Reb Chaim Braunfeld, Hy”d, a chassidic Jew and resident of Cracow, was walking on the street when a Nazi fiend began to shout at him in German.
“Jew, come here! Why didn’t you remove your beard?”
Taking his bayonet, the Nazi proceeded to shave off half the Yid’s beard — along with some of his flesh.
“Run home and get rid of your beard,” the Nazi yelled at him, as he kicked him viciously.
His son, Mr. Michael Bar-On (Braunfeld) described what happened next.
“My father came home, and we somehow bandaged him. But the rest of his beard, he refused to take off. He refused to take it off.”
Mr. Bar-On proceeded to relate how his father, and then his mother, fell ill with typhus. Reb Chaim, realizing that his end was near, turned to his children with his last request.
“Zeits tzu bleiben Yidden shomrei Torah u’mitzvos — See to it to remain Jews who are shomrei Torah and mitzvos.” He then recited the words “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad” and closed his eyes.
His wife cried out to him, “Chaim, on whom are you leaving your wife with eight children?”
“On the Ribbono shel Olam,” Reb Chaim Braunfeld replied, and with those words his lofty soul ascended to Heaven.
This powerful story — among other riveting accounts of spiritual heroism during a time of indescribable horror — is presented in a just released mesmerizing documentary by Project Witness titled Once Upon a Family: The Saga of Polish Jewry.
The extraordinary, ongoing demand to see this documentary is testament not only to the great demand among Torah Jewry for appropriate, accurate material about the Holocaust, but also to the fact that its powerful message of emunah is something our generation is thirsting for.
This Shabbos, Klal Yisrael will read the haftarah of Nachamu, a nevuah told to us by Yeshayah Hanavi.
Our forefathers never imagined that in the year 5775 (2015 in the secular calendar) we would still be in exile, and still be in need of consolation. Yet here we are, a nation shattered from within and battered from without, grappling to find a way to strengthen ourselves.
The last will and everlasting cry of the Kedoshim, “See to it to remain Jews, shomrei Torah u’mitzvos” — the searing, eternal words they uttered — were filled with emunah peshutah. Their cries of “Shema Yisrael” and their singing of “Ani Maamin” serve as a most powerful source of inspiration.
For the very fact that hundreds of thousands of Jews, residing in communities large and small on six continents, are heeding the call of the Kedoshim and, despite all the challenges, living lives as proud Torah Jews is in itself a great source of consolation. For despite the best efforts of the forces of evil, against all odds, Torah Jewry has survived.
As the Novominsker Rebbe, shlita, pointed out in the documentary, the fact that during the last seventy years we have been able to, b’ezras Hashem, rebuild our families, our yeshivos, our Bais Yaakovs, and our chessed institutions is a nechamah bekiflayim, a source of consolation and great chizuk.
“It all points to the Ribbono shel Olam’s yoshev badin and yoshev b’rachamim,” the Rebbe added.
Chazal tell us that when Yeshayah spoke the words of Nachamu to Bnei Yisrael, they asked him, “Rabbeinu Yeshayah, are you saying that you only came to comfort the generation in whose lifetime the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed?”
“I came to comfort all the generations!” Yeshayah answered. “It is not ‘said your G-d,’ but ‘says your G-d.’”
The Ribbono shel Olam is comforting us. He personally is consoling us, assuring us that our suffering will come to an end. But the Midrash also teaches us: “Nachamu — who needs consolation? What may this be compared to? To one whose sons were taken captive in his lifetime; whom do we console if not the father? So, too [in Yirmiyahu 10:20 it states]: ‘My sons have left me and are no more.’
“To what [else] may this be compared? To one whose house was burned down; whom does one console if not the owner? So, too, Hakadosh Baruch Hu says: ‘My house has been burned…’”
The Midrash gives more examples and then concludes: “Nachamu, ami; it is Hakadosh Baruch Hu, so to speak, who is asking Klal Yisrael to comfort Him!”
As we await the glorious day when we will see the true consolation — the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash and techiyas hameisim — we must at every opportunity seek to strengthen ourselves with emunah peshutah. In doing so, we will doubtlessly hasten the day of our Geulah.