The phenomenal extent to which hachnosas orchim
was carried out in the home of HaRav Wolff Willner was
a legend. Every destitute beggar, whom the world had
turned its back and rejected, knew that there he would
find a warm heart and home and enough food to satisfy a
When the house became too small to accommodate its many
visitors, an extension of a few rooms was built in the
Recently, when his great-grandchildren visited
Plavnitz, they were shown the house and yard by a local
elderly gentile, who still remembers the hustle and
bustle of guests who came and went.
HaRav Wolff's wife, Freidel, ran the busy household and
educated her daughters too, to participate fully in
this great mitzvah. Even when they fell on hard times
and parnossoh was scarce, the Willner family did
not step down from the podium of hachnosas orchim
that they had erected.
In the year 5693 (1933), when the mother Freidel
o"h was niftar, her aron was made out
of the large wooden table on which she used to serve
her guests — a testimony to her great deeds.
Following her demise, people were afraid to continue
coming — perhaps HaRav Wolff can't manage so well.
However, he begged them to not to pass him by; his
daughters continued their mother's legacy.
The beggars planned their itinerary through the towns
and villages, to ensure they would be lodging at the
Willners at least for a Shabbos.
One particularly bothersome guest was Shimon, who
insisted on being served stuffed cabbage every day.
Despite the work involved in preparing this delicacy,
the Willner girls readily served it to him daily with
the same smile, until Shimon himself was amazed, "Let's
see who will give up first," he suggested. "Will I stop
asking or will you stop serving me my gefilte
After a few weeks, Shimon simply became fed up
(literally) and asked to change the meal.
Once, a neighbor noticed that instead of allowing the
gentile cleaning lady to clean up the guest rooms, the
daughters of R' Wolff were doing it themselves. They
duly explained to her that they didn't want the
goyte to see the neglected, embarrassing state of
the poor Jews who came there and therefore preferred to
do this often unpleasant job themselves.
Little did the Willner family know how dramatically
their idyllic life was to change. Ill winds began to
blow and before they knew it, the horrors of Nazi
Europe were sweeping through Slovakia, threatening to
engulf them. HaRav Wolff had the foresight to send his
children away. The eldest daughter, already married,
was caught and incarcerated in a prison in Satmar with
her husband, from which they were later released.
The second daughter wandered as a fugitive from place
to place until she succeeded in reaching Budapest,
where she was taken in as a "governess" by the Rosh
Hakehilloh's family, the famous Freudigers. In
actual fact, they treated her as a daughter and when
they made their escape to Eretz Yisroel, Reitze
Willner was one of the Freudiger family.
HaRav Wolff was the only Yid in Plavnitz who managed
temporarily to escape detention. Yet, as his gentile
neighbors testified after the war, he risked his life
by going to shul three times a day, as he had
always done, so as to guard its precious contents.
In 1943 on a visit to his daughter in Budapest, HaRav
Wolff found them living in relative safety and
"You see, my dear children — even in times as these
you lack nothing," remarked HaRav Wolff. "You have what
to eat, a roof over your heads, a luxury which many
Yidden cannot claim to have nowadays. I'm sure
that this is only in the merit of the hachnosas
orchim that we faithfully carried out when we were
able. As we say every day in birchos hashachar,
hachnosas orchim is a mitzvah whose rewards can be
reaped also in this world, while the main schar
is left for Olam Habo."
In 1944, Rabbi Wolff too, was caught in the Nazi's vast
net and, together with his eldest daughter and her
children, they were herded onto cattle trucks bound for
Auschwitz. Intending to lure them into a false sense of
security, the Germans informed them that they were
traveling to work camps in Germany. HaRav Wolff,
however, was not fooled and realized they were heading
towards the Polish border. Gathering his children and
grandchildren around him, he told them in no uncertain
terms, "Kinderlach men fort kein Polin," and
revealed to them all he had heard about Auschwitz from
Then wrapping himself in his tallis, he said
Shema with his grandchildren, explaining the
meaning of every word and preparing them to give up
their lives for Hashem — "bechol nafshecho."
Thus they joined the millions of kedoshim already
sacrificed on the mizbeiach of Auschwitz.
Hashem Yikom Domom..