Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Jewish People Live - An Auschwitz Story

This story was told in 770 tonight, during a grand "farbrengen", and, as a son of holocaust survivors, I feel obligated to retell it. The speaker was Rabbi Gershon Avtzin.
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During the joyful days of Sukkot, when thousands dance in the vicinity of 770 for seven straight nights, from 9:00 pm to 6:00 am, Jews from all over the tri-state area come here to dance to the music. A pair of chassidim were dancing on their own while singing the Chassidic song, "הבל הבלים‫,‬ אין עוד מלבדו". A Jew nearby, when he heard their singing, suddenly stopped, looked at them, took a step back, and watched as if frozen in his tracks, awe-struck.

Someone asked him why he reacts that way. Rabbi Avtzin, standing nearby, overheard his story. He was an outstanding student in school and was awarded to go on a trip with a group of congregants to visit Germany's concentration camps. They did this yearly to show the Germans the Jewish nation is alive and well.

When they arrived at Auschwitz, they were offered a tour guide. The young man felt it inappropriate to take a "tour" in such a place; A "guided tour" in this deathly setting didn't feel right. Instead, he went off on his own. He walked to the barracks and entered one.

It was a cold winter day. Alone in the barrack, he wondered what Jews must have felt in this gruesome place. Despite the frost in the air, he removed his fur-lined coat. All he saw were boards that served the inmates as "beds". He wanted a better experience of the imagined feeling, so he decided to lie down on one of those "beds". In so doing, he was amazed to discover 5 Hebrew words written on the wall next to him, "הבל הבלים‫,‬ אין עוד מלבדו". He looked hard at these words; Their contrast in an atmosphere of hell was overwhelming. (The words mean, everything is rather meaningless - only God exists! )

Suddenly he heard a voice, "What are you doing?" His eye spotted an old man standing in a far corner of the barrack. He got off the board and walked to the old man. "I'm trying to feel what the Jews must have felt here."

The old man told him that could never happen. Only those who actually were here, like he himself who in his youth was an inmate in this very barrack, could get a feeling like that; Only those who knew that sooner or later their number will be called, only those who suffered the despair and hopelessness could know the feeling. The young man asked, "Do you know who wrote those words on the wall?"

The old man said, "I know very well. There was a young fellow who would sing a melody to us every night, a niggun accompanied by those words. Every night, after a long day of slave labor, after a day of starvation, and after many more Jews died that day, this song he sang lifted our spirits. He did so every night before we went to sleep. It gave us strength to endure and hope that we will live it through.

"One day, a German found out. He said to the Jew 'You will die tomorrow for that', and left. The Jew, a Chabad chassid, gathered us together and said to us, 'Yidden, tomorrow I will die as a Kiddush Hashem. I want to give you a gift before I go. If ever you need inspiration and strength to live on, remember me and remember these 5 words' - which he them proceeded to write on the wall."

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Rabbi Avtzin compared the darkness Jews felt in that barrack to the world situation now, where the Rebbe has disappeared from our view, where the darkness before daybreak is great. But 20 years ago, for over a year, the Rebbe, within the same 4 walls, encouraged Jews to accept him as Moshiach with the 8 words that remain written today on a wall in 770, 8 words that lift our spirits by acknowledging the imminent Era of Redemption soon to brighten our landscape,
יחי אדוננו מורנו ורבינו מלך המשיח לעולם ועד

1 comment:

  1. The story is powerful, but Avtzon's moshol sounds like something more fitting for the "upstairs" crowd. Downstairs is shira v'zimra and the feeling that "hu goel otanu". Upstairs is more shayach to tears (did you see the tears they shed on the documentary from Israel channel 10?) and such a mora sh'choira view that things are so dark.

    Strange that he made such a moshol.