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Gates to Auschwitz

Editor’s note: The following story is fictional. 

It was a cloudless late spring day, 1944. The work continues at a pace precisely calculated for maximum efficiency. The stench of evil is pervasive, the smoke from the chimneys cries out to the heavens.

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In this place, the greatest crime ever committed in all of world history is in progress. No delay is permitted, the work must continue. At the entrance to this facility, the words “Arbeit Mach Frei” (“Work Makes One Free”) greet the visitor with the greatest lie. This is not a work camp. This is a death camp.

In the children’s barracks of Auschwitz, a group of youngsters wait silently. They have long ago stopped speaking. They are hungry, cold, emaciated, with eyes sunken, black, and blank. Their skin hangs on their bones, and they wait. Though no one is permitted in, they hear the door opening slowly and a saintly-looking Jew enters.

They wonder: Why is he endangering his life? He approaches and tells them, “Kinderlach, we don’t know how much time we have left, so let’s learn Torah.” They shuffle slowly to sit close to him. The rebbe begins at the beginning: “‘In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth.’ Now, holy Jewish children, we will learn the very first Rashi in Chumash.”

With great love, he tells them that Rashi asks, “Why does Torah begin with the story of the creation of heaven and earth? Since the Torah is the guide to our lives, and informs us of the mitzvot we are privileged to perform, it should have begun with Parshat Bo, which contains the first mitzvah: rosh chodesh. Why did He start with creation?

“Rashi answers that all of Bereishit was written to convey a very important message: If the nations of the world say to Israel, ‘You are thieves because you conquered the lands of the seven nations,’ we can respond, ‘The whole earth belongs to the Holy One Blessed be He. He created it and He gave it to the one He found proper. It was His will to give it to the nations, and by His wish He took it from them and gave it to us.’”

The rebbe sees a young boy, who is barely holding on to life, raise his shaking hand to ask a question. “Yingele, what do you want to ask?”

The boy is visibly disturbed. With the little energy still left in him, he blurts out, “What is Rashi talking about? What world does he live in? The Jews are being destroyed. We are being trampled like the dust of the earth. We are the most hated and despised people. No one cares about us. Jewish history is coming to an end, and Rashi talks about us having Eretz Yisrael and responding to the accusation of the world that we stole the land?

“Rashi is dreaming. It’s all a fantasy. Soon there won’t even be anyone to say Kaddish for us. The trains keep coming every day unloading their cargo. We are dying; the end is nearly upon us.”

When he finished speaking, silence descended on the barracks. Then the children saw the rebbe sobbing softly with tears flowing down his cheeks. He looked at them and said, “Kinderlach, we are a people of faith, and since Rashi said what he did, we believe that one day it will be true. We don’t know when, but we believe with perfect faith that one day Eretz Yisrael will be ours and the nations will accuse us of having stolen the land. At that time, we will know how to respond.”

Little did they know that only four years later Rashi’s “fantasy” would be a startling, miraculous reality, and the nations of the world would call us thieves, just as Rashi predicted they would.

For years I was disturbed by the ugly falsehood, the rewriting of history, the blatant lies. But now every condemnation of Israel finds me saying, “Rashi was right. Rashi was right. Rashi emet v’Torato emet. Rashi is truth and his Torah is truth.”

For 900 years, we had to study the first Rashi in Chumash with a great leap of faith. If Rashi said it, it will be so. How fortunate we are to see the first Rashi in the headlines as the chorus of condemning nations pathetically tries to undo what Hashem has wrought. He promised to give the land to us, and that is precisely what He is doing before our very eyes.

Am Yisrael chai.

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