Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Sivan 5765 - July 6, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Out of the Blue
by C. Ofek

(This is a true story.)

At five thirty in the morning, the Warsaw Ghetto was surrounded by S.S. troops. Sheindel looked apprehensively at her two little boys sleeping restlessly on the floor of the bunker. Where could she hide them from the Nazi beasts? If only Hillel her husband were here, they could have made the decision together; as he had many friends on the Aryan side. He had been carted off several weeks ago, and had not returned. Sheindel knew that her time was running out. Firstly, the cellar where they were hiding was stiflingly hot; each breath was an effort. Secondly, the scanty food she had left would barely last the week.

This morning they heard a loud voice shouting in Polish, outside their bunker. "Come out all you Jews who are hiding inside here. The Germans have promised not to harm anyone who comes out willingly. If you don't come out, they will pump gas into the cellar." The fugitives inside the cellar conferred together in whispers. No one moved. The two little boys did not make a sound, as if they understood the deadly danger. A few minutes elapsed then, suddenly, they smelled the pungent smell of gas. Two men made their way to the exit and returned immediately. The nose of a machine gun was trained onto the exit. They tried drinking water to dispel the choking gas, but the liquid seemed to push the gas into their lungs even more rapidly. Some groped their way to the window, with others following behind them quickly.

They had no choice; they had to get out through the door. No machine guns, no S.S, no raucous shouts. The Germans had all gone, leaving the gas to do its work. Sheindel groped her way outside, carefully shepherding the children. She had not seen daylight for weeks, and the rays of the sun blinded her momentarily. Spring had come to the world; at the sight of the fresh green shoots, Sheindel felt new vitality. She wanted to live, but where to hide the children? She looked at their pinched little faces and matchstick limbs. She saw their eyes, filled with suffering and wisdom beyond their years.

A daring plan formed in her mind. She would take them onto the Aryan side, outside the Ghetto. Friedrich, the erstwhile manager of her husband's textile factory, might agree to hide the boys for her till the end of the war although the only way to get there undetected, was through the sewers.

The drains were narrow and damp. The mother and her two little boys inched their way forward on their bellies. All three were soaked, as was the tiny bundle of essentials which Sheindel clutched tightly. In this bundle she had secreted her diamond wrist watch, all her jewelry and a considerable sum of money, with which she planned to bribe the Pole.

Friedrich was working on his flower beds when he heard the rustling from behind some rose bushes. He stared at the apparition emerging from there. His fleshy face crumpled in sympathy at the sight of the two little skeletons and their equally emaciated mother. He recognized the family of his wealthy employer. When Sheindel thrust the valuable package into his hands, Friedrich was far from enthusiastic. Nevertheless, when she pleaded with him to watch over them till after the war, and when she told him that the money and valuables were for the expense and danger which he would incur, he nodded his head in consent. Sheindel wasted no time in fond farewells, she just bent over the children and whispered, "Always remember that you are Yidden," and left swiftly.

She made her way to the ruins where the partisans had their headquarters. Now that she had entrusted her children to the Pole, she felt a new determination to survive. Starvation had taken its toll, her feet dragged when suddenly, four Germans sprang out of nowhere, in front of her. She was taken to the 'dispatch station' where they told her she would be sent to work in Lublin. Actually, people were sent to Maidenek and Aushwitz from there.

Somehow or other, Sheindel survived the years of hell. At the end of the war, in spite of her appalling physical and mental condition, her first consideration was to reclaim the children. The thought of those children had sustained her through her worst moments.

"Only Shimon survived," declared the farmer's wife sadly. "We nursed him through typhus as if he was our own son, but he didn't make it." Sheindel had no more tears to shed!

With Shimon, now almost twelve, very pale and thin but oh, so mature, Sheindel found her way to Eretz Yisroel in the company of other holocaust survivors. She could not overcome the nightmares which haunted her night and day. Although she knew that she had responsibilities as a mother, all too often she found herself sitting, gazing at a blank wall. Shimele understood her problems. He himself was surrounded by friends and enjoyed learning, which made him forget those terrible years, whereas his poor mother spent most of her time alone, haunted by memories.

