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September 24, 2014 / 29 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Auschwitz’

The Brave Soldier from Auschwitz

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

My late father was a survivor of Auschwitz.  He arrived there as a young Hassid from a Jewish village in Poland, and he left as he had arrived, with his faith intact, and with an awareness that following the Holocaust, he must not be tempted by the offers of the JDC and HIAS to travel to America.  As he put it one of the few times he broke the long silence that characterized his life: “The time had come to go home.”

He went to fight in the War of Liberation, although my mother, who had survived the ghettos, already was carrying me in her belly.  They had made a decision to build a family together, and were married by a British military rabbi in a Cyprus detention camp for Jews who attempted to break the British blockade of the Land of Israel.

Upon arriving here in Israel he was immediately conscripted and sent to infantry training and then to serve at Haganah positions.  He left my pregnant mother in a village in the north with other families that had come from the gloom of the Diaspora and forged a community of Hassidic laborers out of its wreckage.

Alongside him served other survivors.  The cynics among them would later laugh about those days of “Yiddish soldiers” whose maneuvers were executed in exquisite Yiddish that to my ears sounded like a Dzigan sketch.   I remember their reminiscences about mortar-firing exercises accompanied by otherwordly orders straight out of the shtiebl.  “Arise, Reb Yechiel—honored with the firing of one bomb!”

As much as this was a Hassidic community, it was a Zionist one, at once hard-nosed and idealistic.  Its members took Independence Day with the utmost seriousness, and recited the formal blessing over the Hallel prayer.  “Anyone who wasn’t there has no business telling us not to say a blessing,” Daskal, the synagogue manager, once said to me.  He would later lose his son Ya’akov, a brilliant yeshiva student, when he fell with two fellow students in a terrorist ambush in the Jordan Valley.

There was no quibbling with decisions as to who was called up for duty.  Encounters at the shtiebl between Torah students and fighters lacked the tension that is there today.  There was agreement that everyone was on a mission, whether a military mission or one of Torah.

“A Head with Tefillin”

It was the first day of the Yom Kippur War.  We were in the middle of the Mussaf prayer, and I was there in my commanding role in the Hassidic choir as we sang “Be with the mouths of your people the House of Israel.”

My mother, who had been informed well in advance that two consecutive calls were due cause to pick up the phone on a Shabbat or holiday, arrived at the synagogue and hurried me out.

“I think they’re calling from your unit,” she said nervously.

Before saying goodbye to me, the old Hassidim sent me to receive a blessing from the rebbe of the neighboring shtiebl, who was considered a miracle worker.  He too had come from there.

With the convulsions of war and the battles, I moved around between various units so as to stay on the front.  As time went on, as would be expected of me, I lost more and more of my equipment—but not my gun or my tefillin.

My gun—granted, but tefillin?  To understand that you have to know a story from my youth.

One day in yeshiva I received a package of cookies from my mother, accompanied by an agitated letter from my father.

“My dear son,” he wrote in the rugged handwriting of a manual laborer, “you know what ‘a head without tefillin’ is.  But the head of the yeshiva has informed me that you missed putting on tefillin one day!”

He continued, adding that in Auschwitz there were no tefillin, until in 1943 a certain group of Hungarian Jews arrived.  When he heard that they had a pair of tefillin, he began crossing the fence that separated him from them very early each morning to put on tefillin for a moment and say “Shema.”

“Let this deed not seem trivial to you,” he wrote in Diasporic Hebrew.  “It was a very difficult thing to do, it was cold, and I stood the risk of missing the distribution of rations—and someone who missed receiving food for one day was in danger.  Nevertheless, this was [serving God] ‘with all your means.’”

When I came home I wanted to hear more of the story.  Was the fence electrified?  It wasn’t every day that he opened up, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

“What was, was,” he said definitively.  “That is all.”

“But wasn’t your life at risk?!” I said deviously.  “Is it really permitted to risk your life in order to perform a mitzva?”

That already was a halakhic discussion.  He responded.

“True.  As soon as I saw that other Jews were copying me and waiting on line, I stopped.”

I took this story with me to every war.  Before beginning a day of forced labor, a Jew goes and finds other Jews like him waiting at dawn on a long line to put on tefillin.  Just so they would not have “a head without tefillin,” as the Talmud puts it.  How then could I not be sure to put on tefillin every day?

