Rabbi Herschel Schacter, the first Jewish chaplain to enter the Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945, was niftar Thursday morning. He was 95. He served as the spiritual leader of the Mosholu Jewish Center in the Bronx, N.Y., for more than five decades and was a director of rabbinic services at Yeshiva University.
He served as the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations from 1967 to 1969, was president of the Mizrachi-Hapoel Hamizrachi, founding chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry and chairman of the Chaplaincy Commission of the Jewish Welfare Board.
“Rabbi Schacter was an exemplary leader who often spoke of his ‘deep commitment to Jewish inclusiveness and unity,’” Richard Stone, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, of the Conference of Presidents said in a statement.
“He served his congregation, his people and his country with great distinction,” they added.
Schacter was in one of the first jeeps to enter Buchenwald. He later described entering one of the barracks and finding shadows of human beings. Horrified by the wretched condition of the survivors, after realizing that they were Jews, he started shouting in Yiddish, “Yidden, you are liberated.”
In a famous incident, Schacter approached a pile of corpses, when he suddenly noticed a pair of eyes looking at him. He was shocked to realize that the child was very much alive.
“How old are you, my son?” he asked in Yiddish.
“I’m older than you,” the child replied.
“Why do you think that you’re older than I am?” Rabbi Schacter asked.
“Because you laugh and cry like a child,” he said. “I haven’t laughed for longer than I can remember and I can’t even cry anymore. So which one of us is older?”
That child was Yisrael Meir Lau, who grew up to become the Chief Rabbi of Israel.
The levayah is scheduled for Friday at 10:00 a.m. at The Riverdale Jewish Center, 3700 Independence Avenue, Riverdale, NY.