Chronicles of Redemption
As children, we learn that the Egyptians enslaved the Bnei Yisrael for hundreds of years. But the more I learn, I realize that the Egyptian “slavery” was more like a typical concentration camp. The midrash is clear as to the daily brutality of the Egyptians, ranging from torture to outright murder.
In addition, we are told that when the time of liberation arrived, only one fifth of our people survived. After World War II, a third of Jewry had been destroyed. But on a brighter note, the liberation of Europe occured in the spring of 1945, right around Pesach time. American forces entered Buchenwald, the first camp to be liberated, on the eighth day of Pesach.
Just as Pharaoh and his cohorts remained defiant until the last moment, the Germans also displayed an unyielding hatred in the face of their captors. One of the first exposures of Nazi atrocities was when a division of the US Ninth Army discovered a barn filled with bodies near the German town of Gardelegen. Upon orders from General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, the dead were to be buried in a military cemetery, with complete honors including a 21-gun salute. The male citizens of the town were ordered to dig seven long trenches along the south of the barn and bury the victims themselves.
In a 2001 article in the magazine After the Battle, Karel Margry described the scene: The American guards were in a foul mood and used rifle butts to drive unwilling workers into the barn. The Germans had to move the dead with bare hands and no one was allowed to wear gloves. Freed camp inmates were brought to the site to point out men they knew to be implicated. The Americans had trouble preventing the former prisoners from lynching those Nazis that were recognized.
Philip A. Feick was one of the American soldiers at Gardelegen. He brought home photos that he took, and told his family what he had seen. His son, William Feick, wrote the following: The townspeople were ordered to remove the bodies from the barn. One man refused this order and replied “No.” The soldier next to Dad repeated again to pick up the body—the reply again was “No.” Dad recalls vividly as this soldier grabbed the bolt on his rifle, loaded and shot the knee off the townsman… “[I] feel it very important to show the bitter attitude of the German. No remorse was felt or shown—just hate. Put yourself there—that soldier ordered him twice at gunpoint and the reply was ‘No.’ Emotions had to run very high—on both sides.”
Sam Fuller was a rifleman in the First US Infantry Division. When the German city of Aachen fell to his unit in October of 1944, a formal ceremony of surrender took place outside the town cathedral. General Huebner allowed the German officer to address his men before they were led off. Over the crackly loudspeakers, the officer reminded his men that “they were still German soldiers” and to behave as such. But when he wanted to lead them in a Nazi salute, Huebner stopped him. The general then took the microphone and announced that any Jew in his unit should proceed into the Aachen Cathedral for makeshift Yom Kippur services.
The defeated Nazis watched, waiting to see how many Jews were in the division. Fuller’s sergeant, “who was about as Jewish as a pork chop,” turned and headed for the cathedral. Fuller watched as every man,
Jew and gentile, followed “as an act of defiance, a bold message and an extraordinary demonstration of solidarity. We are truly fortunate to live in a land of religious freedom. Yet, even with all our comforts, we are still awaiting the day that we can add the Final Redemption to this month of Nisan, ending this galus once and for all.