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Holocaust Survivor Recalls Purim in the Valley of Tears by J. J. Cohen

Holocaust Survivor Recalls Purim in the Valley of Tears by J. J. Cohen

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Published by: TechRav on Mar 02, 2011
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Holocaust survivor recalls Purim in the valley of tears by J. J. Cohen
Friday, March 17, 2000 | byWe all sat listlessly on our bunks, waiting impatiently for the high point of our day in Death Camp No. 4 of Dachauthe meage
"Do you know that tomorrow is Purim?" I asked my brothers in suffering, trying to distract them, andmyself, from tormented thoughts and painful pangs of hunger."How do you know?""Who told you?""Have you been dreaming?""Where did you find a calendar?""It's freezing! Purim can't be for another month.""No, no!" others protested. "Srulik doesn't make mistakes like that! We know him from before the warand assure you he has a good memory.""Crazy Chassidim!" yet others grumbled. "You have nothing else to worry about besides when Purim fallsthis year? What's the difference anymore between Purim and Pesach, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?Isn't it always the fast day of Tisha B'Av?"The debate gathered force among the 80 living skeletons crammed tightly into a half-buried hut, a virtualwooden tomb overgrown with grass.It was the hour before nightfall, when we inhabitants of the block, now converted into an infirmary, laytensely on our "bunks"wooden boards covered with a thin layer of strawour eyes riveted to thecurtain that separated the block elder's spacious quarters from where we lay.Suddenly, as if by magic, a silence blanketed the room. The curtain had parted, and the block elder stoodthere with his henchmen, bearing our bread rations; it had been nearly 24 hours. Each inmate, uponreceiving his ration, measured it wordlessly with his eyes and compared it to his neighbor's portion, eachconvinced that the other had received more.In an instant, best friends turned into jealous rivals, and any enjoyment of the bread was spoiled. Withinminutes, the stingy portions were devoured by the starving, wretched men, and our stomachs felt justas empty as beforethe gnawing hunger made all the more intolerable by the realization that we wouldhave to wait a whole day for the next piece of bread.Having just suffered through a bad bout of typhus and several days of high fever, I fell back on my board,fast asleep.When I woke up the next morning, I felt dizzy; my head was like a leaden weight. Unable to think of anything else but eating, I began to calculate how much time remained until noon, when the "hotsoup"a nondescript, lukewarm liquid in which a piece of potato occasionally floatedwould appear.Print this pageClose X
With my head down on the wooden board, near despair, I began to conjure up images from my past, of my life with my parents and my two sisters, Gittel and Mirel…how I used to learn in the study hall of theChassidim of Ger.Mostly, I remembered my grandfather, Reb Herschel, who loved me dearly and would take me, his onlygrandson, along whenever he went to the Gerer rebbe. I relived the memory of the Chassidic leader'sface, his eyes overflowing with wisdom and love, penetrating the very depths of my soul."Time to daven, Srulik."My friend's voice shook me from my reverie. The pleasant memories vanished and once again I foundmyself back in the pit of hell.Half-dazed, I picked myself up and said, "Yes, of course. Let's wash our hands and daven."Then it struck me."But it's Purim today!" I exclaimed. "We have to organize a minyan. Maybe we'll even remember a fewverses of Megillas Esther!"I suddenly forgot my pain, my suffering, my hunger pangs. Summoning up all my remaining strength, Iwent to wash my hands and face and then to find some others to complete our minyan.Perhaps, I thought, I might even find someone else who could recall a few more verses from the Megillahso that we could fulfill as much as possible of the Jewish obligation handed down from generation togeneration.And then, as if to show that God particularly desires Jews to perform mitzvot with true dedication, a smallmiracle occurred: A copy of the second book of the Bible, with the complete Megillat Esther appended,was discovered by my friend, Itche Perelman, a member of the camp burial squad.Our elation was immeasurable! Such a find was awesome! It could only be a sign that our prayers hadbeen received in heaven and the redemption was about to begin. Our excitement grew to a feverishpitch.Who remembered the hunger, the cold, the filth, the degradation? No one gave a thought to the dangersinvolved in organizing a minyan and reading the Megillah, to the possibility of the Germans or a kapodeciding to drop in on our hut. Even the nonreligious ones who only yesterday had scoffed at the "crazyChassidim" were filled with excitement at this great event."Who will read the Megillah?" someone asked.The lot, so to speak, fell on me, for I had become an adept reader of holy texts over the time I had beenlocked into the ghetto. Within moments, volunteers managed to locate some clothing for me since, likethe other inmates of the infirmary, I had been assigned nothing more than a blanket with which to covermyself.And so, I found myself sitting on the edge of my piece of wooden plank, dressed in a camp uniform, atowel wrapped around my head in place of a yarmulke, reciting with my remaining strength, "and Hamansought to destroy all the Jews."When I read aloud about Haman's downfall, and that "the Jews had light and happiness, joy and honor,"the spark of hope deep inside every Jew's heart ignited into a flaming torch."Dear Lord of the Universe," I know each of us was thinking, "make a wondrous miracle for us, too, asyou did for our forefathers in those days, and let us too see the end of our enemies!"When I finished, everyone cheered. For a brief instant, the dreadful reality of the death camp had beenforgotten, all the hunger and suffering had receded. Having exerted all my remaining energy in myreading of the Megillah, I sat breathless, but with my spirit soaring.

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