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
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
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
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
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
Zechuso yogein oleinu.