Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Shalom Aleichem, Yidden. Ihr zint frei!"

The smoke was still rising as Rabbi Herschel Schacter rode through the gates of Buchenwald.

So begins an article in The Times about Rabbi Herschel Schacter, the first rabbi to arrive at Buchenwald after the American tanks had pushed through the gates.

It was April 11, 1945 [just days after Passover] and Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army had liberated the concentration camp scarcely an hour before.

I would describe it as required reading, although it's sobering stuff.  Click here.

In the camp, he encountered a young American lieutenant who knew his way around.

"Are there any Jews alive here?" the rabbi asked him.

He was led to the Kleine Lager, or Little Camp, a smaller camp within the larger one.  There, in filthy barracks, men lay on raw wooden planks stacked from floor to ceiling. They stared down at the rabbi, in his unfamiliar military uniform, with unmistakable fright.

"Shalom Aleichem, Yidden," Rabbi Schacter cried in Yiddish, "ihr zint frei!"  -- "Peace upon you, Jews, you are free!"  He ran from barracks to barracks, repeating those words. He was joined by those Jews who could walk, until a stream of people swelled behind him.

Rabbi Schacter died last week at the age of 95.  I doubt, in those long years after, that he ever forgot a moment of what he saw that day.

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