Last week I shared some memories of my saintly father, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, that are always with me, especially on the day of his yahrzeit.
There are no coincidences in the world. There are no random happenings. The date of our birth and the date of our death are decreed from Above. When I remember a yahrzeit I also recall the shiva. One flows into the other and they remain forever connected.
It was on Parashas Vayigash that I sat down on that little stool and I, who always try to give comfort to others, was desperately in need of comforting. My tatte was not there. He was not there to console me with his healing words. Many years ago I heard Rav Solevitchik, zt”l, speak at his mother’s yahrzeit commemoration. No one, he said, can rejoice at your accomplishments as your mother and father, and once they are gone there is no one to take pride in your achievements.
I have often taught that whatever pain or challenge assails us, the parshah of the week will always guide and comfort us. And so I ask myself, What words of consolation can I find in Vayigash? And suddenly the words jump out. They comfort me. They embrace me with love. My father is at my side. I hear his voice. I see him point to the immortal words in the parshah, “kenafsho keshuro benafsho – the soul of the father is bound to the soul of the child,” and they will forever be engraved upon my heart.
It was the end of the war, 1945. We were taken from the concentration camp to Switzerland. I vividly recall the day we crossed the border. We were carefully examined by medical personnel to determine if we were carriers of some infectious disease or whether we were infested with lice. All of us, adults as well as children, were scrutinized individually. When they came to take my younger brother he became terrified. Memories of his experiences haunted him. In his mind’s eye he saw the Nazis tearing him from my mother’s arms. He let out an agonizing cry in Yiddish: “Mommy, mommy, please don’t let them take me away. I promise I will be a good boy.”
For the rest of her life my mother remembered that scene. It encapsulated for her our unfathomable nightmare and she would cry over it again and again.
We desperately needed to heal and live like a family again but it was not to be. The Swiss placed us in DP camps and separated us from our parents. I was taken to a place in the French-speaking part of Switzerland while my older brother was placed in the German-speaking part and my parents and younger brother were in still another place.
The healing process for which we so desperately yearned was nowhere in sight. The school/camp where I was placed had very strict rules. At night it was always lights out, even though we were afraid to sleep in the dark. We all had horrible dreams. My parents came to visit as often as they were allowed.
I remember one occasion when my father came and I broke down and cried bitterly. My friend and roommate had left for Eretz Yisrael. She was an orphan who had witnessed the murder of her parents, and the British, who had slapped a strict quota on the number of Jews permitted to enter Palestine, gave orphans priority. I was left alone in the room and when my nightmares came my cries were lost in the hollow darkness. There was no voice to reassure me.