Tuesday, July 24, 2007

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Hanging On

A first hand account by the Rebbe of Bluzhov from the Holocaust...

It was a dark, cold night in the Janowska slave labor and concentration camp. Suddenly, a commanding shout pierced the air: "You are all to evacuate the barracks immediately and report to the vacant lot. Anyone remaining inside will be shot on the spot!"

Pandemonium broke out in the barracks. People pushed their way to the doors while screaming the names of friends and relatives. In a panic-stricken stampede, the prisoners ran in the direction of the big open field.

Exhausted, trying to catch their breath, they reached the field. In the middle were two huge pits.

With their last drop of energy, the inmates realized where they were rushing, on a cursed dark night under the control of the German beasts.

Once more, the cold, healthy voice roared in the night: "Each of you dogs who values his miserable life and wants to cling to it must jump over one of the pits and land on the other side. Those who miss will get what they rightfully deserve - ra-ta-ta-ta-ta. Hahahahahahahaha."

It was clear to the inmates that they would all end up in the pits. Even at the best of times it would have been impossible to jump over them, all the more so after starvation, disease, and slave labor. The prisoners standing at the edge of the pits were skeletons, feverish from disease and starvation, exhausted from slave labor and sleepless nights. Though the challenge that had been given them was a matter of life and death, they knew that for the S.S. and the Ukrainian guards it was merely another game.

Among the thousands of Jews on the field that night was the Rebbe. He was standing with a friend, a freethinker from a large Polish town whom the rabbi had met int he camp. A deep friendship had developed between them.

"Spira, all of our efforts to jump over the pits are in vain. We only entertain the Germans and their collaborators, the Askaris. Let's sit down and wait for the bullets to end our wretched existence," said the friend to the rebbe.

"My friend," said the Rebbe, as they were walking in the direction of the pits, "man must obey the will of G-d. If it was decreed from heaven that pits be dug and we be commanded to jump, pits will be dug and jump we must. And if, G-d forbid, we fail and fall into the pits, we will reach the World of Truth a second later, after our attempt. So, my friend, we must jump."

The rebbe and his friend were nearing the edge; the pits were rapidly filling up with bodies. The rebbe glanced down at his feet, the swollen feet of a 53-year-old Jew ridden with starvation and disease. He looked at his young friend, a skeleton with burning eyes.

As they reached the pit, the rebbe closed his eyes and commanded in a powerful whisper, "We are jumping!" When they opened their eyes, they found themselves standing on the other side of the pit.

"Spira, we are here, we are here, we are alive!!!" the friend repeated over and over again, while warm tears streamed from his eyes. "Spira, for your sake, I am alive; indeed, there must be a G-d in heaven. Tell me, Rebbe, how did you do it?"

"I was holding on to my ancestral merit. I was holding on to the coattails of my father, and my grandfather, and my great-grandfather, of blessed memory," said the rebbe, and his eyes searched the black skies above. "Tell me, my friend, how did you reach the other side of the pit?"

"I was holding on to you," replied the rebbe's friend.

Excerpted from the book, Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, by Yaffa Eliach.

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