Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Shvat 5772 - February 2, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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The Shearis Zeev — HaRav Zeev Wolff Willner, Hy"d, of Plavnitz

In honor of his yahrtzeit

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 king.

When the house became too small to accommodate its many visitors, an extension of a few rooms was built in the back yard.

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 kraut?"

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 happiness.

"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 leaked reports.

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..


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