Still, the Lebanon War came and, as luck would have it, my tefillin remained in the APC behind the lines with the rest of my equipment, while I was in the alleys of Baabda at the entrance to Beirut, part of the first battalion to arrive there.  A few inquiries later a pair of tefillin was found for me, and I went to the side, dressed in tefillin and talit.

Suddenly an Arab couple appeared, a man and woman dressed in their finest.  They drew closer, heading straight for me.

I pulled my gun out of the folds of the talit.

“Rifa ayadikum!” I ordered in Arabic.  “Put your hands up!”

As they stood there opposite me, their hands aloft, the man made a gesture to his wife with his raised hand.

“Marati!” he exclaimed.  “Yahudi.”  “She is a Jew.”

“Prove it,” I countered.  “What does it say inside this box?” as I pointed in the direction of my forehead.

“Shema Yisrael,” she answered, lowering one hand from above her head, covering her eyes, “Hashem elokeinu, Hashem echad.”

“Uchtei anta,” I said.  “You are my sister.”  Her eyes were moist.  I think mine were, too.

I could feel my father standing there with me, and his fathers as well.

“How great tefillin are,” I thought.  “They connect different worlds and different generations.  If I hadn’t been wearing them, the lost daughter who married a Christian man might not have dared approach the enemy invaders.  She might never have reconnected with her family in Bat Yam.”  Now, as she told the story of her family members with whom she had lost contact when they departed for Israel, the connection was renewed.

One good deed leads to another.  I don’t know what happened to that woman, but maybe, just maybe, her earth-shattering “Shema Yisrael,” together with the prayers for the safety of our soldiers, gave us the boost we needed in the ensuing battles.

A Dream

I have a strange occupation: I attend funerals and memorial services.  After a recent funeral, I had a dream in which my father appeared, waking me with his numbered hand.

“You cried?” he said.

“No.  Why?”

“I heard you cry.  I know you.  You’ve cried every time since you came back from the Six-Day War as a young man.  Anyway, I thought I heard you crying from up here, so I came.”

“So I cried.  So what?

“I’ve told you a thousand times you don’t have what to cry over.  We didn’t cry ….”  He gestured with his numbered hand.  “What we went through without crying … Thousands of us killed every hour, herded by the hundreds into the crematorium every seven minutes, and we didn’t cry!”

“Then maybe the time has come to cry,” I said.  “The numbers keep adding up.  There’s no end.  You promised us that we had come here to put an end to the era of death!”

“Nu, nu,” said my father in his Polish Yiddish Hebrew, clicking his tongue.  “Have you forgotten the inheritance I left you?”

“What inheritance, Abba?  You worked liked a dog your whole life, but there was no inheritance!  Not a dime!”

“What abbout the Kaddish prayer I left you?  That inheritance.  Every year I said Kaddish on the Tenth of Tevet and on Holocaust Remembrance Day in memory of all the relatives who were murdered by the hundred.  Now it’s you, my heir, who has to say it instead of me.”

“What kind of an inheritance is that, Abba?” I yelled.  “I should say Kaddish?  I never even met them!”

“Precisely,” my father exclaimed with a victorious smile.  “You understand now.  You never met them, and I never meet them either.  They went to their deaths anonymously by the hundred, by the thousand, by the million.  Now everything has changed.  Today your newspapers are full of names, pictures, stories.  Every person who is killed has a name, and the whole nation remembers him.  Where we were, who remembered them?

“Now you understand that there is a difference.  In between the tears, you can smile a little, you have to allow yourself some happiness.  Now you have a state, and an army, and someone to bury the dead, which we did not have …”

With that my father disappeared, wearing the doleful smile he had worn when he came, offering a survivor’s consolation so relevant to these days.

Originally published in Makor Rishon, April 12. Translated from Hebrew by David B. Greenberg.

Third Generation Breaks the Silence of Holocaust Survivor

Monday, April 8th, 2013

In 2004, I joined the Witnesses in Uniform delegation of 180 IDF officers to Poland. We had the chance to visit some of the major sites of Holocaust memory, including Auschwitz-Birkenau. We also saw the Lodz ghetto – the place where my father was imprisoned during the war.

