March 22, 2012

A Dachau Story

Rabbi Yosef Wallis, director of Arachim of Israel, talks to Project Witness about his father, Judah Wallis, who was born and raised in Pavenitz, Poland:

“While he was in Dachau, a Jew who was being taken to his death suddenly flung a small bag at my father, Judah Wallis. He caught it, thinking it might contain a piece of bread. Upon opening it, however, he was disturbed to discover a pair of tefillin. Judah was very
frightened because he knew that were he to be caught carrying tefillin, he would be put to death instantly. So he hid the tefillin under his shirt and headed for his bunkhouse.

“In the morning, just before the appel [roll call], while still in his bunkhouse, he put on the tefillin. Unexpectedly, a German officer
appeared. He ordered him to remove the tefillin, noted the number on
Judah’s arm, and ordered him to go straight to the appel.

“At the appel, in front of thousands of silent Jews, the officer
called out Judah’s number and he had no choice but to step forward.
The German officer waved the tefillin in the air and said, ‘Dog! I
sentence you to death by public hanging for wearing these.’

“Judah was placed on a stool and a noose was placed around his neck.
Before he was hanged, the officer said in a mocking tone, ‘Dog, what
is your last wish?’

“’To wear my tefillin one last time,’ Judah replied.

“The officer was dumbfounded. He handed Judah the tefillin. As Judah
put them on, he recited the verse that is said while the tefillin are
being wound around the fingers: ‘Ve’eirastich li le’olam, ve’eirastich
li b’tzedek uvemishpat, ub’chessed, uv’rachamim, ve’eirastich li
b’emunah, v’yodaat es Hashem—I will betroth you to me forever and I
will betroth you to me with righteousness and with justice and with
kindness and with mercy and I will betroth you to me with fidelity,
and you shall know Hashem.’

“It is hard for us to picture this Jew with a noose around his neck,
wearing tefillin on his head and arm — but that was the scene that the
entire camp was forced to watch, as they awaited the impending hanging
of the Jew who had dared to break the rule against wearing tefillin.
Even women from the adjoining camp were lined up at the barbed wire
fence that separated them from the men’s camp, forced to watch this
horrible sight.

“As Judah turned to watch the silent crowd, he saw tears in many
people’s eyes. Even at that moment, as he was about to be hanged, he
was shocked. Jews were crying! How was it possible that they still had
tears left to shed? And for a stranger? Where were those tears coming
from? Impulsively, in Yiddish, he called out, ‘Yidden, don’t cry. With
tefillin on, I am the victor. Don’t you understand, I am the winner!’

“The German officer understood the Yiddish and was infuriated. He said
to Judah, ‘You dog, you think you are the winner? Hanging is too good
for you. You are going to get another kind of death.’

“Judah, my father, was taken from the stool and the noose was removed
from his neck. He was forced into a squatting position and two huge
rocks were placed under his arms. Then he was told that he would be
receiving 25 lashes to his head — the head on which he had dared to
position his tefillin. The officer told him that if he dropped even
one of the rocks, he would be shot immediately. In fact, because this
was such an extremely painful form of death, the officer advised him,
‘Drop the rocks now. You will never survive the 25 lashes to the head.
Nobody ever does.’

“Judah’s response was, ‘No, I won’t give you the pleasure.’

“At the 25th lash, Judah lost consciousness and was left for dead. He
was about to be dragged to a pile of corpses , after which he would
have been burned in a ditch, when another Jew saw him, shoved him to
the side, and covered his head with a rag, so people didn’t realize he
was alive. Eventually, after he recovered consciousness fully, he
crawled to the nearest bunkhouse that was on raised piles, and hid
under it until he was strong enough to come out under his own power.
Two months later he was liberated.

“During the hanging and beating episode, a 17-year-old girl had been
watching the events from the women’s side of the fence. After
liberation, she made her way to the men’s camp and found Judah. She
walked over to him and said, ‘I’ve lost everyone. I don’t want to be
alone any more. I saw what you did that day when the officer wanted to
hang you. Will you marry me?’”

The rest is history. Rabbi Yosef Wallis’ parents (for this couple
became his parents) walked over to the Klausenberger Rebbe and
requested that he perform the marriage ceremony. The Klausenberger
Rebbe, whose kiddush Hashem is legendary, wrote out a kesubah by hand
from memory and married the couple. Rabbi Wallis has that handwritten
kesubah in his possession to this day.


Add to Technorati Favorites Tweets by @ZalmiU