Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Rabbi At Buchenwald Shouts For Freedom

The Shoah

Rabbi Schacter leading a Shavuot service at Buchenwald, May 18, 1945, five weeks after American soldiers had liberated the camp
Wikpedia says: “American chaplain Rabbi Hershel Schaecter conducts the service of the first day of Shavuoth for Buchenwald survivors shortly after liberation. Pictured in the first row wearing shorts is Robert Buechler, while the youth sitting in front of the lecturn, looking back at the camera, is Stefan Jakubowicz. Israel Meir Lau is pictured sitting third from left, in the first row, between two American soldiers. Seated in the second row are Jakub Chojt (left side, wearing a white shirt) and brothers, Yosl Bekiermaszyn, now Baker, (middle of the row, wearing a black jacket) and Boruch Bekiermaszyn (two to the right of him). The Shavuot service commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The previous month, Rabbi Schachter had also led a Second Passover service since the survivors did not have a chance to celebrate Passover on its actual date [Ed: March 29, 1945]. The day after this Shavuot service was held, a group of Jewish children were repatriated to their homes in Czechoslovakia.”
Photo Credit: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park
Source: Wikipedia
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An article, by Margalit Fox, in The New York Times recounts the time Rabbi Herschel Schacter entered the concentration camp of Buchenwald, near Wiemar, Germany, one of the largest set up by the Nazis in 1937. It was a few weeks before the official end of the Second World War, and Buchenwald was the first camp the U.S. Army liberated:
It was April 11, 1945, and Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army had liberated the concentration camp scarcely an hour before. Rabbi Schacter, who was attached to the Third Army’s VIII Corps, was the first Jewish chaplain to enter in its wake. That morning, after learning that Patton’s forward tanks had arrived at the camp, Rabbi Schacter, who died in the Riverdale section of the Bronx on Thursday at 95 after a career as one of the most prominent Modern Orthodox rabbis in the United States, commandeered a jeep and driver. He left headquarters and sped toward Buchenwald.
By late afternoon, when the rabbi drove through the gates, Allied tanks had breached the camp. He remembered, he later said, the sting of smoke in his eyes, the smell of burning flesh and the hundreds of bodies strewn everywhere. He would remain at Buchenwald for months, tending to survivors, leading religious services in a former Nazi recreation hall and eventually helping to resettle thousands of Jews.
For his work, Rabbi Schacter was singled out by name on Friday by Yisrael Meir Lau, the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, in a meeting with President Obama at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial. In Buchenwald that April day, Rabbi Schacter said afterward, it seemed as though there was no one left alive. In the camp, he encountered a young American lieutenant who knew his way around. 
“Are there any Jews alive here?” the rabbi asked him.
He was led to the Kleine Lager, or Little Camp, a smaller camp within the larger one. There, in filthy barracks, men lay on raw wooden planks stacked from floor to ceiling. They stared down at the rabbi, in his unfamiliar military uniform, with unmistakable fright.
Rabbi Schacter died on March 21, 2013; he was 95. Fox of the Times writes: "A resident of the Riverdale section of the Bronx, Rabbi Schacter is survived by his wife, the former Pnina Gewirtz, whom he married in 1948; a son, Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, who confirmed his father’s death; a daughter, Miriam Schacter; four grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren." Rabbi Schacter's good deeds will always be remembered, notably by those he touched while at Buchenwald; his is an example for us to emulate.

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You can read the rest of the article at [NYT]

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