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September 16, 1983 - Image 72

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-09-16

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12 Friday, September 16, 1983


Yom Kippur 1944: Prayer, Faith and the Death Camp


(Editor's note: The
author is a native of Ra-
dom, Poland and a sur-
vivor of Dachau. He is
president and editor of
the Voice of Radom pub-
lication of the United
Radomer Relief for the
U.S. and Canada and
compiled and edited
"The Book of Radom —
The Story of a Jewish
Community Destroyed
by the Nazis." He was a
member of the organizing
committee of the World
Gathering of Holocaust
Survivors in Jerusalem
in 1981 and the American
Gathering in Washington
last spring.)
The diary that I kept in the
concentration camp at
Vaihingen/Enz was seized
by an SS guard when I was
transported to Dachau. A
daily record kept over
months of captivity was lost
in an instant, but the mem-
ory of those events is as vivid
for me today as when I wrote
it . . .
Vaihingen/Enz, Sept. 27,
1944: Today was Yom Kip-
pur. The Germans must
have known it, for they kept
us at work until dark. At the
construction site I thought
frequently about our fate as
slave laborers in this God-
forsaken valley deep inside
Germany near the Enz
This month as we enter
the sixth year of the war,
and to get my mind off the
gnawing hunger pains, I
have been thinking about
the similarities of our situa-
tion with the Israelites in
ancient Egypt. Instead of
pyramids, we are building
an underground arms fac-
tory in a big excavation,
formerly a stone quarry.
Like the Israelites under
Pharaoh ; we do all work by
hand, including brickmak-
ing. There is no machinery
or heavy equipment, and we
do back-breaking labor
under the whips of our op-
pressors. Two young men
fell to their deaths this week
while descending a rope
ladder to the bottom of the
pit with a load of bricks on
their backs.
Last night I witnessed a
Kol Nidre service in the
camp. It may sound in-
credible, but it is the
truth. I went there to see
it with my own eyes.
A group of older, pious
Jews, including my father,
gathered for prayers on this
solemn Yom Kippur eve,
disregarding the conse-
quences. Many younger
people joined them. Jewish
religious services have been
forbidden by the Germans
since the beginning of the

Jacob Lewental un-
wrapped the Torah scroll
from a talit and lovingly
placed the small scroll on
the bunk bed. Our Cantor
Leibl then put the talit on
his shoulders and began
the chanting of Kol Nidre,
our prayer which dates
back to the Spanish In-
quisition in the 15th Cen-
tury, when Jews were
forced to accept Chris-
tianity under threat of
burning at the stake.
No, it wasn't a chant, it
was rather a sobbing
lamentation coming from a
heart filled with pain and
anguish. The prisoners,
huddled in the aisles be-
tween the three-tier bunks,
joined in the familiar verses
with breaking voices, tears
flowing down their
emaciated faces.
At the service I was able
to look upon the worship-
pers with some degree of de-
tachment. The scene
seemed unreal. In my lively
imagination I saw it as a
scene from a medieval
Jewish painting, the striped
prisoners' garb taking the
place of the flowing
taleisim. Their pillbox caps
were reminiscent of the
ceremonial headwear.
These hollow faces with
deep, burning eyes, became
for me the very same. Mar-
ranos exiled from Spain, re-
canting their oaths given
under duress: "Kol Nidre
Veesorei ."
My mind returned to
reality as I watched
Jacob Lewental wrap
the scroll tenderly, like a
mother dressing her
fragile infant. Last year,
in the Radom labor camp,
an SS officer had thrown
the scroll on a garbage
pile, ordering Jacob to
burn it. Jacob, a kitchen
worker, told the officer,
looking straight in to his
eyes: "Sir, this would be a
waste of fuel. Let's burn it
under the soup vat."
Jacob smuggled his Torah

scroll, with the help of his people?" I asked when
devout friends, to this con- Father criticized me for not
centration camp all the way praying with him last night.
from Poland. He risked his "You all pleaded `Avinu
life at every search. He car- Malkeinu — Shema
ried it on his body, wrapped Koleinu' with such fervor,
in a woolen talit, on the why is He silent? Where is
forced marches in the heat His compassion in the sight
of the summer, and on the of bitter suffering?"
train transports past the
"He has His reasons, I'm
Auschwitz guards.
sure; We've sinned," Father
Last night, carrying his said, without emotion.
s croll back to its hiding
But I got emotional.
place, Jacob remarked sol- "Don't tell me the little
. children have sinned!
"God will save us from They were the first to go!"
this hell, just- as He saved
Father skirted the sub-
His Torah from the fire!"
ject. "It was all predicted by
* * *
our Prophets. He quoted
My father didn't see me from Ezekiel's vision, the
last night at the service. valley of Dry Bones. We're
He is angry and disap- the bones," he said. "We'll
pointed that I am no be saved!"
I struggled not to lose my
longer religiously obser-
vant. To him, I'm still the patience. "How long can we
boy who used to accom- wait? We'll soon be real
pany him to the syna- bones in the ground, not the
gogue every Sabbath and allegorical ones of Ezekiel's
on holidays and carry his prophecy of restoration. If
your God is 'Ay
talit bag.
He frequently reminisces, Harakhamim,' the Father
with a sorrowful voice, of Mercy, why can't He for-
about the good old days at give our sins after all the
home when he proudly punishment we've been sub-
walked to services with his jected to, and after all the
four sons and our mother, a praying you've done? If He
picture of tranquility and is so omnipotent, the 'Baal
contentment that has be- . Hagevurot,' why doesn't He
come part of his dream im- strike our oppressors with
ages. Now he resents my ir- the plagues as He sup-
reverent, often blasphem- posedly did in Egypt?"
Pointing at the guard to-
ous remarks.
The Germans know the wers, I exclaimed, "Why
dates of Jewish holidays doesn't He strike them with
and always use the occasion fire and lightning?"
"Perhaps He will,"
to subject us to some
specially-staged atrocities. Father answered, deep in
Last night, these Orthodox his thoughts. "Very soon,
Jews decided to assemble perhaps, He'll send His
despite the obvious danger. messengers with fire and
I suggested to some other brimstone."
onlookers that the least we,
* * *
the non-participants, could
1944: What a
do was to provide some se-
curity — a string of "shorn-
rim" (guards) reaching to with the delayed Appell, the
the main gate, ready to send usual shuffle to the camp
a warning signal should a gate, the kicking and curs-
German approach the bar- ing of the SS on our way to
work — things we've gotten
"Where is your God, why so accustomed to they don't
doesn't He respond to the matter any more.
groaning of His enslaved .
The usual, debilitating
hunger has been with us all
day. One never gets accus-
tomed to hunger. One may
get used to hard physical
work, to heat or cold, but
never to hunger. We talk
and think about food all
In the late afternoon they
marched us back from work
earlier than usual, for they
ran out of cement. As a mat-