He did his utmost to give her nachas, excelling in his learning and in his whole behavior. His perpetual good humour helped Sheindel to rebuild her life. After some years when he was ready to get engaged, he told Leah, the prospective bride, that he has one stipulation. His mother was to come and live with them. "My mother has a dreadful past and she finds solace only in me," he explained. The girl did not quite understand why the mother could not live alone; thousands of people had survived a horrendous past. Her husband to-be-explained that he was the sole surviving relative, and he was not prepared to let her live by herself.

The girl mulled over the idea over for a while, and then consented. Being the sort of girl she was, she kept the mitzva of honoring parents in all its details. Sheindel had the brightest, airiest room in the flat, freshly decorated and tastefully furnished. Right from the start, the arrangement was a blessing in the house. Leah's mother died of a sudden heart attack two years after they were married, and Sheindel's help and advice were invaluable when it came to looking after the twin babies. As the family grew, the grandmother helped both in the daily household chores, and in the upbringing of the children. Leah never failed to thank her. It was obvious that Sheindel had no time to brood over the past, as she enjoyed her lively noisy grandchildren, and it was altogether a peaceful, harmonious household.

When Sheindel was eighty-five, the euphoric existence changed and her memory began to fail. One Thursday, she boarded a bus as usual to do the weekly shopping, and got off at the wrong stop. She was completely lost and some kindly passersby traced her address and brought her home. The next morning, her daughter in law found her bed empty. They found her wandering about aimlessly. She did not remember leaving the house. The doctor who examined her told them she had Alzheimer's. He explained that it would get progressively worse and that she needed watching twenty-four hours of the day.

Now that her mother-in-law was incapable of helping, Leah was hard put to manage. Shimon tried to hire a carer, but Sheindel did not like her. When they wanted to enroll her at a day center, Sheindel refused to go. Thus Leah became the devoted carer, and Shimon used a considerable amount of his savings to pay for ordinary domestic help, to do the housework. The house took on a new routine, with the older children taking their beloved grandmother for walks when they had time off from school.

Suggestions for shidduchim began coming in for Shimon's oldest daughter. Having put aside most of his savings now in order to help Leah look after his mother, he had no way of financing a wedding, and evaded the propositions for the time being.

One summer afternoon, a tall man in his fifties, dressed like a European tourist, knocked at the door, asking to speak to the man of the house. "Do you remember Friedrich?" he asked in English. Shimon was struck dumb at the mention of his kind benefactor. His mind took him back to the time when Avrohom his brother had been so ill, and how they had nursed him. He thought of how the man had hidden him at the risk of his life, and then he noticed how similar his visitor was to Friedrich. Regaining his composure, Shimon invited the man inside. "Well actually," the man hesitated, "my group is waiting for me in the hotel." He drew a check from his pocket and handed it to Shimon.

"What's this?" stammered Shimon, "There must be some mistake!" The tourist explained that his father had not wanted to accept Sheindel's money or jewels. Her husband had been so good to him for so many years. He had always been fair, promoted him in the textile factory and taken an interest in his family, so he decided to look after the considerable fortune till she claimed the children. After the war, there were many criminals around who attacked the refugees and stole whatever they had managed to save. For that reason, he had still held on to the valuables, which he had now converted into cash.

Shimon did not understand everything the man said in his rapid English, but the gist of it was that for years Friedrich had been telling his son to visit Israel to return the money to its rightful owner. Now the organization for Holocaust survivors had arranged a trip to Israel for all those who had saved Jews during the war. Friedrich was almost 90 years old by now, so his son was invited to come instead, to attend the ceremony and to receive the gratitude from all the survivors. When the tourist had left, Shimon was astounded to see the amount on the check. His heart sang within him. He would not have to refuse this last wonderful shidduch which had just been suggested. He went into his mother's room where he found her in her wheelchair, gazing aimlessly into space. She did not understand what he said to her, but with tears of emotion he bent over her.

"Mother, you have given up your whole life for our welfare. Your prayers were all for our welfare. Now that you are ill, you are still looking after us, and your presence is a palpable blessing in the house. You do not understand what is going on, but you should know that when our daughter gets married, you will be the one who has forged a new link in the generation chain.."


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