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27 Ellul 5762 - September 4, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
They Were Twelve Hundred

by Rabbi M. D. Weinstock

Editor's Note: This story is taken from a small pamphlet published some years ago by the author. In the words of one commentator, this and the other stories show clearly "how Jewish spirituality acted as a counterforce to Nazi bestiality." Writing in the Jewish Observer, Rabbi Joseph Elias said the stories are written from the "inside" of the Jew, making them more authentic.

In our day they give us some perspective on the suffering our people has known, and the example set by our fathers that should inspire us to teshuvoh sheleimoh. There is no doubt that saying the Lamnatzei'ach seven times before blowing the Shofar will be quite a different experience for anyone who has read this moving story.


To the memory of the martyrs of Auschwitz

Few New Year's Days, few Rosh Hashonohs, such as this one have been recorded in history.

The Jew who found a Shofar -- nobody knew where -- and held it in his hand, ran almost frenziedly from one group to the other between the barracks. He blew the Shofar as prescribed in the rules, with the teki'os, shevorim, teru'os. Never has such a tearful sound reached the ears of man. The sound of the Shofar rose towards the skies weeping, begging for forgiveness, demanding salvation.

And the man who had, by some miracle, obtained a Shofar, blew it some fifty times, sending its mournful message to the four winds to help his brethren on this memorable New Year's Day to fulfill, on Rosh Hashonoh, the command to blow the Shofar.

Only a few days before, the S.S. executioners had invented a new game to amuse themselves. The knowledge that they could dip their hands at pleasure into the blood of the herds of sheep brought to this slaughterhouse, was constant fuel to their vile, perverted, inhuman imagination. They surpassed one another in devising new and more original diversions.

One of these Prussian brutes, for instance, conceived the idea of piling up heaps of cabbage and potato peelings approximately a hundred yards one from the other.

"Los!" he yelled. "Run Jews, there's your slop." Forgetting the devilish purpose behind these daily brain- waves, the unfortunate, starving herd ran head over heels toward the life-giving garbage.

"Stop, my brethren, stop. Can't you see that you are running towards destruction!"

But it is too late. The faces of the executioners break into satanic grins, bullets burst from the machine gun. Those who ran so desperately to prolong their lives lie dead in a bloody heap. The master marksmen had found their target.

The witness who has survived the torments of this hell, describes innumerable such bestial murders committed for the mere pleasure of killing, in those days of horror.

The massacre of the children, planned for the day of Rosh Hashonoh, was also the fruit of the playful ideas conceived in the diseased minds of those sickly sentimental and inhumanly cruel adherents of Wotan. The S.S. had decided that there were too many Jewish children between the ages of twelve and fifteen still alive.

"It is time to thin out the brood," the commander of the murderers had decreed.

And on a hot, sunny afternoon the army of trembling children, clad in rough striped prison uniforms, was ordered to march past two stakes stuck into the ground. One was shorter, the other taller, approximately 130- 140 centimeters high. The child whose head reached the top of the taller stake was safe. The smaller children were destined for the gas chamber.

Devilish playfulness! Horrible games! One thousand two hundred beloved Jewish child-martyrs. Your little heads did not reach the top of the stake, not even when you stood on tiptoe. My tears flow eternally at the memory of your tragic fate. May the Creator revenge your death and that of the other six million martyrs!

We know, yes we know, that most of us do not achieve the perfection of humanity; how then can we expect dignified, human behavior from the unfortunate victims of those dreadful days that deprived even the strongest of their sober judgment? The frames of life fell asunder and so did the souls. Life was the cheapest commodity of all. Is it then surprising that few could resist the desire to live, only to live, even at the price of the blood of others!

Judge not, brother. Who knows what you would have done in my place, what you would have done when you saw your child whom you had saved in the face of a thousand perils, march toward the gas chamber. There, hidden among your ragged clothes, are the torn banknotes, the gold, the dollars for which you once toiled until you dropped with fatigue. All the treasures of the world you would give to save your child!

I ask you, could you have resisted the temptation, the sin? For the Torah considers it sin to save a soul at the price of another.

Because this is what happened. For each child claimed back from death in exchange for a small fortune, another was substituted. For each child returned to his parents, the devils took one of the "saved" to make up the number.

And there were those who considered this permissible!

A man from Vac, a pious, G-d-fearing man approached his rabbi and whispered:

"Rabbi, here is money, hidden under my shirt. May I offer it to the S.S. guard to save my only child whom I have so often brought back from the brink of death?"

The father and the rabbi wept bitterly together but the rabbi made no reply.

