Rabbi Yisrael Spira, the late Bluzhever Rebbe, was a revered rabbinic figure in Eastern Europe well before the second world war. During his internment at various concentration camps, the Rebbe was guide, father and source of inspiration to thousands.
His last stop during the war was at the Yanowka death camp, where the Bluzhever Rebbe was one of the eleven people that survived among the three thousand inmates.
In Yanowka, on the night of January 13, 1943, a kapo entered the barracks where the Rebbe slept and called for the Rebbe to come forward. Everyone thought that the Rebbe was being singled out for torture, so no one—including the Rebbe—moved. However, the kapo, himself a Jew, assured everyone that he had come only to deliver an important message to the Rebbe. The Rebbe then rose from his bed and came forward. The kapo handed the Rebbe a crumpled envelope which contained a piece of paper on which someone had hurriedly scribbled a note. The note read:
My dear Rabbi Yisrael Spira,
May you enjoy a long and happy life, They have just surrounded the bristle factory in which some 800 of us have been working. We are about to be put to death.
Please, dear Rabbi, if you should be found worthy of being saved, and if you should be able to settle in the Land of Israel, then have a little marker put upon our holy soil as a remembrance for my wife and me. No matter where you will make your new home, perhaps you can have a sefer Torah written in our memory. I am enclosing fifty , American dollars which I hope the messenger with whom I am sending this note will give to you.
I must hurry, because they have already ordered us to remove our clothes.
When I get to the Next World, I will convey your greetings to your holy ancestors and will ask them to intercede on your behalf so that your days may be long and happy.
Aryeh ben Leah Kornblit
P.S. My sister's children are now living with a gentile family named Vasilevsky, near Gredig. Please take them away from there and place them with a Jewish family. Whatever happens, they must remain Jews. My wife, Sheva bas Chaya, was shot yesterday.
An old fifty-dollar bill fell out of the envelope.
From that day and on, the Rebbe carried this letter with him wherever he went. In 1946, at a public gathering in New York, the Rebbe read the letter to the crowd and appealed to everyone to help him fulfill Mr. Kornblit's wish. Though few among those present were well-to-do, virtually everyone responded generously. A sefer Torah was written and placed in the aron hakodesh (ark) of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. A few days prior to the sefer Torah's dedication, the Rebbe held Mr. Kornblit's letter in his hand and, with tears streaming down his cheeks, said,
"Take note of the spiritual strength God gives his people! Here is a man whose wife was already killed and who himself was about to die. Yet, he found in his heart the strength to think of others—not only his sister's children, but also those whom he would never know, and would hold his sefer Torah in their arms.
"How good is our lot, how beautiful is our heritage!"