Every participant on the trip had to spend some time preparing beforehand. I thought that this might be an opportunity to sit down with my father and have him share his experiences with me. He had never spoken about it with me before.

I took him through the entire itinerary of our trip, and I pointed out that we would be passing through the Lodz ghetto. I hoped that he would open up and talk about it. But he didn’t say a word. My father wished me a successful journey, but nothing more than that.

When we got to Lodz, our guides took us to what remains of the ghetto. I tried to imagine my father walking down the street, but I had no information about his time there. I did, however, experience the unique feeling all IDF officers feel when they land in Poland. It’s something I simply couldn’t compare to anything else I’ve done in my life. Our presence there alone was proof that the Nazis failed in their mission to destroy the Jewish people.

The delegation was made up of all types of people – officers young and old, Jewish, Bedouin and Druze. That’s something that makes the IDF a unique military force – we invest not only in protecting the country but also in educating our officers and passing on our heritage and our values from generation to generation.

When I returned from the trip, I sat down again with my father. I showed him all of my pictures, and hoped that he would start talking, but to no avail.

I thought I’d never learn what happened to him, but this year something changed. My daughter was doing a roots project for school, and as part of the coursework she sat down with my father and asked him to tell her his story. For the first time ever, we learned that before the war, he lived in a Polish village called Stieglitz. The Nazis killed all of the Jews who lived there, but he managed to survive.

It’s not unusual for Holocaust survivors to avoid speaking about their experiences. But perhaps it was easier for him to talk to my daughter than it was for him to talk to me. He needed some kind of trigger, and grandchildren are often that trigger.

It was finally time for him to pass on his legacy to the next generation.

This article was written by Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, the head of the International Media & Communications Branch of the Israel Defense Forces Spokespersons Unit.

Auschwitz Center to Buy Home of Last Local Jewish Resident

Monday, April 8th, 2013

The Auschwitz Jewish Center launched a fundraising campaign to rescue the house of the last Jewish resident of Oswiecim, the Polish town where the Auschwitz concentration camp was built.

The center plans to transform the home of Szymon Kluger into a cafe that also will serve as a meeting place for local residents and visitors.

As part of its fundraising, the center launched a Kickstarter campaign on Monday to coincide with Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Before World War II, Oswiecim had a majority Jewish population.

Kluger died in 2000, the year the Auschwitz Jewish Center was opened. His house was next to the center, which includes a restored synagogue, a museum and educational facilities.

“According to the recent expert inspection, the retaining wall, which stabilizes our synagogue, is in danger of landslide due to extreme erosion,” said the center’s director, Tomasz Kuncewicz. “Without support for this badly needed renovation, we could lose the Kluger House and the synagogue.”

Kuncewicz said the center will establish a vegetarian cafe called Oshpitzin — the Yiddish name for Oswiecim — in the Kluger house that will serve as “a place of intercultural dialogue for residents and guests from all over the world.”

“We want to respect the town’s heritage by offering local products and promoting local artists in Cafe Oshpitzin. By reinforcing the Kluger house and its retaining wall, the synagogue’s future will also be secured, so that visitors to Auschwitz can continue to have a Jewish haven for reflection in the town.”

Chief of Staff, Son of Holocaust Survivor, Visits Auschwitz

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

IDF Chief of Benny Gantz, whose mother survived the Holocaust, wrote in the visitors’ book at Auschwitz Sunday that “the IDF will make sure that a horror [like the Holocaust] will not happen again.”

It has been said the true revenge for the Holocaust is to bring more Jews into the world in Israel and to return to the Nazi chambers with head held high to show the world who were the eventual and eternal victors over evil.

Gantz will fulfill that concept Monday as the first Israeli Chief of Staff to lead the “March of the Living, when he will lead 10,000 Jewish youth from around the world from the site of the Auschwitz death camp to that of nearby.

“On a clear, cold day, it is hard to understand or sense the gap between the silence all around and the horror that took place here, among the camp barracks, and inside of them, ” Gantz wrote. “The State of Israel is the security that an atrocity like this will not happen again. The IDF is the shield for the national home – the safe haven for the Jewish people….

“I am proud to stand at the head of the army and the delegation that, with great humility, seeks to bow its head in memory of the deceased and respect for the survivors, and to shoulder the responsibility of learning lessons from the past and ensuring future security.”

