By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times
A friend at Shalosh Seudos in shul commented that if LaG BaOmer is when the 24,000 Talmidim of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying, then why do we not commemorate the day when the 1.1 Million at Auschwitz stopped dying?
If we did, it would probably be on Yud Gimel Shvat, the 13th of Shvat the day that the Russians liberated Auschwitz. It was a Shabbos, on January 27th, 1945.
The Soviet Army’s 322nd Rifle Division had entered the concentration camp at Auschwitz on that Shabbos morning. They were mounted on shaggy ponies, and were fearful of a Nazi ambush. But the Nazis had run away.
A Russian gunner, Ivan Martynushkin, then a 21-year-old lieutenant, and his fellow soldiers spotted some Jewish prisoners behind barbed wire.
“It was hard to watch them. I remember their faces, especially their eyes which betrayed their ordeal,” Martynushkin told a newspaper several years ago. “At first there was wariness, on both our part and theirs,” he told a radio station another time, “But then they apparently figured out who we were and began to welcome us, to signal that they knew who we were and that we shouldn’t be afraid of them — that there were no guards or Germans behind the barbed wire. Only prisoners.”
Ten days prior to the arrival of the Soviet Army, which had been sweeping through Nazi-held territory in Poland, retreating Nazi troops abandoned Auschwitz and forced some 60,000 inmates on a “death march” away from the site.
SURVIVORS HAD REBUILT
Since then, many of the survivors of Auschwitz had rebuilt Jewish life. Many of the Yeshivos and the Mosdos that we have in our midst were built by the survivors of this horrible epic in our recent Jewish history.
The Five Towns and Far Rockaway have many Mosdos that were built by holocaust survivors. Darchei Torah, Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshiv, TAG, Yeshiva of South Shore, the Agudah of Long Island, and many more. Yeshivos, shuls and other mosdos in Boro Park, Los Angeles, Lakewood, many Mosdos in Satmar, the kimpetorium in Seagate Brooklyn – big or small, they were all built by survivors of the holocaust.
And like the five student survivors of Rabbi Akiva who also rebuilt Torah, so did our recent holocaust survivors.
Six years ago, Elly Kleinman, the Chairman of the 12th Siyum Hashas of Daf Yomi, had dedicated the Daf Yomi Commission in memory of his father, Reb Avrohom Isaac Kleinman, who was a Holocaust survivor who had rebuilt Torah in America after the war.
“To a great extent, it was the emunah, bitachon, and many acts of heroism and sacrifice of the kedoshim that provided the yesod for the reestablishment of Torah Yiddishkeit to a degree that was unimaginable 70 years ago,” he said.
In a remarkable parallel to the events of LaG BaOmer, the survivors and their children have rebuilt the Torah way of life, and have made it stronger. Today is their day as well. So as we take our children to bonfires and play with bows and arrows, our thanks should also go to them.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org