Rabbi Herschel Schacter: A voice of God when it was most desperately needed.
Rabbi Herschel Schacter
“Are there any Jews alive here?” a shocked and saddened Rabbi Schacter asked a U.S. Army officer in one of the most notorious German concentration camps, Buchenwald.
All around them was the stench of burning flesh, with the smoke stinging their eyes, as bodies by the hundreds, tossed here and there, had been left behind by the fleeing Germans.
The date was April 11, 1945, just an hour after Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army had liberated the camp.
Rabbi Schacter was the first Jewish chaplain to arrive and the sickening sights and scents he and everyone witnessed seemed to offer no hope.
But that Army officer led him to a smaller camp within the camp, and there the Rabbi found in the filthy barracks, men lying on wooden planks, floor to ceiling, some of them barely alive.
Rabbi Schacter cried out to them in Yiddish, “Shalom Aleichem, Yidden. Ihr zint frei! (“Peace be upon you, Jews, you are free”) It was as if after the prisoner’s incredible ordeal, God had spoken to them when they most desperately needed to hear the voice.
Followed by those Jews able to walk, he quickly went from one barracks to the next, to make a similar proclamation.
Then suddenly in a pile of rotting corpses, Rabbi Schacter saw something move. As he stared, the Rabbi saw a little boy, Prisoner 17030 tattooed on his forearm, terrified and hiding behind the bodies.
“I was afraid of him,” that child many years later recalled in a New York Times interview. “I knew all the uniforms of SS and Gestapo and Wehrmacht, and all of a sudden, a new kind of uniform. I thought, ‘A new kind of enemy.’ “
In tears, Rabbi Schacter held the boy in his arms. “What’s your name, my child?” he asked in Yiddish.
“Lulek,” the boy answered.
“[But] what difference does it make?” said Lulek who was 7. “I’m older than you, anyway.”
“Why do you think you’re older?” asked Rabbi Schacter.
“Because you cry and laugh like a child,” Lulek answered. “I haven’t laughed in a long time, and I don’t even cry anymore. So which of us is older?”
Lulek was but one of nearly one thousand orphans Rabbi Schacter found in Buchenwald. He and Rabbi Robert Marcus helped to transport these children to France, Switzerland, and Palestine and to the U.S.
The two Rabbis joined some of the transports to ensure the safety of the traumatized children and to offer those children reassurance.
Rabbi Schacter later became one of the top American Orthodox Rabbis, with a large nationwide following, but especially in the Bronx, New York where his congregation was located.
But at the age of 95 on March 21st, 2013 the Rabbi passed away. He is survived by Pnina his wife of 65 years, their son, Rabbi Jacob Schacter and a daughter, Miriam Schacter, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
What became of Lulek, the 7 year old child Rabbi Schacter rescued from Buchenwald? This little boy arrived in Palestine, and as an adult became Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. He is now the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau
In March, when President Obama visited Israel, Rabbi Lau told the president of being rescued by Rabbi Schacter, and expressed his gratitude to the American people for accepting Buchenwald survivors and delivering them, “Not from slavery to freedom, but from death to life.”
Success Tip of the Week:
There is no shortage of human misery today, and your caring, whether in humanitarian work or in charitable donations, can make a real difference to those in need.
To learn more about Rabbi Schacter, and his many additional accomplishments http://www.bostonglobe.com/obituaries/rabbi-herschel-schacter originally published as an Obit in The New York Times, the primary source for today’s piece.
The quotes in this piece are from The New York Times, including when Lulek and Rabbi Schacter met at Buchenwald, the Times having taken them from Rabbi Lau’s memoir, published in English in 2011 as “Out of the Depths.”
Thank you to my friend and reader Nick Miller for suggesting this powerful story.
In the next KazanToday:
A woman who at the age of 85 became an actress.
This story touches me in a very personal way. My grandmother, Ida Fourman, lost her mother and 10 brothers and sisters in the Holocaust. All were gassed in the gas chambers. Two of her sisters and one brother had survived until the end of the war - Yohanna, Helena, and I didn't know the name of the brother or anything about his story.
When the war was declared over, and the Nazis fled, the Jews who could still stand ran to the Nazi's pantries to get whatever food they could. Yohanna was too weak. She was lying on the ground for dead. Her sister went to get food for the two of them and came running back to her with some food. But Yohanna was so weak she couldn't even eat.
It turned out the Nazis had poisoned all the food. Everyone who ate the food, including Helena, died.
I think about the hatred that propelled the Germans to do that kind of act. How inhumane a human being could become.
When I heard my great aunt Yohanna tell that story, I burst into tears. Here, the two sisters had made it through the entire war, and one of them never made it out because of hatred.
I live with the stories of the Holocaust in my soul. Thank you for sharing this most important story, and for witnessing mine!
With great appreciation,
You have expressed the persona of Rabbi Schacter to a T. I wish you could have met him in person.
My beau of 18 years, Herschel Fischman (Harry), was one of the over 400 boys from Buchenwald who were liberated by this mensch of all mensches! During the death march into the forest, April 10, 1945, both Harry and his brother Manny were able to walk backwards. Harry hid in a sewer for a day and Manny positioned himself among a pile of dead people and held his breath when the dogs came sniffing. The actual liberation was April 11, 1945. The over 400 boys are the ones that the Rabbi arranged to go to France.
The story never got old when Harry would tell his story about Rabbi Schacter and then he was here in Los Angeles at the Simon Weisenthal Museum April 14, 1996. He was there as part of the Yom Hashoah Day. Harry could hardly contain himself emotionally or physically. He jolted out of his seat down to the podium into the arms of that man. A characteristic not normal for Harry. Of course the Rabbi greeted Harry as if he remembered him, but Harry remembered him! Pictures, news media, photos - it was as if time went back all those years and stood still.
Thanks for keeping these stories alive.