Survivors Preserving the Religion
During the Holocaust

By Josh Fox
New York, New York


 

Adolf Hitler attempted to massacre an entire group of people in the "Final Solution" during the Holocaust. Not only did he strive for genocide, but also his goal was to abolish the belief and faith that had been practiced and been persecuted in the last 3,000 years. Many Jews that were sent to ghettos and concentration camps lost faith in G-d and stopped believing in Him. Others, though, kept the fire of tradition burning throughout the long night. The survivors of the Holocaust that tried to preserve the Jewish faith through the hours of darkness have taught people to keep their faith strong and have everlasting hope.

David Weiss Halivini was a goal oriented, well learned teenager in Romania during the 1930's and 1940's. He hoped to one day become the rabbi of a small village in the Carpathian Mountains. His dreams were abruptly halted when Germany invaded Romania in 1942. When David was forced into a ghetto, he continued his Jewish learning, which included the study of the Torah and Talmud. David ignored the events of the world around him. Soon after the invasion, David and his entire family were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp and his faith was severely put to a test (Axelrod 21-22).

When David and his family arrived at Auschwitz, David was separated from his family and was sent to the Gross-Rosen labor camp to work on a team that cut stones for building roads. The work was strenuous but he was able to handle it because he had hope in G-d. That hope was beginning to fade until David spotted a guard eating a sandwich wrapped in a bletl, a page from a Jewish religious text. David ran to the guard and asked for the text and immediately gained his once questioned hope back. That one page (Paragraph 434 of the laws of Passover) gave the stonecutters of Gross-Rosen the energy they needed to work everyday. David and the other workers would study that sheet secretly everyday, because they felt that it would make them closer to G-d and that he would someday save them. Once more and more people of the group were dying and disappearing, David was asked if he still believed that there was a G-d. He replied, "Without God, it is even more cruel. God gave man power, and God gave man his free will." David survived Auschwitz and moved to America in 1947 where he began his new life. David certainly would not have been able to survive such hardships without preserving his faith in G-d (Axelrod 23, 25).

In contrast to David Halivini, David Bram grew up in Rusiec, Poland as a non-observant Jew. When the Nazis rounded up the Brams in 1940, David volunteered to work in place of his father, so that David's father could support the family. When David left his family at that point, he never saw them again. David was alone in the world and throughout the entire Holocaust he survived the Poznan, Breslau, Gross-Rosen labor camps; and Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Ebensee concentration camps. David's motivation for working hard at first was because he just wanted to survive and see his family again, but he gained a faith in his religion and in G-d that sustained him until May 3, 1945 when the U.S. troops liberated the camp. He immigrated to America in 1947 and began his new life. David helped build his community synagogue and has volunteered many hours of his time to support the state of Israel. David's greatest post-war accomplishment was when he obtained a Torah scroll from a synagogue in Czechoslovakia that had been confiscated by the Nazis. David took Scroll No. 152 back to his community in Colorado Springs and dedicated it to his family and told the children, "Take this torah to heart. Learn from it and from the stories it holds." When David finishes telling his story to people he always tells them, "Never give up hope. I told myself more than once that as long as my heartbeats, I will never give up" (Del Calzo 21).

To the Jewish people, Passover is a holiday that is celebrated every year and serves as a reminder of when the Jews were slaves in the land of Egypt and how they survived it and became a free nation. But that story is very similar to the Holocaust. The Nazis thought nothing of beating, torturing, and murdering Jews just as the Egyptians did more than 3,000 years ago. The story of Passover gave S.B. Unsdorfer, a holocaust survivor, and his fellow workers the hope they needed to survive and strive.

