking brachos, guidance, some chizuk – strength to face the many nisyonos – trials and tribulations of our generation.
I stayed far into the night and thanked Hashem for the zechus He granted me to speak to His children – Am Yisrael.