Rabbi Hersh Meir Lichtig (Part V)

When did you begin to experience liberation?

We went into the kitchens. There was so much food there, and we had been starving from hunger. We grabbed! We grabbed flour and stuffed it into our pants. We figured maybe we could make something out of it.

Since the Americans had not yet arrived and no one gave us cooked food, we tried to make fires to bake the potatoes we found in the kitchen. It was a lucky thing that I didn’t grab, because many people who grabbed got very sick and unfortunately died. Their bodies weren’t used to so much food, and they couldn’t tolerate it. Baruch Hashem, the Ribbono shel Olam gave me this wisdom.

About two weeks later, the Americans arrived. Before the Americans came, I left the camp and started walking to the town. I came to a house — a German house — and I went inside. Sometimes I think about it. How did I have the chutzpah to go into a German house?

A lady came to the door. She was frightened just from looking at me; I looked like a skeleton. She said, “Come in, come in, what can I do for you?” I answered her, “You can cook some cereal for me.” I asked her to use only utensils and pots that she did not use for meat. The fact that I was keeping kashrus again gave me chiyus to continue on.

We remained in the camp for about another year. After the year, I felt that I could move on.

What motivated you to continue on?

I wanted to be among Jews. I wanted to associate with ehrliche Yidden. I wanted to find a pair of tefillin and be able to put them on. I didn’t want to stay on German soil.

I heard that a yeshivah had opened in Rome, Italy. It was started by Harav Binyamin Yudkovsky, a Gerrer Chassid who was a talmid of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin. Reb Isaac Moshkovitz was a Maggid Shiur. There were a lot of Gerrer Chassidim in this yeshivah.

I decided that this was the place for me. I took my belongings — which I could carry in one hand — and my own tefillin and a siddur in the other hand, and I went.

I never found any of my relatives. I stayed in Rome and then later I married my wife there. We got married in the yeshivah. At the time, Torah Vodaath allowed us to come to America under their name, so we decided to go. Three friends from the yeshivah in Italy were waiting for us at the ship in New York. I came to this country with $20. They gave us $150 and took us to the Joint — an organization for refugees which later became the United Jewish Appeal. We were taken to the Marseilles Hotel on the Upper West Side — 103rd Street at Broadway. From there, we went to locate the Agudas Yisrael offices.

What message do you want to tell the children of today?

The main message is — Klal Yisrael, please, don’t make such big weddings. Don’t make the goyim jealous. Don’t flaunt your money at them. Keep things low-key.

Children, be happy that you have never experienced what it means to be hungry. You have never experienced the nisayon of being a Jew and being hated just because you are Jewish. When I found my identification cards after the war, imprinted on them was the reason for my imprisonment — Juden!

A Yid symbolizes everything that is good and emesdig. This is the reason that we are in this world, this is the reason why the Ribbono shel Olam created us. We have to take the nisyonos and temptations that we have today and see to it that we are not overtaken by them. We have to handle our challenges in the proper way.

The only tachlis of a Yid on this earth is to remember “Mah chovoso b’olamo — Why were we sent down to this world?

When we learn, we should learn with hasmadah and yiras Shamayim. We should remain ehrliche Yidden. We should be zocheh, soon, to hear the kol shofar of Moshiach bimeheirah b’yameinu, Amen.


These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.