S.B. Unsdorfer worked on "his" Haggadah, the story of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt that is read every year on Passover, for an hour everyday when he returned from a night of work. He wrote from memory and thought of it as a worthwhile task. It helped keep his mind off the terrible tragedy and worrying about the future. "Indeed this work served as a source of great courage and hope for me . . . Yes, I felt that Passover ought to be celebrated in the camp, not just by reciting the Haggadah, but also by eating the traditional matzoth" (Stadler 126-127). Unsdorfer asked an overseer for flour to bake the matzoth and told him that it was for a religious purpose. The overseer finally brought Unsdorfer the flour on the eve of Passover and wished him good luck. Unsdorfer, and his fellow workers, Grunwald, and Fischoff sneaked into the workshop and started the oven. It only took less than a half of an hour (eighteen minutes) for the matzoth to bake. Although the three men had to contain their elation, they were gratified that these matzoth were being prepared for the sake of G-d and His Commandments. When the matzoth were brought to the others in the camp, everyone had tears across their faces; Unsdorfer and his matzoth brought them that night, joy and hope. The congregation of happy Jews read passages from the Haggadah that had personal meaning to them. "This year we are here, next year may we be in Jerusalem. This year we are slaves, next year may we be free men!" Rabbi Domany read: "And it is this promise which has stood by our ancestors and by us. For it was not just one person who rose up against us to destroy us, but in every generation men rise against us. But the Holy One, blessed be He, delivers us from their hand" (Stadler 130-131). Everyone at the Seder service was in awe in their trust in G-d and never had there been such a solemn Seder service. This trust in G-d had not only sustained the lives of these Jews but has helped preserve the importance and religious significance of Passover for years to come (Stadler 125-131).

Ms. Minnie Mozenberg grew up in an Orthodox home in Poland during the 1930's. She lived a normal life, with a loving and supportive family and was an observant Jew. Her life changed dramatically when she and her family were sent to the Lodz ghetto. Her family crammed into a small apartment with four other families for three months. There was very little food and water to be found, but Ms. Mozenberg's family stuck together and survived the hardships so far. Ms. Mozenberg had a strong faith in G-d as a child, but her belief was severely questioned while she strived to survive in the ghetto. The Mozenberg family was shipped to the Dachau concentration camp in 1943, and one by one Minnie Mozenberg's family was being executed. She said during this tragedy that she wouldn't have minded if she died since there was no sense of living without her family. During that vulnerable time, her strong belief in G-d overtook her. She began to realize that there must be a reason for the Holocaust, and she must stay alive and be a witness to tell people her story so that it never happens again. In the camps where she stayed during the Holocaust, she taught other Jews some laws and customs of Judaism so that they will not forget. She was liberated on April 21, 1945 and dedicated her life to remaining an Orthodox Jew and teaching others to have faith and never allow the horror of the Holocaust to occur again.

In conclusion, the ramifications of the Nazis' "Final Solution" affected the lives of the Jewish survivors in different ways. Some converted to other religions, others assimilated away from Judaism, and some just lost faith in any god. However, others stood up for their beliefs, and remained practicing Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps where it was almost impossible to be religious. These survivors felt that by preserving the religion, a way of life, traditions, and faith that were disrupted so many times before, was far too important to forget and disregard since those traditions and way of life was the only reason why they were being persecuted. These inspiring Jews have shown that Adolf Hitler has ultimately failed in his attempt at genocide, destroying and killing the Jewish religion.

 

Reference Page

Axelrod, Toby. IN THE CAMPS: Teens Who Survived the Nazi Concentration Camps. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 1999.

Dawudiwicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews 1933-1915. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1975.

Del Cazo, Nick. The Triumphant Spirit. Denver, Colorado: Triumphant Spirit Publishing, 1997.

Des Pres, Terrence. The Survivor: An Anatomy of Live in the Death Camps. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years. New York: Random House, 1998.

Lanzmann, Claude. Shoah. New York: Pantheon Books, 1985.

Matas, Carol. Daniel's Story. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1993.

Meltzer, Milton. Never to Forget. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1976.

Morse, Arthur D. While Six Million Died. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, 1983.

Rossel; Seymour. The Holocaust. New York: Franklin Watts, 1981.

Rothchild, Sylvia. Voices From the Holocaust. Scarborough, Ontario: New American Library, 1981.

Stadtler, Bea. The Holocaust: A History of Courage and Resistance. New Jersey: Behrman House, Inc. Publishers, 1994.

 

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

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