Earlier this winter I visited the Amud Aish Memorial Museum/Kleinman Holocaust Education Center. The exhibits were riveting and inspiring. Driving home, my friend Malkele asked me, “Miriam, how do you discuss the Holocaust with your grandchildren?” I was taken aback by this question. In truth, I have never spoken to my grandchildren about this era. I believe that I have been remiss. As a grandmother, a role that I take quite seriously, perhaps I should be sharing the stories of spiritual heroism with these young ones. Each of us is a link in this monumental chain. We too have a role in educating and inspiring our young ones. And as the survivor generation ages and passes on, our role in this realm becomes even more crucial.
There are various books, written with great sensitivity, available in our Judaica shops that are appropriate for children that would enable us to introduce this difficult era to our younger ones. Over the years, various educators have tackled this period and created materials that are used in our yeshivos and day schools. This museum is a fabulous resource for our community. I have an additional suggestion for you. Perhaps, my dear readers, you would like to join me as together we delve through the archives in Amud Aish, seeking out those items that will assist us in telling the story.
I am a child of survivors. I assume that many of you are also children of survivors. My dear friend Gali Berkowitz points out that 6 million were killed. Our parents obviously were among the relatively few who survived. Why did they survive? So we should be born and carry on. We have a purpose in being alive. We must use our time well. We must cherish our very lives and the opportunities that life presents us with. And we must share the inspiration, the tales of spiritual heroism with our young ones.
Abie Rotenberg, the legendary songwriter sings, “What will become of all the memories? Are they to scatter with the dust in the breeze?”
With the help of the Amud Aish Memorial Museum, we will hold tightly to these memories. And we will share these memories with our children and grandchildren and, please G-d, one day, our great-grandchildren. The Jewish people will live on…
Chaya’s Prized Possessions
It is a simple challah cover, quite old, a bit threadbare and stained. It is cream colored with red-scalloped embroidery spelling out the words of the Layl Shabbos Kiddush. This challah cover is sitting in a case in the Amud Aish Memorial Museum. Every item displayed there has a story… always a moving, poignant story. Let me share this one with you.
Chaya Horowitz lived with her parents and her two sisters, Kaila and Rivka, in Budapest. In March 1944, the Nazis marched in, creating havoc and terror. June 1944, Kaila was deported to Auschwitz. In October 1944, Rivka was deported to Bergen-Belsen. November 1944, Chaya and her parents were ordered to leave their home and enter the ghetto. Each carefully calculated exactly which items should be taken along. What was absolutely necessary for survival?
Packed into the Horowitz valise was the challah cover that had graced their Shabbos table during better days. Chaya well recalled how Rivka had painstakingly worked on making it, anticipating the joy their parents would experience when she presented this special gift to them. Rivka’s anticipation became reality; each Shabbos as her handiwork graced the Shabbos table, Rivka’s heart would soar with pride and joy. Holding onto this cherished challah cover enabled Chaya to connect with her beloved family. As she fingered the lettering, the very lettering Rivka had embroidered, she felt Rivka’s warmth, and felt connected. Whilst admiring the candelabras gracing the sides of the cover, Chaya could visualize her beloved mother as she kindled the Shabbos candles.
Also included in this valise was a photo of Kaila, along with final postcards written by their grandfather, Reb Yehoshua Zelig Grunfeld, 85 years old at the time he had penned those messages. His son, Reb Moshe Chaim, had been the Rav of the Sajoszentpeter Ghetto. Father and son, together with daughter-in-law and children, were deported to Auschwitz and murdered.
The years following were filled with unspeakable pain. Rivka was murdered in Bergen-Belsen. Kaila was killed in Auschwitz. Only Chaya miraculously survived, as did the challah cover. Chaya held onto it tightly, the only memento of her beloved sister Rivka and her childhood home. It was evidence that her beloved sister had actually existed, and had once been an integral part of her life. Chaya also held tightly to the photo of Kaila. For over 65 years, Chaya kept this challah cover, with its special case, in a safe place, together with the photo and those postcards from her Zayde, doing her utmost to access those long-ago memories of a carefree, joyful childhood, spent in the embrace of parents, siblings and extended family members.
Chaya knew that her days were coming to an end. As she prepared for her ultimate journey, she asked that this precious challah cover be buried with her, along with the photo of her sister Kaila and the postcards. Even in death, she did not want to part from her beloved family. But as the time grew closer, Chaya realized that her initial plan was far from ideal. The challah cover, once buried with her, would cease to exist. The photo and cards would disintegrate. And so Chaya decided to donate these cherished items to Amud Aish, in the name of her beloved sisters.
Thank you, Chaya. Thank you for sharing your most precious possessions with us, for sharing your heart.
Below is the last letter written by Rivka. She had been marched out to the Ujpest Sport Stadium in Hungary on Oct 24, 1944 and deported from there directly to Bergen-Belsen, Germany.
Sweet parents and everybody,
I want to advise you that in this moment I am at the sport stadium in Ujpest in the pouring rain. Everything I have is soaked. I forgot my hood at home. On my bed I left my white comb in a case. But it doesn’t matter because I have another one, and I can also borrow one. My snow boots would have come in very handy. Please fix my canvas boots right away. I will write you if I have a permanent place, where you can send the above-mentioned items. In a quarter of an hour, we are leaving… and going to be sorted for work… Otherwise I will be okay except that I am very tired. But I will get used to it. I didn’t sleep at all… How are you my dear mother? Take care of yourself. Don’t worry about me… I send my kisses and regards to everyone… I think I have a fever and I need my strength. We have to complete a 15 kilometer walk… My Chaya, I kiss you separately. I kiss Father’s hand and Mother’s.
Edit [Rivka] Horowitz
Chaya, Rivka, Kaila, I hear your story. Rivka, I see the lovely challah cover you created as a young girl. As I read your moving letter, I sense the young, thoughtful, affectionate, respectful daughter you were. Kaila, I see your photo. I see your innocent, youthful, beautiful face. All the visitors to Amud Aish affirm your existence. The three of you lived, you loved, you made a difference in this world. In the world of truth, you are all reaping your rewards. United once again, you are basking in the love and devotion of beloved family.
Yehai nishmasam tzrurum b’tzror hachayim.