Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 21, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family

Of Straying Lambs, Yearning for the Shepherd, Of Lost Souls, Of the Open Secret of Jewish Survival
by Anna Rephun Fruchter

Early in 1935, Dr. Johanna Maas called upon Mutti and told her that several women with no religious background had approached her with the wish to learn what it meant to be a Jew. Dr. Maas wanted to start a Chumash class and told Mutti that her name had been suggested by the Chinuch Librarian to be both a member of the class and a consultant. Mutti was delighted. From then on, she attended two 2-hour classes every week. She often remarked upon the rapid progress of the women and of their remarkable achievements and love of learning. "What does Rashi say?" they would ask Mutti.

The week before we left in May 1937, Dr. Maas and Frau Professor Adele Rieser came to our house to wish us well and say good-bye. They brought a large hand-embroidered Shabbos tablecloth that all the women in the class had worked on as a surprise gift. Mutti treasured this present. Later, we learned that Dr. Maas and her mother were able to leave Germany and live in Switzerland and so survive. I remember how Mutti wept when we found out that Prof. Dr. Phil. Ferdinand Rieser and his lovely wife Adele had been deported to Gurs. Prof. Rieser had been a celebrated Director of the Badishe Landsbibliothek. Adele perished in Masseube in 1943 and the Prof. in 1944, both after having suffered much.


In 1935, my brother Osher fell on his way to cheder. His eyeglasses broke and cut his face. We quickly summoned the family doctor who urged us to take him to the Children's Hospital, which was Catholic, to Prof. Lust, who was the Director and an excellent children's surgeon. "He is also a meshumod," Papa remarked bitterly, "having sold his birthright for the lentil soup of professional advancement."

"If you don't take him," said our family doctor, "Osher's face will be badly scarred." Osher was hospitalized and Professor Lust operated successfully on Osher, who was then only seven. On our second visit, Osher felt much better and shouted, "How could you put me in a place like this? Look what is hanging on all the walls! See that little one with the blue ribbon? I can't even make a brocha here over the food you bring. I want to go home."

He was scheduled to stay until the following Monday but insisted on coming home before Shabbos. The nurses expressed their disapproval when we picked him up on Friday afternoon.

A year later, Prof. D. Lust was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Dachau. After the authorities found out that he had saved the child of one of Musselini's officers from certain death, he was released. He was not permitted to work but was given a chance to emigrate to the U.S. Fearing his ability to pass the medical tests there, he committed suicide in 1939 in Baden-Baden.


The bitter years after 1933 ushered in events that overwhelmed us. There were the Nurnberg Laws which affected our everyday lives. Jews were forbidden to employ non- Jews of a working age, so now, there were no gentile maids, bookkeepers, cleaners, most of whom left their employers with tearful regret. Some of our employees used to come at night to help but finally, Papa stopped this because of the danger.

At the same time, employed Jews lost their jobs, businessmen lost their gentile customers, doctors were forbidden to use their titles and were referred to as "handlers of the sick." Heads of families were arrested by the Gestapo and sent off to the Camps. The Jewish community helped those families financially but could not assuage their grief. All of us now walked on a path of thorns and stones. My sanctuary became the Fromme Shul and the Tanach.

I started to read Yehoshua - Shoftim through to Malachi and finished it all in two months, in addition to the school work. Every Friday night and Shabbos morning, I went to shul with my friend, Selma Lupolianksy, the daughter of the woman for whom Yad Sarah was created as a memorial.

Nazis marched the streets; loudspeakers endlessly screamed out the speeches of the current Haman. The shul was an oasis of peace and holiness. Our chazzon, J. Altmann, had a lyrical tenor voice. I imagined angels lifting up his fervent, melodious prayers to the very heavenly Throne. I am glad that at that time I did not know that both Joseph Altmann and his brother Jakob would run into the burning shul in 1938 when the beams were already falling to save the Torah scrolls, and then be sent with their wives and little children to perish in Asuchwitz. (On the infamous Kristallnacht, all the synagogues in Germany were burned. The Gestapo did not let the Altmann brothers take out the Torah scrolls until the beams fell.)

During those difficult times in 1935-36, I would close my eyes and see Mt. Horev glowing in the morning sun, Hashem talking to Moshe out of the thorn bush, alight with holy fire; Moshe descending from Sinai with the Luchos, almond blossoms on Aharon's staff...

Our bodies were in Germany but our hearts and souls yearned for Eretz Yisroel. I would read Yechezkel and Yoel (chapter 39 and chapter 4 respectively) for spiritual encouragement and now I marvel how appropriate they are for our present times, as well.

We are transient -- the Torah eternal. On the tapestry of Am Yisroel there are many golden threads, some of them are of the strictly religious German Jews who very carefully applied the halocha to every facet of their daily lives until the end. The Holocaust is an unhealed pain in the Mishkon of my heart. I mourn for it every minute of every day. Whoever survived has a sacred obligation to perform the mitzvos which a fallen brother or sister would have done and to remember those whom we knew personally and those whose names only Hashem knows...


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