For the week ending 28 January 2006 / 28 Tevet 5766

Holocaust Survivors Find a Home - Part II

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The 25 Million Dollar Sacrifice
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In a recent issue of Ohrnet we told the story of sacred books that survived the Holocaust although their owners did not. Some of those volumes reached the library of Yeshivat Ohr Somayach and a search was initiated to find relatives of their owners. There is another story circulating today about other survivors who reached Israel, one in his lifetime and the other after his death. This almost unbelievable story was recently told to an audience by the highly respected rav of the Ramat Elchanan community in Bnei Brak, Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, whose halachic rulings have often been quoted in our “What is the Right Thing to Do?” column. It reached a much broader audience when David Damen wrote it up in the Vayeshev issue of Mishpacha Magazine. We here present it in condensed form for the benefit of our subscribers and surfers, using fictitious names to protect privacy.

Scene 1

Auschwitz. David and his son Chaim are separated from each other by the Nazi guards. Upon being liberated David makes a futile search for his son and assumes he was killed.

Scene 2

South America. Broken by his Holocaust experience, David wanders in search of a new life. He ends up in a South American country where no one will recognize him as a Jew and marries a non-Jewish woman who bears him a son. Approaching his last days on earth and troubled by the thought that he did not adequately search for Chaim, David informs his non-Jewish son Alberto that he may have a Jewish half-brother alive somewhere in the world. He begs him to conduct an intensive search for him and to split evenly with him the fifty million dollars he is scheduled to inherit.

Scene 3

Tel Aviv. Chaim, who made it to Israel and raised a Torah-observant family there, receives a phone call from a man in South America who identifies himself as his half-brother. Alberto recounts the search he made for him on several continents and urges him to come visit their father before he dies. Chaim catches the first plane headed in that direction, racing against time to see the father he long thought was dead.

Scene 4

South American Airport. Alberto informs Chaim upon his arrival that David died a few hours earlier. On their way to town they discuss funeral arrangement and Chaim is shocked to hear that Alberto has planned for a Christian ceremony followed by cremation. How ironic, he reflects, that a Jew who escaped cremation in Auschwitz should meet that fate here. His protestations fall on deaf ears so he tries to win his case for bringing the body of his father to Israel through legal means. But he suffers a second setback when the local judge rules that the cremation must take place and the ashes divided between the two sons. As a last desperate move Chaim offers Alberto his 25 million dollar share of the inheritance if he will let him bring his father’s body to Israel.

Scene 5

A Cemetery in Central Israel. A few months ago Chaim’s family stands before the open grave into which their father and grandfather has been interred. Chaim reflects upon all the events that have led up to this day, from Auschwitz to South America to Israel. And the mourners cannot help wondering who of these two Holocaust survivors had the greater merit: The father who escaped cremation and was buried in the Holy Land? Or the son who sacrificed a fortune and spent over fifty thousand dollars of his own on legal and transportation fees to see that the father who had abandoned living as a Jew should at least be buried as a Jew?

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