How can we still believe after Auschwitz?

On my Pesach blog, I suggested that we ask an extra question when asking Ma Nishtana? Well, there is no bigger question than How can we still believe after Auschwitz?

I want to share some questions raised by Rabbi Elazar Schach where he said in a Shiur he gave in the Ponevezh Yeshivah in 1991.

“Surely He (God) is a merciful and Compassionate King. Is it not strange that He did such a thing to us? Did He do it for no reason? Was a human being, a barbarian like Hitler, yemach shemo, really strong enough to destroy six million Jews?

I ask you: what is a Jew meant to think when confronted with the horrifying facts of the Holocaust?”

The above extract, I read in a book by Rabbi YY Rubinstein – called On the Derech in which he attempts to give “Answers to Questions that Challenge Jewish Minds”

So, I want to share an idea and answer that might in some way relieve the heaviness of this question.

There are many amazing stories of how Jews kept faith in the face of cruelty and evil of Nazis even in Auschwitz. The Nazis intention was to reduce people to the level of animals, 70 years after the Holocaust, with rising Anti-Semitism and illogical Anti-Israel Hatred, there is a continuation of this theme to dehumanize the Jews to delegitimize our right to our little country. So, on the one side, you have the Jew who in the middle of Auschwitz who tried to be a moral person, and help their fellow person in the darkest of places. It is for this reason that I feature the video here of the story of the Holy Hunchback by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. (and see transcript at the end of the blog).

On the other side, you have the Nazis.

Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf “ I want to free humanity from the shackles of the soul from the degrading suffering caused by the false vision called conscience and ethics. The Jews have inflicted two wounds on mankind – circumcision on its body and conscience on its soul.”

This war for the domination of the world is waged only by the two of us, between two camps alone – The Germans and the Jews. Everything else is a deception.”

To put this into other words, there is a War between Evil and Good? This War is continuing today, with the little Jew, little Israel trying to help the world be a better kinder place. And the other side, The Germans read “The EU, UN led by their Cohorts” who continue with the teachings of Hitler.

And when you see a Survivor putting on Tefillin, rebuilding their lives in faith, and Israel rebuilding the Jewish soul and providing a beacon of moral clarity, we need to change the original question to:

How can we not believe after Auschwitz?

We just need to open our eyes and hearts to all the goodness and miracles around us.

In memory of the 6 million and one and half million chikldren killed in Haulocast.


The Holy Hunchback by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

One of the greatest masters of modern times was Kalonimus Kalman, the Master of Piaseczno, who perished in the Warsaw ghetto. He would say that children at five years old already need a master: they need somebody to connect their souls to heaven. So he gathered around him a kingdom of children. He had a school with thousands of children, and he was their father, their mother, their best friend. He was moved by the Nazis to the Warsaw ghetto in 1940. There he wrote a most precious book called “The Holy Fire”, which recounted the teachings he gave in the dark of the ghetto. He was killed in the death camp Treblinka.

When his book came out after the war was over, I couldn’t believe its beauty, it so pierced my heart. I asked everyone, “Where are those kids? The precious children who heard these teachings every week? I’d love to speak to them.” And I was told there nobody survived, nobody.

But one day, a few years ago, I was walking down YarKon, a street near the beach of Tel Aviv. And here I saw a hunchback. So broken. So broken. His face was beautiful, so handsome, but his whole body was misshapen. He was sweeping the streets. I had a feeling this person was special and so I said, “Shalom, peace unto you.”

He replied to me in the heaviest Polish. I asked if he was from Poland. And he says, “Yes I’m from Piaseczno.” And I couldn’t believe it–Piaseczno! I asked if he had ever seen the holiest Kalonimus Kalmun, Piaseczno’s master. He said to me, “What do you mean, have I seen him? I was a pupil in his school from the age of five until I was eleven. When I was eleven, I went to Auschwitz. I was so strong they thought I was seventeen. I was whipped and hit and kicked and never healed–that is why I look the way I do now. I have nobody in the world. I’m all alone.” And he kept on sweeping the ground.

I said, “My sweetest friend, do you know, my whole life I’ve been waiting to see you, a person who saw the Master of Piaseczno, a person who was one of his children.. Please, give me one of his teachings.”

The hunchback glared at me. “Do you think you can be in Auschwitz five years and still remember teachings?”

“Yes, I’m sure of it,” I said. “The Master’s teachings–how could you forget them?”

And so he said, “Well, wait.” He went to the water fountain to wash his hands. He fixed his tie, put on his jacket, and then said to me one more time, “Do you really want to hear it?”

“I swear to you, I’ll tell your teaching all over the world.”

So he began. “I want you to know that there never was such a Sabbath as this one. We danced, hundreds and maybe thousands of children, and the master was singing a song to greet the holy angels, and at the meal he would teach between every course. And after every teaching this is what the master would said, ‘Children, Kinderlach, der groyseh zach in de velt iz tuen emetzen a’tovah – the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor. The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor.’”

The hunchback sighed. “You know, my parents are gone, my whole family, no one exists anymore. And so I was in Auschwitz and all alone and I wanted to commit suicide. And at the last moment I could hear my master say, “Kinderlach, children…do somebody else a favor. Do somebody a favor.’”

He looked me directly in the eyes. “Do you know how many favors you can do in Auschwitz at night? People are lying are on the floor crying, and nobody even has any strength to listen to their stories anymore. I would walk from one person to the other and ask, ‘Why are you crying?’ and they would tell me about their children, their wives, people they’d never see in this life again. I would hold their hands and cry with them. Then I would walk to the next person. And it would give me strength for another day.

“When I was at the end again… I’d hear my Rebbe’s voice. I want you to know I’m here in Tel Aviv and I have no one in the world. And I take off my shoes, go down to the beach, I go up to my nose in the ocean, ready to sink, and I can’t help but hear my Rebbe’s voice saying, ‘The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor. Remember, my precious children, the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor.’”

He stared at me again for a long time and said, “You know how many favors you can do on the streets of the world?”

And he kept on sweeping the street.

It was the end of summer and I had to go back to the States for the fall. But when I returned to Tel Aviv, I went searching Yarcon, looking for my holy hunchback. I couldn’t find him. I asked some people, who told me, “Don’t you know? He left the world early this fall.”

“The holy hunchback cleans the streets of the world by telling everyone, “Do someone else a favor.” That was his vocation; that was his call. But aren’t we all in some sense holy hunchbacks? We have all been beaten up a little bit, sometimes a lot, by the world. We all sometimes ask ourselves late at night, “What is it really about anyway? What are we doing here?” The answer is that each one of us has a calling, a special vocation only he or she can do in sweeping the streets of the world. No one can tell us what that vocation is. No one but no one can take it away from us. It is to do that vocation that we get up in the morning. That is the calling of our soul.

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