Thursday, July 24, 2008

A land long gone

Today was a day like no other. Most days are like that. Anyway, enough chit-chat. It was looking like today would be a wash-out when we pulled up the drive of a posh elder-living facility this afternoon. All the people we had previously seen were either sleeping or not interested, which is always a bit of a let-down. Nevertheless, we made ourselves strong, and in true Carlebachian manner picked up our guitars and prepared to enter the domicile of our next host. Not that he knew that he'd be our host, but he found out about it pretty quickly.
We introduced ourselves to the elderly man, his wife, and their grandchild, a 15 year old named David who laughed at my jokes and is therefore assured of eternal paradise. See, we Jews have it much easier than Muslims. In what seemed like no time at all we were discussing Wolf's (for that is his name) life story. All the details are his, so no griping, okay?

Wolf was born in a Polish town, with a population of 35,000, on the border with Germany in 1923. His father wore a Shtreimel and was a Chassid of the local Rebbe, whose Tish they would regularly attend. Wolf remembers going to school, half-day to the local Jewish Polish school and half day to the Cheder. The Polish school was only for Jews for two reasons. In Poland, kids had to attend school six days a week. The local non-Jews would send their kids every day but Sunday, while the Jews sent their kids on all days but Shabbos. In order to avoid problems, they had separate schools. The second reason is that no Polish peasant would allow a dirty Jewish kid in his kid's school.

In 1938, when Wolf was 15, the Germans kicked all foreign-born Jews out of Germany. All these Jews were thoroughly Germanized, and it came as a big shock to them. These Jews had originally left Poland ten or twenty years before in order to find a better life, and they had done so in Germany. Even though they had become German citizens, the Nazi's decided to deport them. They were brought to the border on a Thursday, and put outside German territory. The Polish Government didn't want to accept them, as they were officially German citizens. The Germans had stripped them of their citizenship, so they weren't citizens of anywhere.
The local Rebbe managed to bribe the guards to allow the Jews through, but the only time they could do it was on Shabbos. All the townspeople went to the border, with their horses and wagons, and brought their fellow Jews to the town, though they had to go outside the Eruv, as Wold noted. Once everyone came back safely there arrived the additional problem of food, as no one had prepared for the guests. Back in the day, everyone used to make Cholent in their homes and then bring it to the baker's oven to cook until it was ready to eat Shabbos afternoon. The Rebbe announced that all the Cholent was now owned by the community, and would be distributed to the refugees. The townspeople went home and ate herring and crackers.

It was a beautiful town, with two Shuls, several Batei Medrash, a Kosher butcher and baker; life was good. In 1939 the Nazi's marched in and destroyed everything. The local Poles lined up outside, and when they saw a Jewish family being lead away from a house they came in and occupied it. Wolf was in concentration camps for six years. One day, in 1942 or '43, he saw a whole group of Chassidim come to a camp with their Rebbe. They all had long Peyos and Kapotes, as he once had. They turned to their Rebbe as they were being lead to the gas-chambers, and asked him, "What can we do now to save ourselves?" Before, he had always been able to tell them to learn this, Daven that, or do some good deed; now, he had nothing to tell them.

In the camps they were worked from dawn to nightfall, and the religious Jews had no time to Daven in the morning. They would put on their Tefillin while they were walking to the work sites, and Daven by heart. This was of course extremely dangerous, as it was illegal to possess any sort of religious article. Once a guard saw one of the prisoners putting on Tefillin, and he walked over, thinking they were some sort of bomb. When he saw what they were he smacked the prisoner in the face, and the Tefillin fell down to the ground, ruined.

After Yom Kippur one year one of the Chassidim in the camp was desperate to do Kiddush Levana. Everyone else in his barracks told him that he was mad, because if you left the barracks at night then you were shot. He could not be dissuaded, and he jumped through a window, as the door was locked. He went to the fence to try and see the moon, and the guard thought he was trying to escape and shot him.

There weren't only Jews in the camps; many criminals were sent there, including some German ones. Even though these criminals were in concentration camps, they still felt that they had some power, and they were just as happy to kill Jews as were the guards.

After the war a British chaplain gave Wolf a pair of Tefillin, and later he made his way to Sweden. In 1947 he came back home, to his town, but everything was desolate, as he had left it. The sites of the Shuls were still in ruins, and Poles inhabited all the Jewish houses. Wolf realized that there was no more life in Poland; the whole country was simply a cemetery for the Jewish dead.

While he was in the camps, Wolf prayed many times for Moshiach to come. After the war they told him he was lucky that he had survived. He said, "No, the others were lucky. They died."

Where was G-d in the camps? Where was G-d during the entire 2000 years of Jewish suffering? It's not my job to answer those questions, because no human, no matter how great, can answer them.


Cheerio said...

sometimes, our lives seem so far away from that kind of suffering. but it was really not so very long ago...
we don't ever have answers for these events, not the ones that happened 60 years ago, not the ones that happened 1000s of years ago during this time period.
we just daven for it to end.

Mottel said...

the last two lines are yours or wolf's?

The Real Shliach said...

It's a combination.

the sabra said...


Mottel said...

When I first looked at the comments on this post, I was confused on how I had written a comment and not remembered even reading the post . . . then I realized that it was another Mottel.

Anyhow. Funny that Josef I. seems to always get bloggers for Merkos Shlichus.

I was also moved by my time spent with Wolf and Aranka . . . in fact I previously blogged about it. Did David mention the rabbis from last year at all?

The Real Shliach said...

Yes Mottel, David did mention you, which was quite impressive.As for Joseph I, well, it must be the knishes.