Israel began to mark Holocaust Memorial Day Sunday night at the Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial.

Most of the nation will stand in silence when the one-minute siren wails Monday morning in Israel.

IDF Chief of Staff Visits Auschwitz (Video)

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

The IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the son of Holocaust survivors, is leading a delegation to a Holocaust memorial at the site of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz.

Lt. Gen. Gantz left for Poland on Sunday, as Israel was preparing for the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day commemorations which begin Sunday night.

Lt. Gen. Gantz was welcomed in a military ceremony upon his arrival in Poland. He will later meet with Poland’s defense minister and chief of staff.

He will place a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw.

Back in 2008, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said “there is no more reliable and loyal adherent of your stance and aspiration for a better and a fairer world order in the European Union than Poland.”

And in 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “the Jewish people are an indelible part of Polish history, and Poland is an indelible part of Jewish history … Our deep bilateral cooperation is based on common values and a shared history, as well as on the aspiration to a common future in which we want to achieve the same goals.”

In light of those warm endorsements, it’s probably a good idea for Israeli military chiefs to keep visiting Auschwitz regularly.



Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Memorial Day Starts Sunday Night

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah, will be observed this year starting Sunday evening, April 7, the 27th of Nissan, and going through Monday night.

Israel’s day of commemoration for the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and for Jewish resistance, was signed into law by then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.

Many Jews commemorate the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, but some prefer to remember and mourn the victims of the Holocaust on the 9th of Av and the 10th of Tevet, the two days dedicated to mourning our many national catastrophes by the sages.

In Israel, Yom HaShoah will open at sundown in a state ceremony held at Yad Vashem’s Warsaw Ghetto Square, in Jerusalem. During the ceremony the national flag will be lowered to half mast, the president and the prime minister will speak, the Chief Rabbis will recite prayers, and Holocaust survivors will light six torches.

At 10 AM Monday, two-minute sirens will sound throughout Israel, and people will stand at attention. Ceremonies commemorating the Holocaust will be held at schools, military bases and other community centers.

All places of public entertainment will be closed by law. Israeli radio television will air only Holocaust documentaries and Holocaust-related talk shows, the cable comedy channel will be off, and all flags on public buildings will be flown at half mast.

Thousands of Israeli high-school students, as well as thousands of Jews and non-Jews from around the world, will participate in a memorial service in Auschwitz, in what has become known as “The March of the Living.” The event is organized in the hope of making the Holocaust experience “real” for young Jews born decades after the war.

Jews in the Diaspora will observe this day in their synagogue and community centers. Many Yom HaShoah programs will feature talks by a Holocaust survivors, recitation of psalms, poems and personal accounts, and viewing of Holocaust-related movies. Many Jewish day schools will hold Holocaust-related programs.

Research Shows Nazi Camps Twice as Vast as Thought

Monday, March 4th, 2013

The network of camps and ghettos set up by the Nazis across Europe was much larger than previously believed, according to new academic research, the Independent reported.

The research team, based at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, told The Independent the new evidence could be crucial to survivors trying to bring cases for compensation against Germany and other countries for time spent in obscure or undocumented camps.

The cataloguing of all the forced labor sites, ghettos and detention facilities run by the Nazis alongside infamous death camps like Auschwitz now shows more than 42,500 institutions used for persecution and murder.

Previously it was presumed that these institutions numbered around 20,000.

The editors of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, which will be published in seven volumes by 2025, estimate that between 15 and 20 million were killed or imprisoned in the facilities set up by the Nazis and associate regimes from France to Russia.

Geoffrey Megargee, the director of the project, said: “The results of our research are shocking. We are putting together numbers that no one ever compiled before, even for camp systems that have been fairly well researched – and many of them have not been.”

He added: “There is a tendency for people to see the Holocaust as consisting of Auschwitz and perhaps a few other places. It’s important to understand that the system was much larger and more complex than that; that many more people knew about it and took part in it; that it was central to the entire Nazi system; and, moreover, that many other countries had their own camp systems.”

The sites included many thousands of slave labor sites used to manufacture war supplies, prisoner of war camps and military brothels where women were dragooned into having sex with Nazi troops.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/research-shows-nazi-camps-twice-as-vast-as-thought/2013/03/04/

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