Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The 25th of Teves is the yahrzeit of Rav Zvi Hersh Meisels, Veitzner Rav (1901-1974). Born in Hungary, he received semicha from Rav Meir Arik. In 1921 he married his cousin Henna and a few years later became the rabbi of Neimarket and founded a yeshiva for younger students. In 1930 he became rav of Veitzen.

In the Summer of 1944, the entire community was taken to a concentration camp outside of Budapest. A few days later they were sent to Auschwitz. Rav Meisels’s wife and six of his children were murdered there. Another son had died a few years previously due to being overworked in a forced labor camp. Three children survived the war.


One day while he was in Auschwitz a man approached him with the type of halachic question that no parent should ever have to ask, and no rabbi should ever have to answer. His son had been separated from the main group of prisoners and taken to an area from which no prisoners ever returned. The questioner had the opportunity to bribe one of the guards and ensure that his son would not be among the next group to be gassed. But if he did so that would mean that, as the Nazis had a quota, someone would be killed instead of his son. Rabbi Meisels started crying, asking how the father could possibly expect him to be able to answer such a question. He had no other rabbonim with whom to discuss the issue, nor a library to consult. He wasn’t the Sanhedrin. How was he supposed to decide who should live and who should die? Hearing this the man said that his whole life if he had a halachic question he always went to a rabbi and did what the rabbi said. What is he to do now that the rabbi won’t answer? “I guess that means I can do as I please and save my son. But if you felt that there was a reason to say it is permitted, you would have said so. Ergo, it must mean that you feel there are no grounds to permit. So, I have decided to not save my son’s life as that would mean having him replaced with someone else.”

On Rosh Hashana in Auschwitz, Rabbi Meisels went to a barracks where 1,500 boys who had already been selected for death were housed. Somehow, he had a shofar, and, despite the grave danger, he blew the full 100 sounds (some of those present said it was only thirty) for them so that they could perform one final mitzvah before being murdered. Some of the boys escaped or otherwise survived and shared their experiences that Rosh Hashana.

What struck young Yeshaya Glick the most was the incongruity between the outward appearance of this great rav and the spiritual intensity with which he said the few passages he felt he had time to say. “Here was a great scholar, dressed in the striped prisoner uniform, with a camp cap on his head, no beard, and no payos. And out of his mouth came the most emotionally laden prayers and blessings, not to mention the shofar bluzen.”

“I recall his appearance on this moving occasion, when he stood without a beard and payos, but was all fervor and devotion, intending to blow shofar with enthusiasm and chassidic ardor. Then he started blowing all the tekiyas, just as it was done in shul, without skipping any, blowing all the blasts precisely and well, and if a sound didn’t seem right to him, he repeated it, without speed or haste.”

“We were in a genuine hell on earth. The chimneys rose up in the background, and here, too, flames of fire and smoke ascended heavenward…and within that huge conflagration, the sound of the shofar was suddenly heard. Our Father in Heaven, look and see the sacrifices taking place here and now in the hell that we’re in… Have mercy.”

“For a moment I thought it was an illusion. A shofar? A shofar being blown in Auschwitz? But the thought races through my head. If there’s a shofar, maybe there is still hope.”

Five months later he was transferred to Brunswiek, Germany where he remained for the duration of the war. He had carried with him all the time a tallis that had belonged to his grandfather, the Yitav Lev. At some point he was afraid that he would be caught with a large tallis, so he shortened it and wore it under his garments. An officer once noticed that his clothing looked bulkier than that of the other prisoners and beat him severely for wearing the tzitzis. On another occasion when getting on the train to Brunswiek a guard noticed his tzitzis and ripped them off him. Despite the rav’s pleading, the guard proceeded to rip them into shreds and toss the pieces into the fire heating the boiler of the train’s steam engine. Broken-hearted, because he always felt the tzitzis protected him, he got on the train. His son was sitting next to him, and he fell asleep leaning on his son. In the middle of the night his son woke him to complain that he was uncomfortable with his father leaning on him. This complaint was uncharacteristic of his son, especially under the crowded circumstances of the train. Rav Meisels leaned away from his son, leaving some room between them. Moment later a bomb dropped by an American bomber exploded near the train and a piece of shrapnel entered the train passing right between father and son. Had Rabbi Meisels not moved, he would have been killed. It flew across the carriage and hit the Nazi guard who had destroyed the rav’s tzitzis with his hands, mangling the hands that had ruined his tzitzis.

After the war he worked to help displaced persons at Bergen-Belsen. He was appointed rabbi of the British sector and endeavored to help people restore themselves physically and spiritually. He helped to resolve many agunah cases in which it was unknown what happened to someone’s spouse and was in contact with many other rabbonim who worked on these cases. He wanted to institute a heter meah rabbonim in some of these cases, but others were opposed to that move.

In 1947 he moved to Chicago and married Breindel, the daughter of the Dezhe Rebbe. Together, they had nine children. He was the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Yisroel and authored numerous works on halacha and other topics. In 1970 he moved to Monsey and later to Williamsburg.

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Chayim Lando is the practice manager at Maryland Neuro Rehab & Wellness Center and has been a Jewish educator for over three decades. His favorite activities are studying and teaching Talmud and spending time with his grandchildren.