Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Iyar 5764 - May 19, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











HaRav Osher Katzman, zt"l
By Rabbi N. Grossman

HaRav Osher Katzman, zt"l, a ram at Yeshivas Torah Vodaas and a former talmid of Yeshivas Mir and of HaRav Elchonon Wassermann Hy"d, passed away in New York last week.

Years ago this writer heard him tell two gripping accounts about how he was saved from the Nazi death machine through chasdei Shomayim and how he had the merit to save another ben Torah. HaRav Katzman told his stories during a voyage to the remains of the destroyed Torah centers in Lithuania at the initiative of HaRav Leib Baron, who was also a survivor of Yeshivas Mir and Yeshivas Baranovitch.

At the height of the war when the yeshivas had gone into exile in Vilna, food was in very short supply and the exiled refugees were on the verge of starvation. When R' Osher told the local baker of his hunger, the baker said he would provide R' Osher a small ration of bread, but because the supply of salt had run out he offered to make a deal: If he could obtain a large quantity of salt for baking, the baker would provide plenty of bread for him and his friends.

Recalling half a sack of salt was left at his sleeping quarters in Mir, R' Osher decided to return to the town despite the hard journey. Upon arriving in Mir the effects of the war were already apparent. Everyone felt the Nazis were about to arrive at any time. A sense of gloom and terror gripped the town. He rushed to the home of the rov of the city. HaRav Katzman told of his last meeting with the rov of Mir, HaRav Tzvi Hirsch Kamai Hy"d. "Why is the rov still here at a time like this?" R' Osher asked spontaneously.

"A rov does not leave his kehilloh in time of trouble," HaRav Kamai replied. "I'm staying here with the people of the town, come what may. But what are you doing here? Didn't you already escape to Vilna? Get away fast lest you perish!"

HaRav Katzman recounted in a trembling voice how the rov of Mir clasped his hand and lamented the destruction of the Torah in the town. `Elokim, bo'u goyim benachalosecho, timu es heichal kodshecho' (Tehillim 79:1). He wept ceaselessly and his hot tears wet my hands, but after a few moments he recovered his composure and said, `Now flee from here quickly, right away. Don't remain even for a moment. Every moment you linger is considered sakonas pikuach nefesh.' I tried to persuade him that I wanted to drop in for just a few moments to ask about my family members who remained in Mir, but he pressed me saying, `Absolutely not. Flee right away. Quickly, quickly . . . '

"I obeyed the Rov and rushed to the train station. All of the cars waiting in the station were packed with refugees fleeing the war. I couldn't even fit inside any of the cars and had to stand on the bottom stair of the door with half of my body hanging out in the air.

"When I got back to Vilna I realized how right the Rov had been. Had he not rushed me I would not have survived. That was the last train that departed from Mir. Afterwards the escape routes were closed and the trains stopped running. Every Jew who remained in Mir even one minute after the train rolled out was caught by the Nazis and taken away to his death."


When we visited the desolate building of Yeshivas Mir on our trip a few years ago, which had been converted into a local post office, HaRav Osher and ylct"a HaRav Leib Baron recalled past memories of the prominent members of the yeshiva, their unique traits and their styles of learning, as well as the teaching method employed by the Mashgiach HaRav Yeruchom, zt"l. Inside the remnants of the yeshivas, as the two described the great esteem for the Mashgiach, HaRav Katzman told the following story.

"In the US, many years after the war, I met HaRav Yaakov Finkelstein, one of the alumni of the yeshiva who had come from Chassidic Poland. He embraced me and said excitedly, `Let me tell you a secret. My life was saved in your merit! You probably don't know it, but it's true.'"

In Sivan 5699 (1939), on the yahrtzeit of Maran HaRav Yeruchom, HaRav Katzman wrote an article in memory of the Mashgiach for a chareidi newspaper published in Yiddish. The article reached the hands of R' Yaakov Finkelstein, who was greatly impressed with what he read about Yeshivas Mir and its method of building talmidim in ruchniyus. The bochur decided Mir was the just the kind of yeshiva he wanted to learn in. He made a decision to go and started to carry out his plan right away. Taking his kapotoh and a handbag carrying a few personal articles he set off for Mir. Just weeks after his arrival the war broke out and the yeshiva went into exile, beginning its long wanderings as far as Japan and Shanghai. "Thanks to your article I had the zchus to learn at Yeshivas Mir--and to remain alive."


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