We entered a building labeled Zydovski Museum. In the basement was a large darkened room illuminated with a single ner tamid flickering on the floor. A voice of a chazzan chanted a most powerful Kel Moleh. I burst out crying uncontrollably. All the pent up detachment from the horrors could not be contained. The plaintive chanting reduced my hatred of our oppressors to a helpless sorrow.
My father told me that his every move was seemingly directed to the correct choice, that he was being watched over and, as he always expresses, he was meant to live. His refrain is that all the moves that he made contributed to his survival and were fortuitous and most important, that he became reacquainted with his future wife six months before the war ended.
It is easy to identify with Shlomo Ben David and his wife Rifka, vibrant caring personalities that elicit love, respect and an ever-present sense of optimism.
But who were their parents? Yes there is the photograph of an unsmiling Yid with a beard, “hoche” Yitchock Isaac Gutterman. But a picture does not convey the personality. If you tear it into pieces it does not cry out in pain or bleed hotly. His murder left his children orphans and his grandchildren bereft of a Zaidy. What about Blima and Sarah and Dovid who are even more abstract? No pictures remain of them. Yet they too were as real as hoche Isaac. They suffered needlessly, being only guilty of the appellation Jew.
We rationalize that they were brave as they were being sacrificed as a kapporah. We know that their beliefs and way of life was not lost or corrupted by expediency and impotent reconciliations. Their grandchildren are testimony that their credo lives on, in their successive generations’ values and ethos.
Our grandparents did not become statistics but building blocks, support beams and are being perpetuated in their grandchildren’s genes and way of life.
Yitzchock Isaac’s father, Yisroel Gutterman, the Steibel Yid, an almost forgotten personage suddenly came to life at the bris of a five-generation later grandson named after him. Yes, Yisroel lives on as does Isaac, Sarah, Blima, Dovid, Chana, Hadassah and Leah who were reborn in the ashes and are thriving as they emulate the values personified by their namesakes.
My parents are true survivors. They were not distracted by the many isms, some relatively benevolent, others of irreconcilable evil. They emerged from the war years with a spiritual, physical and emotional positiveness. My parents got married immediately after the war in Germany. They made a conscious and palpable decision to be religious and to rebuild their lives with Torah rules and the culture that was their parents’ way.
Their post-war years sojourn in Regensburg, Germany was just a zwichenzug in their lives before moving to America. America with its unlimited choices, freedoms and opportunity was a template of endless potential. Unfortunately, it also presented a society that was out of step with religion, that replaced G-d with a slakeless quest for success and money.
Ignoring these powerful and distracting influences, in 1949 our dear parents opted to relocate to Williamsburg, Brooklyn and sent their children to yeshivas, staying frum and not emulating the unencumbered ways of their “survivor” friends.
Instead of being handicapped or demoralized by the banality of their oppressors, our parents surmounted those vituperative influences by embracing an Orthodox religious life for themselves and their children.
At every juncture thereafter, a consistent conscious decision was made to live in a Jewish community and continue to send their children to yeshivas, paying tuition with scarce dollars.
This formula worked. My parents have, thank G-d, three children and eleven grandchildren and 30+ great-grandchildren, all frum and Bnei Torah (bli ayin hora).
Shlomo Ben Dovid Schlesinger went to Israel directly after this trip to Poland and, together with his wife, purchased burial plots for themselves in the Har Menuchos Cemetery so as to preclude being obliterated on hostile foreign soil.