The father took the rabbi's silence as a negative answer; if the rabbi says nothing, then this is the Command of the Torah. And the tormented little Jew from Vac drew himself up proudly like Hannah, the martyr of Maccabean times who sent seven of her children bravely to death, and said:

"Rabbi, I am happy that my son will die according to the Command of the Torah."

But this was not the only din Torah of the rabbi who incidentally, was the man who had blown the Shofar.

A little boy of about thirteen came to speak to him, a well- developed, tall boy, who had attained the required size and thus been saved. In tears he told the rabbi that his best friend, a boy older than he but shorter, was now among the condemned. That boy had been his teacher, his "bocher" in the Yeshiva. His name was Mordche, he was a talmid chochom, and his death would be a terrible loss. "Mordche could grow into a great man," he repeated stubbornly. "He is a much better scholar than I and I would gladly give my life for him." The rabbi asked the little boy to desist. "Our laws do not allow that one should give up his life for another."

"Tell me at least, rabbi, that this would not be considered suicide up There."

The rabbi could no longer contain himself; he broke into bitter sobs.

"No, my sweet child, I cannot tell you that."

The day of Rosh Hashana arrived. Nature wrapped itself into a grey mist, the color of lead. Up There in heaven the fate of the world and of the beloved people, Israel, was again being decided. What shall become of us, our Father, our King, if you have no mercy on us? Shall not one of the custodians of Your Name survive? And yet Your children obey Your command even in the darkest depths of hell.

Ever since dawn, the rabbi had kept walking from one group to another. Loudly he recited the benediction and the people resorted to their last stores of moral strength and answered, "Amen." They closed their eyes tightly to concentrate on the course of the Shofar's sound with the whole of their thoughts. Even their breathing was but a desperate prayer.

The children in the special barrack, the death-house, heard the sound of the Shofar. They sent word that they too wanted to fulfill the command of the Creator for the last time. Let the rabbi come to them with the Shofar.

Those outside, the adults, were divided in their opinions about this. Entering the death-house involved terrible danger. The transportation of the condemned to the crematorium was planned for the evening hours. A bell would ring when the barrack doors closed for the last time. It was growing late. To go in there required real fortitude. But the rabbi who blew the Shofar did not hesitate. He stole into the death-house.

The one thousand and two hundred children sat on the floor of the barrack in a closely-knit circle. Their faces burned with the fire of self-sacrifice as if the souls of the ten Tanaitic martyrs had come to life in them, as they prepared to hand themselves to their executioners. Their hearts beat high, overflowing with the emotions that had filled the hearts of martyrs in all times. They were ready to give their lives for their Creator, for Kiddush Hashem, for the Sanctification of the Holy Name.

The rabbi's face turned ashen when he laid his eyes on the sacred assembly prepared for death. Words stuck in his throat, his heart almost stopped beating and his soul swelled with sentiments that one experiences but once in a lifetime.

"Rabbi, speak to us before blowing the Shofar," the boys begged.

And the rabbi obeyed. He spoke words that had never left his lips, either before or since. He spoke of the greatness of the martyrs and recalled their names and deeds through the ages. Then he concluded: "And yet, my children, trust the Father Eternal, because man must hope for delivery even with the knife at his throat."

There are no words to describe the solemnity of that moment, the burning eyes of the children, their transfigured expression as they took upon themselves the Creator's yoke, the duty of martyrdom, for the Glory of His Sacred Name.

And they began to sing the Psalm: Lamnatzei'ach. This song now soared to such heights -- never had it expressed the Jewish fate, the tragedy of this most persecuted, yet greatest people of the earth, with such unbearable beauty

But none of the children felt that their fate was tragic.

Is it a tragedy to ascend the loftiest peak of heroism and perfection at an innocent age, to become purified of the filth of all ages for the Jewish ideal?

After the blowing of the Shofar, the Jewish children surrounded the rabbi. There stood Mordche, the talmid chochom, who had apparently been elected leader by the children. Mordche raised his voice in the deep silence:

"We children, who are going to our deaths and giving our lives for our Creator, thank the rabbi for having come to us and made it possible for us to perform this last commandment. We beg the Eternal Father to permit him and his children to survive these horrors."

"Amen," one thousand and two hundred voices replied.

The time had come for the rabbi to leave. No sooner had he gone through the door of the barrack than the alarm bell began to ring. All entrances to the death-house were locked.

Later, all could hear the patter of the children's feet, the glorious tread of the one thousand and two hundred martyrs on the road to immortality.

About The Author

M. D. Weinstock was born in Hungary 1922 and received both a yeshiva and higher secular education. He survived the Holocaust in a Forced Labor Camp, but lost most of his family to Nazi brutality. M. D. Weinstock was editor and writer of several Orthodox Jewish papers in Hungarian from 1953-1979 in Israel.

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