New Zman – Nekomah and Nechamah

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Rabbi Marvin Hier recalls Simon Wiesenthal telling him about a transformative moment in his life. It was 1946. He was spending Friday night with a group of fellow Holocaust survivors who could not understand why he decided to become a Nazi hunter.

“Enough with the past,” they argued. “Focus on the future.”

Then, as Wiesenthal looked into the glow of the Shabbos neiros, Rabbi Hier relates, he suddenly saw “the neshamos of the six million listening to their conversation.”

“My dear friends,” Wiesenthal said, “there will come a time when we’ll go up to shamayim and the six million will come to each of us and ask, ‘What have you done?’ You, my dear friend, will tell them that you went into construction to build homes. And you will say you went into the jewelry business. And you became a manufacturer of clothes. But I will have the privilege of saying to them, ‘I have never forgotten you.’”

Of course, survivors who quietly went about rebuilding their lives and raising families loyal to Torah are the greatest heroes. They never forgot their families and friends, or the six million, as they rebuilt Klal Yisrael in the most concrete fashion.

Nevertheless, Simon Wiesenthal was unique in the way he honored the memory of the six million, as an article this month details. Moreover, his life’s work inspired the creation of a center named after him, as conveyed in our cover story.

I feel particularly close to this topic now, as I write this introduction 30,000 feet above ground, returning from a week in Poland where, with a group of mechanchim and mechanchos from Torah Umesorah, we visited the concentration camps, ghettos and mass graves — the tombstone of a vibrant Jewish world that is no more. The most moving part of the trip took place just outside the town of Tarnow, at the site of a mass grave containing the bodies of 800 Jewish children, hy’d.

A wellspring of emotions bubbled up and overwhelmed us as Rabbi Aaron Hersh described the tragedy. How did 800 little children get separated from their parents? It must have been violent and heart-wrenching. Yet, even worse for these kinderlach must have been the walk to the death pit escorted by inconceivably cruel Germans and Poles.

There are no words… no words.

“When history looks back,” Simon Wiesenthal said, “I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it.”

Not everyone agreed with Wiesenthal’s methods or life mission. The focus has to be rebuilding from within, not seeking justice from without. But with the memory of those 800 children still fresh in my mind, I want to personally applaud the man who, if nothing else, made it difficult for some Nazis to sleep comfortably at night.

The greatest nekomah (revenge) is the nechamah (consolation) of building a new generation. But may Hashem avenge the blood of these 800 – as well as the blood of 1.5 million other Jewish children, among the six million — in this chodesh of Menachem Av.

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