Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Holding On

Story by Yaffa Eliach from "Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust", based on a conversation between the Grand Rabbi of Bluzhov, Rabbi Israel Spira and Baruch Singer: January 3, 1975.

It was a dark, cold night in the Janowska Road Camp. [The Janowska Road Camp was situated near the cemetaries and sand mountains outside the city of Lvov, in the Ukraine]

Suddenly, a stentorian shout pierced the air: "You are all to evacuate the barracks immediately and report to the vacant lot. Anyone remaining inside will be shot on the spot!"

Pandemonium broke out in the barracks. People pushed their way to the doors while screaming the names of friends and relatives. In a panic-stricken stampede, the prisoners ran in the direction of the big open field. Exhausted, trying to catch their breath, they reached the field. In the middle were two huge pits. [The vicinity of the Camp was scarred with bomb craters from WW1. The huge pits were used as torture sites and mass graves.]

Suddenly, with their last drop of energy, the inmates realized where they were rushing, on that cursed dark night in Janowska. Once more, the cold healthy voice roared in the night: "Each of you dogs who values his miserable life and wants to cling to it must jump over one of the pits and land on the other side. Those who miss will get what they rightfully deserve - ra-ta-ta-ta-ta." Imitating the sound of a machine gun, the voice trailed off into the night followed by a wild, coarse laughter. It was clear to the inmates that they would all end up in the pits.

Even at the best of times it would have been impossible to jump over them, all the more so on that cold dark night in Janowska. The prisoners standing at the edge of the pits were skeletons, feverish from disease and starvation, exhausted from slave labor and sleepless nights. Though the challenge that had been given them was a matter of life and death, they knew that for the S.S. and the Ukranian guards it was merely another devilish game.

Among the thousands of Jews on that field in Janowska was the Rabbi of Bluzhov, Rabbi Israel Spira. He was standing with a friend, a freethinker from a large Polish town whom the rabbi had met in the camp. A deep friendship had developed between the two.

"Spira, all of our efforts to jump over the pits are in vain. We only entertain the Germans and their collaborators, the Askaris. Let's sit down in the pits and wait for the bullets to end our wretched existence." said the friend to the rabbi.

"My friend," said the rabbi, as they were walking in the direction of the pits, "man must obey the will of G-d. If it was decreed from heaven that pits be dug and we be commanded to jump, pits will be dug and jump we must. And if, G-d forbid, we fail and fall into the pits, we will reach the World of Truth a second later, after our attempt. So, my friend, we must jump."

The rabbi and his friend were nearing the edge of the pits; the pits were rapidly filling up with bodies. The rabbi glanced down at his feet, the swollen feet of a 53 year old Jew ridden with starvation and disease. He looked at his young friend, a skeleton with burning eyes. As they reached the pit, the rabbi closed his eyes and commanded in a powerful whisper, "We are jumping!"

When they opened their eyes, they found themselves standing on the other side of the pit. "Spira, we are here, we are here, we are alive!" the friend repeated over and over again, while warm tears steamed from his eyes. "Spira, for your sake, I am alive; indeed, there must be a G-d in heaven. Tell me Rabbi, how did you do it?"

"I was holding on to my ancestral merit. I was holding on to the coat-tails of my father, and my grandfather and my great-grandfather, of blessed memory," said the rabbi and his eyes searched the black skies above. "Tell me, my friend, how did you reach the other side of the pit?"

"I was holding on to you" replied the rabbi's friend.

Memorial Sign for Jews killed in Lviv Janowska Concentration Camp

Shiur: Where Was G-d During The Holocaust? [shiur includes other topics] from Rabbi Y. Mizrachi - Divine


Leah said...

Hashem yakom damam.

Anonymous said...

Reb Elchonon Bunim Wasserman - Chosen to be Korbonos

One just has to say "Reb Elchonon" and everyone knows who you're referring to. He was a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim and was Rosh Yeshiva of Baranovitch. His seforim are widely used in Yeshivas and include Kovetz Heoros, Kovetz Shiurim, Kovetz Maamarim and Ikvasa D'Meshicha. Reb Elchonon was murdered in cold blood together with many other Jews, when the Nazia y's, entered Lithuania. Reb Ephraim Oshry, who was a Rov on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was 27 years old at that time; he was one of the few that managed to escape. He related over the following about the last thing Reb Elchonon told them.

When they saw the end was near Reb Elchonon got up and spoke to them. He spoke the same way he always did; he was calm and there was no indication of panic. He said the following:

"In Heaven it seems that they deem us to be tzadikim, because we have been chosen to be korbonos for Klal Yisroel. Therefore, we must do teshuvah now. We don't have much time. We must keep in mind that we will be better korbonos if we do teshuvah. In this way we will save the Yidden in America. Let no foreign thought enter our minds, Chas V'Shalom, as that will make us pigul, an unfit korban. We are now fulfilling the greatest mitzvah; Yerushalayim was destroyed with fire and will be rebuilt with fire. The same fire that will consume our bodies will one day rebuild Klal Yisroel."

How can a person say these things in such a manner, knowing they will be murdered shortly? If one lives his whole life al Kiddush Hashem and is always ready to sacrifice himself al Kiddush Hashem, then he can die al Kiddush Hashem.

Anonymous said...

I have tried many times to hear this whole lecture. As soon as it reaches the part where the Rabbi is talking about the intro into the Israeli army, a few words and then, no volume. The video goes on but no sound. Any one else experience thisÉ

Devorah said...

I haven't listened to the whole thing, just the first 20 mins, so I don't know.

Tidbits of Torah said...

I want to write but I can't write the right words after reading this

Anonymous said...

I note that the Ukranians still fail to mention the word Jew in their memorial. This is common in the Ukraine.