I want to share a Holocaust story as told to me by Heshy Frank, owner of Quality Carpet and my radio sponsor for the past 32 years.
First, though, a mazal tov wish to Heshy and the Frank family on the birth of a new grandchild. Fourteen months ago in Eretz Yisrael I was fortunate to share in the simcha where Heshy was the sandek at his grandchild’s bris – the child born to his son Meir. It was at this bris that Heshy told me the Satmar Rebbe, zt”l, had been his sandek and that his parents were on the famous Kastner’s train along with the Rebbe. This train made its way across Europe in an attempt to reach the safety of Switzerland.
“What happened in the end?” I asked Heshy. He smiled and answered, “The end is…I’m here, aren’t I?”
On my current trip to America I went to visit someone at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center. Imagine my surprise when I met Meir Frank there, holding his fourteen-month-old son. His wife had just given birth to another baby boy – and I would merit to participate in another Frank family simcha.
I finally heard Heshy Frank’s Holocaust story in full last Tuesday, which was Holocaust Memorial Day. In Israel it’s a very solemn occasion. However, here in New York, Holocaust Memorial Day goes almost unnoticed. I happened to be at Quality Carpet that day to do a one-hour special for Talkline radio. Before I started the broadcast I questioned Heshy about the details of the Holocaust story he had begun telling me at the last bris.
Heshy told me about Rudolf Kastner, a Hungarian-Jewish journalist who had negotiated with the Nazis to permit, in exchange for cash and jewelry, a trainload of Jews to escape to Switzerland.
Many of the wealthier passengers paid $1,000 each; in the end, more than 1,600 passengers were on the train.
I asked Heshy about Kastner’s possible motivation.
“The complete story of Kastner remains a mystery,” said Heshy, “but we do know that Kastner was shot to death in front of his home in Israel in 1957 and the killer was never found.
“Anyway, Switzerland refused to allow the train in, so it returned to Germany and the passengers were taken to a special section of the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. They remained there for a number of months and were allowed to daven and to eat kosher, with the amazing Satmar Rebbe in their midst.
“Finally, after some months, half the people were able to continue on to Switzerland. The other half, including my parents and the Rebbe, stayed in the camp for another few months and were then railed to Paris and from there to Switzerland.”
At this point Heshy had to participate in a business conference call, so he quickly concluded the story. “After the war my parents returned to Hungary. From there they were granted visas and were able to begin their lives anew in America. Shortly afterward I was born in East New York, Brooklyn, and the Satmar Rebbe was honored with sandikaus.”
Heshy then added, with a smile: “After the bris, the Rebbe washed to eat. This came as a surprise to his accompanying chassidim, who knew him to never trust the kashrus of ‘regular people.’ But the Rebbe said in Yiddish, ‘By der froi meg min essen’ (‘By this woman I have no question about the kashrus’).
“And so the end of the story is that I am here today.”
To which I added, “For me, the end of your story is that I’m there, in Eretz Yisrael, for more than twenty-eight years, thanks to your sponsoring my radio shows!”
At the bris last Thursday (Rosh Chodesh), as the baby cried out in momentary pain, I looked at the face of my patron, Heshy Frank, mesmerized by what I saw in his eyes, on his cheeks, and on his trembling lips. I saw Kastner’s train speeding across Europe; I saw his mom, a”h, whom I still remember; I saw the Satmar Rebbe; and I saw his hakoras hatov for Hashem’s kindness in bringing him to this special moment in a Torah-true zaidie’s life.
May the Frank family and Quality Carpet be blessed with many more years of success and nachas.