In the past, when book reviews have appeared on Matzav.com, we have tried to encapsulate the purpose and contents of the book. When reading Heroes of Spirit – 100 Rabbinic Tales of the Holocaust for review, we quickly found that the book’s forward, written by Reb Yosef Friedenson, portrays the epic heroism of Torah giants, and the purpose of this book, in a manner possible only for a survivor and witness to the Holocaust. Other than pointing out that the book also contains short biographies of the gedolim who inspire through its pages, as well as a timeline of important Holocaust related events, we will simply re-publish the Reb Yosef Friedensohn’s forward here. (Reprinted with permission.)
By RABBI YOSEF FRIEDENSON SHLIT”A
The True Heroes of World War II
By: Reb Yosef Friedenson
Editor, Dos Yiddishe Vort
I remember the day very clearly. It was September 1939 and we knew that the Germans were amassing on the Polish border. An order had come from the Polish government for all able bodied men over the age of 16 to immediately go to Warsaw, ostensibly to unite all Polish forces, in order to combat the Germans.
So my father, Rabbi Eliezer Gershon Friedenson, and I, set out on foot from Lodz to Warsaw. We encountered the dreaded Luftwaffe many times along the road as we dove for cover when they swooped down upon us, machine guns blazing. By the time we got to Warsaw, the war — as far as Poland was concerned — was over. They sent us back. The “mighty” Polish army had been defeated by the Germans in three days.
I begin this foreword with this story as an attempt to respond to the ridiculous bantering of many secularists who claim that the six million Kedoshim went to their deaths like sheep to the slaughter. Nothing could be further from the truth. They went like heroes of spirit. Anyone who thinks that the Jewish masses could have united to defeat the Germans should just ask that “mighty” Polish government. If the Polish army could not last three days under the Nazi onslaught, how could anyone dare say that the civilian Jewish population could have successfully fought back?
In the five plus years I endured under Nazi occupation, torture, and degradation, I can testify that they never broke the collective spirit of the Jews. They may have been physically stronger, but they never defeated us. We remained the Am Hanivchar, the Chosen People. The Germans, by perpetrating the most heinous acts of barbarism in the annals of mankind, acquired a place in history. But it was on the wrong side.
The real heroes were men like my father, Hy”d, who, in the Warsaw Ghetto, opened his window to throw scraps of bread to the starving, crying children outside. And when I said to him, “Tatta, what about us?” his answer rings in my ears today as clearly as the day he spoke them: “Tonight, we have enough bread. Oif morgan, vet G-t zorgen (Tomorrow, let G-d worry).”
Who would ever allow their children to marry in the ghetto, with a seeming death sentence hovering over the young couple’s heads? Well, I got married in the Warsaw Ghetto due to heroes of the spirit like my father who quoted the prophet Yeshaya, how, just like Sancherev, who went from being high and mighty, down to his ultimate defeat, so, too, will Hitler and his cohorts. And heroes like the Shachliner Rebbe who promised my mother-in-law that if she allows the wedding to take place, he guarantees we will both survive the war. They were true heroes.
In slave labor camp, I can testify how Jews baked matzos in the 2,000 degree smelting ovens with the cooperation of our German overlord. I remember his incredulous look when he asked us how we could be worrying about HaShem in the situation we were in? “Didn’t your God forsake you?” he asked. One of the elders in the group responded, “Not totally, and not forever.” He took a step back and said, “I’m afraid the Fuhrer will never be able to defeat such a people.” That elder was a true hero.
In the slave labor camps, in the extermination camps, on the death marches, at the firing squads, Jews who went to the Kisei Hakavod with Shema on their lips, with Ani Ma’amin in their hearts, they were the true heroes of spirit. There were six million heroes of spirit.
Rabbanim, Admorim, Roshei Yeshivos, and the plain, poshiter Yidden; stories abound of their heroism. Most of these stories, however, went to their deaths together with the witnesses. But many stories survived. And these stories are vital to be passed on to the next generation … and the next … and the next. Our children must know that physical resistance is only a minor part of heroism. Spiritual resistance is much more difficult.
The secular world lauds the Jews who physically resisted the Germans. But much greater was the spiritual resistance of those whose faith in HaShem never wavered, even under the most torturous conditions.
Holocaust memorials are meaningless without proper Torah hashkafa. And this hashkafa must be handed down to our children, to counter the constant non-Torah hashkafa onslaught that we are bombarded with from outside our camp. What better way of transmitting this emunah, this faith in HaShem, this testament to spiritual heroism than by preserving tales of Kiddush HaShem, tales of real strength, the kind that will, and must, endure forever.
That is why I am so happy to see Rabbi Hoffman’s book, replete with stories of the Holocaust that will inspire the younger generation to greater levels of Emunah and Bitachon. We lost a generation of great Jews, but this book will allow their efforts not to be in vain and their memories not to fade.
Kol Hakovod on this wonderful undertaking. May HaShem bless you with continued Kochos to be Mekadeish Shem Shomayim.
Editor, Dos Yiddishe Vort
The book Heroes of Spirit -100 Rabbinic Tales of the Holocaust by Rabbi Dovid Hoffman is available in time for the Three Weeks at Judaica stores everywhere, or from Israel Book Shop Publications: Call (888) 536-7427 or click here.