and I instinctively covered
my ears. Father shouted
into my face: "This is like
the miracle at Jericho,
when God turned day into
night to protect Joshua and
his army!"
One of the SS guards in
the watchtower aimed his
rifle at the airplanes and
fired a shot. This was Hans,
the same trigger-happy
soldier who only a few
weeks ago had shot and kil-
led a 15-year-old Jewish
boy. It was during our mid-
- day break at work when the
boy climbed an apple tree a'
few feet from me to pick
some of the remaining
Hans put his sandwich
aside, killed the young
man with one rifle shot
ter of fact, no supply trucks and, after the limp body
came to the construction fell to the ground with a
site all day. As a result, the thud, he resumed eating
work pace slackened in the his sandwich.
afternoon, a welcome relief
But this afternoon, after
after the special workout firing his shot at the Flying
they gave us yesterday, Fortresses, Hans seemingly
Yom Kippur day.
was gripped by fear and
In the barracks, I had abandoned his post. He hur-
time to wash and look up riedly descended the ladder
both my father and of the watchtower and it
father-in-law and share was clear to us that he not
with them the few only lost his nerve, but also
slightly-rotten apples I control of his bowels.
When he reached the
managed to pick up on
the roadway while our ground, he clumsily lowered
guards were distracted his pants and shorts in full
by some passing local view of hundreds of pris-
oners and squatted. He then
But before we had a ran as fast as he could in
chance to finish the succu- search of some shelter, with
lent fruit, we heard a dis- his rifle in one hand and
tant roar which grew in in- soiled pants and shorts in
tensity and sounded like a the other.
The giant bombers were
colivoy of cement trucks.
coming up the road. The now directly overhead. At
ground beneath us began first we were mesmerized
vibrating, the walls and and overwhelmed by their
bunk beds creaked. People sheer power, but now, se-
outside began shouting at eing the silvery white stars
the top of their voices, but I on their wings, we all went
couldn't make out a word. wild with exhilaration.
Suddenly, as if new life
We ran outside. I couldn't
believe what my eyes saw. entered our bones, all of
us jumped excitedly and
The whole western hori- raised our arms to get
zon was covered with a dark closer to the planes. We
line of airplanes, only shouted with unaccus-
slightly distinguishable in tomed strength, hoping
the blinding sun.
that a thousand of our
The sky was a perfect voices would drown out
blue, with only a few small the roar of the engines
white clouds, and I realized and reach at least some of
that I hardly ever look at the pilots.
the sky above the camp. One
"Here," I yelled, "here,
must always tread cau- drop them here, on us, and
tiously on the camp grounds on our murderers!"
to avoid the treacherous
"Here!" my father begged
mud and slippery board with his raised arms, "just
planks — falling into a one bomb! We want to die
mudhole and losing one's here like Samson with the
wooden clogs is a constant Philistines!"
hazard. Besides, clear skies
I have no doubt in my
are altogether a rarity in mind that the American
this foggy valley.
bombardiers saw us and the
The planes drew closer watchtowers and the fleeing
and it suddenly got dark. half-naked guard, but didn't
There were thousands of want to risk killing us to-
them, giant bombers in gether with Hans and the
close formation, their other guards. They bombed,
wing tips almost touch- instead, the nearby cities of
ing, moving slowly and Stuttgart and Heilbronn.
majestically toward us.
The elation and excite-
They filled the sky com- ment of this afternoon has
pletely and blocked out not fully subsided. Life goes
the sun.
on in the camp as usual, but
I recalled in my mind a much has changed. We
picture I'd seen in my child- learned today that there is
hood of an enormous swarm someone more powerful
of lOcusts covering the sky than the Germans. that
— was it a picture of one of someone knows we are here
the plagues visited upon an- and may come for us tomor-
cient Egypt?
row. It had better be soon,
The roar of a thousand before the valley is filled
engines became unbearable with bones.

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