Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

Window into the Chareidi World

3 Nisan 5773 - March 14, 2013 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Shmuel Dovid Ungar, zt'l, the Rov of Nitra

In honor of his yahrtzeit, 9 Adar (5705-1945)

The first Knessia Gedolah in Vienna saw a gathering of Jews unprecedented — not only in numbers but also in Torah luminaries. Dusk was fast approaching and the crowd, basking in the presence of leaders such as the Chofetz Chaim and the Imrei Emes of Gur, waited expectantly to hear who would be the baal tefilloh for minchah.

After some thought, his eyes scanning the dais of illustrious Torah personalities, the Chofetz Chaim's eyes fell on one young man. He chose the rov of Nitra to daven before the omud. Most of the attendees had no idea who the rov of Nitra was, but after his vibrant, heart-rending tefillos, accompanied by a torrent of pure tears and emotions, everyone understood the Chofetz Chaim's choice.

When he was but a young boy of four, his davening was noticed by R' Yehoshua of Belz, who predicted that the little boy would one day be a great leader.

The son of the Nitra Rov, HaRav Sholom Moshe shlita, rosh yeshiva of Nitra in Mt. Kisko, New York, tells of one of the great Hungarian rabbonim who came to visit his son learning in the Nitra yeshiva. He walked into the yeshiva just as the bochurim, led by the Nitra Rov himself, were davening the section of Ahavoh Rabboh in shacharis. Looking around, the rabbi was amazed at the outpouring of tefillos he beheld. When shacharis was over, he asked his son if something had happened to cause the Rov to daven with such a his'orerus. Now it was the son's turn to look perplexed. "This is what an ordinary weekday davening looks like in Nitra!"

The Nitra Rov was a pillar of prayer itself and the imprint of his fiery davening was the hallmark of talmidim of Nitra. Even after leaving the yeshiva, many a bochur would be tapped on the shoulder in shul, "Excuse me, are you perhaps a Nitra talmid?" — easily recognized by his davening.


His life's ambition was solely to implant in his talmidim Torah and yiras Shomayim. To this end the yeshiva was his very being.

As World War II slashed through Europe, Jewish institutions became empty shells with only the shadows flitting in and out of what was once a shul, yeshiva, or talmud Torah. The Nitra yeshiva was the last functioning yeshiva in all of Hungary.

Reb Michoel Ber Weissmandl, the son-in-law of the Nitra Rov, describes in his sefer, Min Hametzar, how his father-in-law had a heaven-sent intuition that there would come a day when only in Nitra would there still be a yeshiva. He promptly moved the yeshiva from its location in Tirnau to Nitra, encouraging and exhorting his talmidim to keep coming to the yeshiva and learning without a stop. Even in 1944 when the war in Hungary reached its peak and each morning brought the dreaded feeling that someone may not turn up in yeshiva, having been caught by the Gestapo, the Nitra Rov did not give up.

As precious souls were being added to the mizbeiach of korbonos al kiddush Hashem, Rav Shmuel Dovid did not even permit bochurim to arrive late. Anyone who did so incurred a strict sentence from the Rosh Yeshiva for, as he said, "In such times we must strengthen ourselves doubly with the koach haTorah and not allow ourselves to weaken."

Near the beginning of the war the finances of the yeshiva were extremely low and the Rov was forced to travel to Vienna to collect funds for its upkeep. Delighted to have such a distinguished Rov in their midst, the Jews of Vienna tried to persuade Rav Ungar to stay over Shabbos, to daven and give a droshoh. In this way, they argued, more people would be aware of his presence and he could raise greater sums of much-needed funds. The Nitra Rov, however, refused, insisting that he must be back for leil Shishi when he gave a Chumash-Rashi shiur to his talmidim.

The askonim asked him uncomprehendingly, "If the situation is so bad, isn't it worth missing out on one shiur so that you can raise more money for the good of the yeshiva?"

"Well, what am I collecting for," replied the Rov, "if not to teach my talmidim? If I have to miss out on a shiur, then what do I need money for?"

My uncle R' Sholom Ber Stern was together with the son-in-law of Rabbenu R' Michoel Ber Weissmandl in a bunker during the war. He claims not a day passed without R' Michoel Ber mentioning his great father-in-law. The bonds that held them together were of the soul, transcending physical distances. One day, however, R' Michoel Ber's face turned gray, as he shakily announced, "The Rebbe has gone — gone from this world."

The others in the bunker, including the Rov of Stropkov, tried to silence him, insisting that one mustn't induce the Satan with such words, to no avail. R' Michoel Ber insisted that the Nitra Rov was no longer among the living. After a few days, the news came to the bunker from the outside world that he had been right. On that day, the Nitra Rov had passed away in a forest.


My father shlita related an interesting incident illustrating the Nitra Rov's humility and self- deprecation. When R' Michoel Ber published his sefer, Kikoyon deYonoh, he wrote on the opening page a note of thanks and brochoh to his father-in-law, with the usual titles as befits a godol in Torah. As soon as the sefer came out in print, R' Michoel Ber took a copy to Rabbenu. Since the latter was at a shiur, he left the sefer at his home on the table.

The next morning, R' Michoel Ber beheld Rabbenu running towards him, sefer in hand, crying, "Michoel Ber - - what did you do to me?"

"What did I do?" he asked.

"I simply cannot show my face in the street due to the bizyonos. All those descriptions you wrote about me . . . I cannot face people, I'll have to cover my head in shame. All those titles that have nothing to do with me at all!"

All attempts at placating the Rov were in vain, until R' Michoel Ber was forced to open each sefer and tear out the "offending" page. Only then would the Rov allow the sefer to be sold to the public.


A Nitra talmid related how he could never forget the Nitra Rov's reaction when, on Acharon shel Pesach, a shailoh arose in the kitchen of Rabbenu.

Upon hearing that there may have been a chashash chometz in his house, the Rov's face turned a deathly pallor. "His hands and feet trembled violently," recalls the talmid, adding, "Later during the war I suffered in the concentration camps. I saw people who faced death all the time with the fear constantly in their eyes. But never did I see such a dread as I saw in the Nitra Rov's eyes when the shailoh of chometz came up."


During the Holocaust as the Jews of Nitra felt the noose tightening around their necks, the local priest came up with an offer. He suggested that he would give a document stating that he had converted to any Jew who wanted one, even if in reality they remained loyal Jews and this could perhaps save their lives. Rabbeinu called an emergency meeting of all the Yidden and gave a passionate droshoh. "Dear Yidden," he implored, "we are in a dire situation, wherein any minute can see us, our possessions and our families catapulted, helpless, to the bitter end. One thing no one can take away from us: the belief that is deep in our hearts. Nothing will help. Wherever they take us, whatever they do to us, we are ma'aminim bnei ma'aminim. No one will take this `lifesaving' document of the priest. We are commanded in the Torah `uvechol nafshecho.' Are we now to hand over our souls to the clergy?"

As one voice his listeners cried out in unison Shema Yisroel, fully accepting the ol malchus Shomayim and anything it entails.

Towards the end of the war, Rabbenu fled to the forests where he joined a band of partisans. However, his strength had been spent. Rabbenu passed away and was buried in the forest before the war's end. Later, his pure body was transferred to the Beis Almin in Pishtian, near Verbau, close to the graves of his ancestors.

Zechuso yogein oleinu.


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