Lessons we can learn from each survivor

I wanted to share the story of this woman who could have been mentally broken at a young age, but had the will within her to overcome adversity.

May 2, 2019 17:28
3 minute read.
A Holocaust survivor shows his tattoo

A Holocaust survivor shows his tattoo. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

Just before Passover, I opened a book by Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter, the founder and leader of Dirshu, to glean insight into the holiday.

Although the book was very illuminating throughout, one of the most interesting parts to me was a story about his mother, Chaya Sara, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor. At the age of 16, she was brutally taken from her loving family and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and from there to the Allendorf labor camp. Her determination and bravery to not succumb to the horrors of her torturous suffering moved and inspired me in a profound way.

As the Jewish world comes together for Holocaust Remembrance Day, I wanted to share the story of this woman who could have been mentally broken at a young age, but had the will within her to overcome adversity. I think her story and the life she led are a lesson to us all.

Chaya Sara was raised as an observant Jew, and had already committed to following the laws of the Torah, as was her custom, before the Holocaust began. Prior to the beginning of the Passover holiday, her family figured out a way to observe the law to not eat bread during this time, hiding their tiny ration of bread. However, by forgoing to eat the small amount of bread they were given, they risked starvation. In addition, hiding their bread ration put them at risk of being tortured or killed by the Nazis, because they were prisoners and had to do exactly what they were told. They lived and worked under the harshest conditions by only drinking watery soup.

Two weeks after Passover, the commander of the camp had all the prisoners march day and night with no food on what we now know as a death march. Many of the prisoners died of hunger and thirst under the march’s grueling conditions. However, before the march began, Chaya Sara and her cousin had the presence of mind to remember they had hidden the bread during Passover. They found it, bundled it up and took it with them on the march. This is what enabled them to survive.

By the time today’s children are adults, most Holocaust survivors will no longer be alive to tell their stories, so those of us who are blessed to live now must learn about these survivors and the lives they came to lead.

Through my research, I was able to learn more about Rabbi Hofstedter’s mother, Chaya Sara, and the life she lived. I know that for all the horror the Holocaust survivors endured and witnessed, they could have all ended up retreating from life – they had every reason to do so. Instead, however, all the survivors I have known, ended up living remarkably productive lives.

For example, Chaya Sara was so grateful for the miracle of surviving the Holocaust, that she felt obligated to not succumb to the pain and suffering. She was the original breadwinner of their family, working as a seamstress as her husband got his bearings in his future career as a real estate developer. She raised three sons and a daughter, all of whom went on to live productive lives.

She helped anyone she could on a one-on-one basis, doing good deeds that nobody even knew about. Sometimes, she would support new or struggling businesses by buying from them at higher prices than she could find elsewhere. She supported many organizations in Toronto, where she lived, such as Hachnosas Kallah, which supports brides with money to help pay for a nice wedding, and the Ner Israel Yeshiva College, which educates Jews in Toronto. Chaya Sara also made an effort to visit the sick.

Most importantly, in addition to all that I have mentioned above, she taught her son, Rabbi Hofstedter, the value of doing good deeds. He went on to found Dirshu, the largest Torah organization in the world, which has brought back Jewish scholarship to pre-Holocaust levels.

All of us will face some sort of adversity in our lives. For some, it might be the loss of a job, a breakup in a romantic or business relationship or the death of a loved one. Thankfully, most of us will never face the horrors that those who lived through the Holocaust faced, but we should look to those that survived that tragic time as role models for the divine strength that is a part of all of us… if only we recognize that it is there.

Zachary Silver is a pro-Israel activist who writes frequently about Israel and Jewish culture.

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