A few days ago I received the following letter from Mr. Avi Kustin from Yerushalayim:
“For years my family has been asking me to tell of my suffering during the Holocaust and document it. I kept delaying it until the next year, then the year after that. The reason for my delay is that I was afraid that if I start talking about my experiences during the war, I might break down in front of my family. This year I decided that I cannot postpone it any longer. Pretty soon I will be 82 years old and my time is running out.
“In November 2014, my children set up a camera and I told my story from the beginning to the present.
“During the time of the recording I had trouble sleeping — I was having nightmares. One night, my wife woke me up and said, ‘What is happening to you? You have been screaming.’
“That night I had a dream that I was standing with my parents at a railroad station. There were boxcars and people as far as the eye could see. I asked my mother, ‘Who are all those people?’ And she answered, ‘They all came to say goodbye to you.’ As I said goodbye to my father, I asked him, ‘How many of you are there?’ He answered, ‘Don’t you know? Six million.’ I asked each one their name and where they were from and I gave them each a big hug. I kept doing that until my wife woke me up and told me I was talking in my sleep. I got up, took my calculator, and figured out that to say goodbye to six million would take someone 10 years. To say goodbye to the million and a half children would take two and a half years.
“The number ‘six million’ does not adequately describe the enormity of the crime. When you add a time element and come to a conclusion that it would take 10 years to say goodbye, you get a better understanding of the enormity of the crime.
“I intend to devote the rest of my life to try and link the element of time to the six million of our brothers and sisters who have been ruthlessly murdered by the Germans and their collaborators.”
Do we ourselves remember the six million Kedoshim?
Do we say goodbye to them?
Seventy years have passed since the liberation of Auschwitz.
The world knows today about the Auschwitz liberation on Jan. 27, 1945, but liberation actually started earlier. Beginning on January 18, the Soviets started liberating different places.
My mother, Mrs. Dvora Levin, a”h, was liberated on January 18, 1945, in Warsaw, which was by then almost completely reduced to rubble. According to German orders, no civilians were allowed to remain in Warsaw since the summer of 1944 — certainly not Jews.
If my mother or her brother Menachem Mostowitz, or Leibel Binenfeld, zichronam livrachah, who were hiding together, would have been caught by the Poles — never mind the Germans — they would have been killed on the spot. But they dared to stay in Warsaw and the Ribbono shel Olam decided that they would survive. And so they escaped from their bunker at the last minute, right before it was blown up by the Soviets with hand grenades.
Nine days later, on January 27, the Soviets entered Auschwitz.*
Whom did the Soviets liberate if most of the inmates were forced to go on death marches?
What and who were left in Auschwitz?
The bitter cold, and deep snow.
The dying, who had no chance of survival.
What managed to survive in Auschwitz?
The spirit of the Jewish Nation which could never be extinguished.
Our dear, unforgettable Reb Yossel Friedenson, z”l, was liberated from Buchenwald on April 11, 1945. On January 27 liberation was still a far-off dream to him. He explained that what kept him, a walking skeleton, going was the following story:
When the Germans occupied Lodz, marauding soldiers raided home after Jewish home, snatching crystal, silver, furs, and anything of value they could find. One day, two Nazis burst into Yossel Friedenson’s home. Yossel’s mother hurriedly offered them a prepared bribe. The ploy worked; they pocketed the wad of cash and were heading for the door when their eye caught sight of the Friedenson bookcase. “What’s that?” asked one of the Nazis as he pointed to a multi-volume set of large books.
Yossel, a teenager at the time, later recalled:
“Innocently, proudly, I told the Nazi, a German, that this was my father’s prized set of the Talmud. In a totally unexpected response, both Nazis turned into beasts of prey, their eyes narrowing into slits and their faces turning beet red. They wildly pulled volume after volume from the bookcase, ripping pages out, stomping on the books, and throwing some out the window. In a mad frenzy of rage, the two men totally destroyed my father’s treasured set.
“When my father [Rabbi Eliezer Gershon Friedenson, Hy”d] returned home, I asked him why? Why had they been content to leave behind all of our valuables, but had gone wild destroying our books? He replied, ‘Mein kind [my child], the Talmud is the total antithesis of Nazism. To them, as long as the Talmud exists, their very existence is threatened. That’s why they felt compelled to utterly destroy it.’ Indeed, German propaganda taught that the Talmud was the ‘secret weapon’ of the Jews, part of a vast conspiracy to oppress the world.”
On January 18, January 27, April 11 and some other famous days of liberation in 1945,
The spirit of the Talmud won.
When I think of all those who did manage to survive, start anew and rebuild, they managed to leave an impression on the world outside — and on us, the children — that everything was okay and life was going on. But this was not the reality.
Did they actually survive?
The answer is simple:
Some did and some did not.
The guilt feelings of “Why did I survive?” and “What is my goal in this world?” chased after them until the last breath of their lives.
We are living in a time when anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head and leaving a dangerous imprint on all of us all over the world.
It is time for us to remind ourselves that we need to remember. This is our sacred mission and holy obligation.
What is it that we need to remember?
Anything we can do to help reconnect the link that was broken and destroyed.
I will never forget a story told by Reb Zusha Hartzstark, z”l, a most pious, devoted Jew who went to Poland during the time of Communism on shlichus of Gedolim to take care of Jewish interests in Poland.
He recounts as follows:
“It was the yahrtzeit of my mother who passed away in Auschwitz. I met a Jew who stayed in Poland after liberation. He served as the baal tefillah. According to his nusach, one could tell that he was a learned man. I realized he didn’t stop saying Kaddish, so I stopped him and asked him why he keeps on saying Kaddish over and over again. ‘Do you have yahrtzeit?’ He did not answer me. After a few minutes, I asked him again. ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘if you really want to know, I am saying Kaddish for myself. Do you hear what I am telling you? For myself!’
“I went back to my hotel room thinking that there was probably more than just this one person who was saying Kaddish for himself in Poland at that time.
And in my head two voices pounded and reverberated: “Kaddish for myself!” — and the heartbreaking yelling of Shema Yisrael by the inmates of Auschwitz as they were forced into the gas chambers.
It is our sacred duty to accept upon ourselves some way, some action by which to remember these holy Kedoshim who were murdered al kiddush Hashem —
If we don’t want to be accused of forcing them to say Kaddish for themselves.
– Ruth Lichtenstein
* See article by Rachel Licht in the Features section.