As a member of the Torah True community, I recognize only one day of commemoration for all of the tragedies in Jewish history – the Ninth day of Av – Tisha B’Av.
The fragment which I want to share with my readers has nothing to do with any other recent or other days of remembrance.
The reason why, all of the sudden, I want to share something with you that I have never written about or posted on my blog is simple: I only recently found the book, three pages of which I will post below. It is the first book about the Holocaust that I have read in probably the last 25 years. The memoir was written by Dr. Hillel Seidman, the archivist of the Judenratt in the Warsaw Ghetto which was the biggest Ghetto under Nazi occupation.
Some 25 years ago I read a memoir from the Warsaw Ghetto written by an eye witness, Henryk Makover. He was the chief doctor of the
ghetto Jewish police. After the liquidation of the Ghetto he survived the rest
of the War on the Polish side of the hideous division wall. Later he worked in located across the
street from the Military hospital where as Continence Objector; I served my
army substitute service. Institute
He was an assimilated Jew and his descriptions of the events in the Ghetto bore a strong mark of Weltanschauung, of the Jew estranged from his heritage, similar in nature to the famous Emanuel Ringelblum. Dr. Makover’s diaries give over the impression that somehow by describing the horrible reality of the Ghetto where his brothers were dying day and night deprived of basic human needs, he finds almost justification for his own moral failings. It seemed as if by describing children dying from hunger in front of a bakery or Jewish policemen stabbing people marching to Umshlagplatz he was trying to say that since there is no compassion there is no morality and therefore he, too, is free from what his ancestors considered moral.
I know that what I just wrote may look simplistic but I believe that in many, although not all, of the cases of renegades from the Jewish faith, it works along those lines. I will stress however, that I recognize the fact that people may lose their faith due to some events which no human being is able to understand or even grasp.
When I saw the book, fragments of which I reprinted below, it didn’t pull me at first. I was somewhat immune since at the dawn of my twenties, soon after I discovered the horrible past of the land where I was born and raised, I had retrieved all possible material about the Holocaust. From when I was eighteen, I had read every book or press release, I had watched every documentary and listened to every radio broadcast. Most of all, I spoke to everyone who had something to say about the topic – Jew and Gentile alike.
What I came to appreciate in this particular fragment of memory, recorded for posterity on paper, is the Emuna, Emuna of the children of Abraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov.
Those words and events took place exactly 70 years ago in January 1943.
From "The Warsaw Ghetto Diaries" of Dr. Hillel Seidman
Like hungry and exhausted travelers braving the snow and freezing cold, we creep past abandoned apartment blocks and courtyards searching for sefarim from a lost civilization to transfer to the Judenrat archives. We enter the second story of
Street where we have been told there are many sefarim.
Indeed, large bookcases are filled to overflowing with sacred literature. I
open a Gemara at random and read "Shaiyach l’Rabi Yosef Albinger —
Belonging to R. Yosef Albinger.- The next sefer has the same inscription, and I
recall this is where Kehillah committee member Albinger lived.
In fact during the War, the Sochatchover Rebbe, R. Dovid Bornstein, zt"I, secretly stayed here, too. His grandson Nosson Bahariah, a talented young man, managed to conceal him throughout the terror, and the Rebbe merited to survive the most difficult stages of the deportations. The Rebbe died from causes and received a proper Jewish burial (in the Ghetto this was known as a - luxury death"). I actually took part in the Sochatchover Rebbe’s levaya, but only a small crowd was present.
Now I find a small sefer Torah in the bookcase and the tables are full of Chasidic sefarim, Gemaras, and Zohar as well as rabbinical response - a classical Chasidic household. Everything has already been looted: furniture, utensils, and possessions. Only the sefarim remain. Apparently Albinger enjoyed other interests too. We discover copies of the publication: Hatzefira. Hamagid, Hamelitz and Hayom. Ali of it is carted off to the archives.
We cross over to
and enter the Chevra Shass Shul at number 41. Piles of sefurim lie heaped on
the tables and benches. Many are worn and tattered from heavy use — how much
Torah has been learned here! Then we visit the Sardinar Shtiebl at 15
Nalewki Street. Here we find many siddurirm, machzorim,
Tehillim, and a few Chumashim.
One imagines how all these prayer books must have absorbed decades of tefillah — how many tear-laden sighs were uttered here! How many heartfelt tefillas! This shtiebl used to be filled with minyanim all day long. Where are all those many Jews now! Can I still hear their faint echo here?
After this sobering experience we walked to
Street where HaRav Avraham Weinberg (also
popularly known as "Reb Avrumele Stitziner") lived. He was a famous laimdan,
renowned too for his piety, a talmid of the Avnei Nezer (the first Sochatchover
Rebbe), and one of Poland's
prominent rabbanim. I recollect his noble appearance, which spoke volumes of spiritualism.
He was fairly short, but his deep-set eyes shone with an ethereal light. He
spent day and night studying or teaching talmidim; though he was far removed
from everyday affairs, he was not a "batlan."
I remember when the Kehillah shammas., the famous "Reb Don," once attempted to deliver Reb Avrumele's stipend and reported to me that his door was locked. He surmised that he was probably working officially as a "shoemaker" at Schultz since Reb Avrumele's brother (surprisingly, not religious) Was a large factory owner and a top manager at Schultz. But "Reb Don" was wrong. Reb Avraham Weinberg remained at home during the German occupation — learning diligently until he and his family were deported, after the 2nd of August. Apparently he was taken in the middle of his shiur, since a number of Gemaras Bechoros are laid out on his table still open at the page at which they were disturbed.
in my imagination the empty room reverberates to the ancient tune "Hoi, omar Rava, Hoi, v’omar Abaye - Rava said... and Abave replied...." But the familiar cadences sound mournful and depressed. The abandoned Gemaras stare at us reproachfully, asking those eternal questions: Why? What for? These tomes of Talmud mount a challenge for which we have no adequate answer. I order my team to leave the Gemaras as they are, untouched, as if they were holy relics.
Perhaps one day, when a better world arises from the ruins of the present one, we shall gather the world leaders who now remain so silent and persuade them to file past these orphaned Gemaras, abandoned in the middle of a sugya, and see if they can answer these penetrating questions. Where were you, we shall ask them, when this pure innocent world was being destroyed? Let those who pontificate endlessly about democracy and justice give a decent reply to these tattered and well-worn Gemaras.