In the 11 Tishrei/October 10, 2019 issue of Hamodia, in the “Holocaust Survivors Speak” section, Mr. Sam Beller mentions, “There was a man living across the street from us by the name of Chaim Raber. He worked in the ghetto until the last moment.”
I want to explain how that came to be.
Reb Chaim Raber, z”l, was my father. He lived in a city whose population included 8,000 Jews. Jews called the city Oshpitzin, the Poles called it Oswiecim (pronounced Oshvienchim), and the Germans called it Auschwitz.
On September 1, 1939, the Rabers were listening to French and Italian radio to decide what to do. My father’s sister decided to run to the other side of Poland with her husband and two sons. They left immediately and survived. My father said that since he was single, he would stay to care for his elderly parents.
The war in Oshpitzin started on September 2, when German planes bombarded the city. My father was later sent to the ghetto in Sonsovitz. He did manage to save his mother in the first big Aktzia in August 1942, though his father died then al kiddush Hashem. His mother was taken in the second Aktzia of June 1943. Hashem yinkom damam.
My father was among only 250 Jews who remained afterwards to clean the ghetto and sort its contents. That took six months. In January 1944, my father was sent to Auschwitz. He told my brother-in-law that his father would appear to him in a dream and tell him where to stand during Appell, when, many times, people were randomly selected to die.
Later his foot got caught in the teeth of a large machine used to gather hay or wheat. Rather than releasing the teeth, those yimach shimoniks pulled his foot off the teeth, ripping it to pieces. The foot developed gangrene and he was taken with several other unlucky Jews to the gas chambers. On the way, Mengele passed by and asked what that tall man was doing in that detail (my father was 6’2”). They told him his foot was green. He personally checked the foot, which was as green as could be. He then said that nothing was wrong with the foot and that my father should be sent back. I don’t know whether any other Jews were saved by that malach hamaves.
I think there is a moral to the story. My father was moser nefesh to stay and help his parents. In turn, Hashem took care of my father. He survived more than five years of ghetto and Auschwitz through open miracles.