Yad VaShem and Yad HaShem: Finding God During the Holocaust

Yad VaShem and Yad HaShem: Finding God During the Holocaust

This morning, in honor of Rosh Chodesh Av, I attended Reb. Rena Tarshish’s renowned 4- hour “Yad Hashem” Yad Vashem Holocaust Tour.

I’m usually careful to avoid anything having to do with the Shoah because it inevitably thrusts me into an existentialist void– if the Holocaust could happen then either God hates the Jewish people or, more likely, He simply doesn’t exist.
So when I saw an ad for this tour, I signed up in hope of hearing an approach that would make the reality of the Holocaust compatible with being a believing Jew. And I’m happy I went. This morning shook me up deeply, in a good way. It’s not that I discovered the Holocaust was any less horrific than I’d thought it was, but hearing about the countless Jews who lived through the Shoah (or were murdered al kiddush Hashem) who never, ever lost their faith, who never gave up on God, who never stopped fighing to live a Jewish life until their final breath, opened up the possibility, for me, of a different way of thinking about the 6 million HY”D.
For example, Rabbi Gibralter, who had been a child with his family in the Lodz Ghetto. The night before a dreaded selection, during which the Nazis would decide who would be sent from the ghetto to their deaths, he and his parents didn’t sleep at all. Early in the morning, Rabbi Gibralter approached his father, “Tatty, a person who puts on tefillin even once in his life is in a completely different spiritual category. I now it is our custom to wait until a month before bar mitzvah, but I probably won’t live that long, so please let me put on tefillin this morning, before the selection.” B”H Rabbi Gibralter survived the war, may he continue laying tefillin until 120.
For example, Theresienstadt inmate, Artur Berlinger, who secretly designed and built the exquisite Hidden Synagogue even though if he had been caught he would have been put immediately to death, along with every Jew who dared to pray there. He and his wife Berta were murdered by the Nazi beasts a few years later.
For example, the Telzer Rav, Reb. Tarshish’s great-grandfather, who also did not survive the war. The night before he was murdered he and his daughter reviewed the laws of dying al kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem’s name by being killed for being a Jew. He wanted to fulfill this most difficult of mitzvot with all his heart and soul.
For example, the Jew in Bergen Belson who, when called by a Nazi guard from the barracks in order to be sent to his death, answered “Hineni,” Here I am, just like Abraham said on the way to sacrifice his beloved son during the binding of Isaac.
For example the many Sonderkommandos, responsible for herding the Jews into the gas chambers, who would mingle among the new arrivals fresh off the trains, whispering life-giving advice, “I’m a Jew,” he would say, “I am risking my life by telling you this, tell them you are an electrician.””Tell them you are a carpenter.””You are 70? Tell them you are 60.””Don’t hold your baby sister, give her to your mother.” Sonderkommandos themselves rarely survived more than a few months, the Nazis murdered them so there would not be witnesses of how they were carrying out their satanic “Final Solution,” but thousands of Jews exist today because of their acts of self-sacrifice and super-human kindness.
For example the woman who woke up in the concentration camp barracks to find that her uniform had disintegrated into shreds. If she went out to Appell roll call without her uniform, she would be shot on the spot. Another woman who was wearing a sweater over her own uniform saw her. Her sweater was filthy, crawling with lice, but it offered some protection against the freezing Polish winter. This woman looked at her companion, then at her sweater, and then she slowly unzipped her treasured sweater and gave it to the other woman, in order to save her life. As she put it on, she recited the blessing, “Blessed are You, God of the Universe, who clothes the naked” and the other woman answered, “Amen!”
I am certain that there are millions more stories we will never hear, of forgotten acts of living Kiddush Hashem before dying al Kiddush Hashem. May these stories be l’ilui nishmatam, to elevate the holy souls of the 6 million. HY”D.


  1. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Deeply touched by the stories of these beautiful people…who have been living on in our hearts.

  3. Rochel Black

    Crying and shivering at the same time. How do i find out about Reb. Tarshish’s guided tours at Yad VaShem and other places. I heard her speak yesterday for the Shmiras HaLashon progrsam in Beit Shemesh. As always, she blew me away.

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