From Ukraine to Germany: The Miraculous Exodus of Rabbi Nivin’s Son

From Ukraine to Germany: The Miraculous Exodus of Rabbi Nivin’s Son

Until 2 weeks ago, 21-year-old Shalom Noach Nivin, the son of Rabbi Aryeh Nivin, was a shaliach student-teacher at a Lubavitch yeshiva in Dnipro, Ukraine. On the Monday after the war started, the yeshiva together with the students’ parents decided to evacuate all together to a different location. After a tortuous 4-day journey from Dnipro through Odessa, Moldova, Romania and France the majority of the yeshiva’s 50 students arrived in Dusseldorf, Germany where they have been living and learning.
As the grandson and namesake of his grandfather, Shalom Baruch Nivin, a survivor of Auschwitz who lost his entire family to the Nazis and suffered terrible cruelty at the hands of the Ukrainians as well, Shalom Noach’s experience as a Jew and Torah teacher in Ukraine and now Germany feels like the greatest vengeance and tikkun possible for his grandfathers’ unfathomable suffering.

Here is how Shalom Noach tells his story:

I grew up in Ashdod, and I know it sounds strange, but I actually have fond childhood memories of those times when the missiles were falling during military operations in Gaza. My parents put in a lot of effort to keep the atmosphere at home very calm and fun, despite all the sirens. For me as a young boy, it was Action! It felt like a summer camp, with all of us kids having pillow fights in the bomb shelter.
So when we woke up in Dnipro that Friday morning that Russia invaded and I saw that the boys in the yeshiva were stressed and scared, I knew that I had an important shlichut. I made it my mission to keep spirits high that Shabbat by telling the boys stories all sorts of stories about growing up with all the sirens. We even had a yeshiva-wide pillow fight.

Students dancing at the yeshiva in Dnipro before the war

But by Sunday evening, missiles were falling left and right. The yeshiva decided that the time had come to leave, and the parents voted that the students should evacuate together to a safer location.

In the yeshiva’s bomb shelter at the beginning of the Russian invasion

The first leg of our journey was a 12-hour train ride to Odessa. It was a very sad leaving Dnipro in such a miserable state, looking so barren, groups of soldiers preparing sand bags, tanks set up as roadblocks, everybody looking depressed, bracing themselves for the Russian onslaught.
And getting onto the train was traumatic as well. Rushing all the students along with a bunch of families (including 2 babies who were only 2 weeks old!) onto the train with all the children and luggage and boxes of supplies. It was very tense and stressful. It was only after the train left the station that we had a chance to read the list of names and we discovered one boy was missing! We read his name three times and we were on the verge of panic when we realized that the missing boy was actually on the train, but he had been looking out the window, distracted. At 3 in the morning I finally got to sleep on the train bench and slept until 7 AM when we davened Shachris.
In Odessa we boarded the bus to Moldova.

The students putting tefillin on man they met outside the Odessa Train Station

It was a 4-hour ride, but everyone was on-edge and agitated. There were tons of roadblocks manned by heavily-armed Ukrainian soldiers. The view from the bus was, again, very depressing. There was huge traffic jam leading up the border, and many people simply abandoned their cars and were walking for hours to the border. Old women, women with children who had next to nothing but the clothing on their backs. Everybody just walking and walking.
The Israeli ambassador assisted us, so it took us only an hour to get across the border into Moldova. We davened Maariv in Moldova and then we started our 15-hour bus ride to Romania. We were delayed a very long time at the border into Romania, and at one point it turned out that we had actually been waiting in the wrong line. At that point I thought I would lose it, that I couldn’t it handle anymore. There were many children and babies on the bus, it was extremely difficult.
We reached Bucharest at 9 AM after 42 hours of travelling. The Chabad shaliach gave us a royal welcome and we all showered off and were fed a big breakfast.
After a day in Bucharest, we travelled to Paris where we were met by the Chief Rabbi of France as well as France’s Head Shaliach.

By the Eiffel Tower, Shalom Noach is 3rd from right

Then we took a bus to Dusseldorf, Germany where we arrived on Friday morning after 4 days on the road. Again, we received such a beautiful welcome at the Israeli-owned hotel where we are staying and are being assisted by generous donors from the local Jewish community. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Barkahn, the shluchim in Dusseldorf, have been working non-stop to help us set up the yeshiva here. It is awe-inspiring.

Rabbi Barkahn of Dusseldorf, Germany

It took a few days for all the bochrim to get settled, to feel like morning was morning and night was night again and that they finally had solid ground underneath their feet after so many days on the road. At this point 35 of the 50 students from our yeshiva in Dnipro are now here.
We have been welcomed very warmly by the Germans here, we have refugee status which means that we receive free health care and other assistance from the German government. Yesterday I went with my students to the pool and the German lifeguards treated us with such warmth and respect, they even presented each boy with a canteen as a gift and urged us to please come again to their pool.
Many of the boys who are here with me are the children of shluchim who remained in the Ukraine. Their parents are staying with their communities, and this is not an easy thing for the parents or for their sons here in Dusseldorf. I am working hard to help these boys keep their spirits up through this difficult time, like I did through the many sirens of my childhood.
Last Thursday, the 7th of Adar, was my 21st birthday, as well the yahrzeit of my grandfather, Shalom Baruch. I was born exactly a year after my grandfather died, less than an hour from the moment he died. The Nazis murdered my grandfather’s whole family, and in Auschwitz he suffered terribly at the hands of the Germans as well as the Ukrainians who worked alongside him in the work crews.
I feel very moved when I am walking down the streets of Ukraine and now Germany, knowing how terribly my grandfather suffered on account of these two nations, and how much harm they did. And now I am here as the victor, like a hero, teaching Torah in Germany to the children of the shluchim in Ukraine as their parents help the Jews of their communities with such mesirut nefesh. 8 decades after the Germans murdered my grandfather’s family, Germany is the country hosting us, and welcoming us. And we are being treated with such warmth and admiration.
I have no doubt that my grandfather is in Heaven, and here I am avenging him in the greatest way possible against the Nazis. It’s incredible! It’s the greatest tikkun possible. And also the Ukrainians. Even though I felt no antisemitism in Ukraine, the opposite, I encountered only respect and appreciation from the Ukrainians. I feel that teaching the children of the rabbis of Ukraine in Dnipro and now Germany is the perfect tikkun for all the generations of Jews that suffered from antisemitism in those countries.
When we were escaping Ukraine, I felt everyone’s care and concern, all their thoughts and prayers for our safety. I encourage everyone to continue to pray. And if possible, to help the refugees. They might be receiving government assistance, but every refugee is in crisis right now. The Rebbe said that every Jew is a shaliach, to add good to the world, with a smile, a mitzvah. If the world is full of good, that leaves less room for evil like we’ve been witnessing over recent weeks.
At this point, almost all the Jews of Dnipro have left. And we are hoping to return there soon, and, adaraba, to be even stronger than before.

2 comments

  1. What a special bachur. And of course the Rabbi in Germany who helped all of these bochurim. Mi kamcha yisrael!
    I am wondering why frum refugees relocated to learn in Germany and not in Israel? If relocating a yeshiva – isn’t Israel a better location?
    Just my thoughts. But no judgment of course. My heart and tefillot go out to all those suffering in this Russia-Ukraine crisis!

    • JewishMom

      it’s a good question. Maybe because this is a continuation of their shlichut, there are many Jewish immigrants to Germany and Dusseldorf in particular I think

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