This coming Thursday is May 6. And this coming Friday is 23 Iyar. (הבעל"ט). In 1945 these two dates came on the same day.
That's the day that my father, LOY"T, was liberated from Ebensee. That was 65 years ago this week. Here's what I wrote about it in my book (One Above and Seven Below, p. 272-3):
As the Allied Forces closed in, the SS liquidated the satellite camps (and most of the inmates) and they herded the survivors and marched west. The survivors from that region were concentrated at a camp named Ebensee. I have seen photos and have read accounts about Ebensee. It can only be described as the land of the living dead (though there was no shortage of dead that did not happen to be living). By the time my father arrived, in the last weeks of the war, it was total chaos. Very few guards, no work, no food, no room to sleep, nothing but starvation, sickness, and death.A little more than 15 years ago, I asked my father how he felt right after liberation when his parents were gone and he was released from Gehinom. He answered: "I felt like I have the whole world open in front of me."
But - it was spring. The guns could be heard and the planes could be seen. For the living there was the dream of imminent liberation. And for the religious, there was G-d. On May 5, 1945 a flag was hung from the watchtower to signify that it was over. The next day my father, 15 years old, stood holding the hand of Rabbi Yehoshua Grunwald, the Rebbi of Chust, as they watched the American tanks roll in.
Shortly before the liberation, one prisoner came across a shel yad from a pair of tefillin. The shel yad was conveyed to the most prominent religious spiritual leader that was present, the Rebbi of Chust. He concealed this treasured find until the day of liberation a short time later. On the day of liberation the Allied Forces brought in a mobile field kitchen and prepared a meal of meat and rice. Two lines quickly formed - a long line at the kitchen waiting for a ration of the hearty food and a much shorter line in front of the Rebbi of Chust waiting to say the blessing and don the shel yad. My father stood on the short line. It seems that the food was too rich for the undernourished systems of most of the inmates. My father relates that many people who partook of the offerings of the long line began to die. Many others who partook of the offerings of the short line began to live.
He was young and, despite the atrocities that he witnessed and experienced, he was spared much of the sufferring of so many others. He was from the Carpathian sector that wasn't evacuated to the concentration camps until 1944. He was too young to have been married so he didn't lose a spouse or children and the two sisters that he had before the war (there were no other siblings) survived as well. His parents were gone, his past was shattered, but he knew one thing: There is no point looking back. Only forward. And there was a whole open world in front of him.
Exactly 15 years ago, he made a grand Kiddusha Rabba on Shabbos to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his liberation. There are 7 of us children (3 were married at the time with a combination of 12 grandchildren. Now there are - בלע"ה - more than 35 grandchildren and some great grandchildren en route) and he wanted all 7 of us to say a few words.
When my turn came, I was at a total loss. But I kept thinking about what he told me a short while earlier: "I felt like I have the whole world open in front of me." And so I spoke out the gemara at the very end of masechet Makkos (24b):
שוב פעם אחת היו עולין לירושלים כיון שהגיעו להר הצופים קרעו בגדיהם כיון שהגיעו להר הבית ראו שועל שיצא מבית קדשי הקדשים התחילו הן בוכין ור"ע מצחק אמרו לו מפני מה אתה מצחק אמר להם מפני מה אתם בוכים אמרו לו מקום שכתוב בו והזר הקרב יומת ועכשיו שועלים הלכו בו ולא נבכה אמר להן לכך אני מצחק דכתיב ואעידה לי עדים נאמנים את אוריה הכהן ואת זכריה בן יברכיהו וכי מה ענין אוריה אצל זכריה אוריה במקדש ראשון וזכריה במקדש שני אלא תלה הכתוב נבואתו של זכריה בנבואתו של אוריה באוריה כתיב לכן בגללכם ציון שדה תחרש [וגו'] בזכריה כתיב עוד ישבו זקנים וזקנות ברחובות ירושלם עד שלא נתקיימה נבואתו של אוריה הייתי מתיירא שלא תתקיים נבואתו של זכריה עכשיו שנתקיימה נבואתו של אוריה בידוע שנבואתו של זכריה מתקיימת בלשון הזה אמרו לו עקיבא ניחמתנו עקיבא ניחמתנו:
I was not brought up under the shadow of the Holocaust. When I was very little, I was told that Daddy was born in Europe and he "escaped" during WW II and his parents were killed.
On another occasion they were going up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus they rent their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount they saw a fox scurrying from the place of the Holy of Holies. They all began to weep and Rabi Akiva began to laugh. They said to him (Rabi Akiva): Why do you laugh? He said to them: Why do you weep? They said to him: The place upon which it states, "And the non-Kohen who approaches must die" and now it is overrun with foxes and we ought not weep? He responded: This is the reason that I laugh. It states (in Yeshaya) "And I will have testify for me trustworthy witnesses - Uriah the Kohen and Zecharia son of Yevarchihu..." How can Uriah be mentioned with Zecharia? Uriah lived during the first Temple and Zecharia lived during the second Temple! But rather the scripture is equating the prophecy of Zecharia to the prophecy of Uriah. By Uriah it is written: "Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed as a field..." and by Zecharia it is written: "There will yet again be elderly men and elderly women dwelling in Jerusalem..." As long as the prophecy of Uriah has not been fulfilled, I was afraid that the prophecy of Zecharia may likewise not be fulfilled. Now that I see the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, it is certain that the prophecy of Zecharia will be fulfilled.
And they said to him: Akiva has consoled us. Akiva has consoled us.
When I was 8 years old we took our first trip to Eretz Yisrael and my mother took us to Yad Vashem. That's when I learned about the Holocaust.
And later on I started paying attention to what goes on in shul and I started listening to the weekly parsha. And I listened during Parshas Bechukosai (this week's parsha, BTW) and parshas Ki Savo when they read about the tochacha. And I said to myself, "That sounds just like the Holocaust!" Whoever wrote the Torah knew in advance that there was going to be a Holocaust. The Torah is REAL. Moshe is REAL.
G-d is REAL!
The prophecy of Uriah is real and the prophecy of Zecharia is real and parshat Ki Savo is real and parshat Nitzavim is real.
What about the Holocaust? WHAT ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST?
The Holocaust was our deepest tragedy, but it was also one of our greatest gifts. Because the children of the Holocaust have a Holocaust to tell them that what the Torah says will happen is what will happen. Since the churban habayis, no modern generation had a Holocaust to give us emunah in the Torah. But our generation has it.
And Rabi Akiva - and my father -tell us that we are allowed to laugh.