BUCHENWALD 3: You are free!

Rabbi Herschel Schacter Is Dead at 95

Cried to the Jews of Buchenwald: ‘You Are Free’

Rabbi Schacter died last March at 95, five years after my father’s death.    Rabbi Schacter’s obituary in the New York Times tells how the young Rabbi, then just a two years younger than my father, entered the camp in the entourage of General Patton.  The rabbi was the first Jewish chaplain to enter in after the camp was liberated.   Because of my brother’s refusal to allow my father’s photographs to be released to the public, we likely will never know if the first doctor in Buchenwald and the first rabbi helped the same people or even met.  Looking at the picture to the left, it is too small to determine if perhaps, that Shavuot, Robert Schwartz was on of the soldiers in the back of the room. .

Rabbi Schachter later said, the sting of smoke in his eyes, the smell of burning flesh and the hundreds of bodies strewn everywhere. My Dad, who was in the campo three days earlier,  also wrote of the horrible stench in Buchenwald, comparing its horror to the feeling of love he felt smelling my mothers hair in bed.  That letter is very hard to read. Shavuot at Buchenwald

The Rabbi stayed n the camp for months, tending to survivors, leading religious services in a former Nazi recreation hall and eventually helping to resettle thousands of Jews.   Amongst these was a child,  Yisrael Meir Lau.  Yisreael later became the  chief rabbi of Israel.

, in her obituary for Rabbi Schachter, tells us that “Rabbi Schacter said afterward, it seemed as though there was no one left alive. 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 be 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.

As he passed a mound of corpses, Rabbi Schacter spied a flicker of movement. Drawing closer, he saw a small boy, Prisoner 17030, hiding in terror behind the mound.

“I was afraid of him,” the child would recall long afterward in an interview with The New York Times. “I knew all the uniforms of SS and Gestapo and Wehrmacht, and all of a sudden, a new kind of uniform. I thought, ‘A new kind of enemy.’ ”

With tears streaming down his face, Rabbi Schacter picked the boy up. “What’s your name, my child?” he asked in Yiddish.

“Lulek,” the child replied.

“How old are you?” the rabbi asked.

“What difference does it make?” Lulek, who was 7, said. “I’m older than you, anyway.”

“Why do you think you’re older?” Rabbi Schacter asked, smiling.

“Because you cry and laugh like a child,” Lulek replied. “I haven’t laughed in a long time, and I don’t even cry anymore. So which one of us is older?”     Yisrael Meir Lau

At one of those services, Lulek and his older brother, Naftali, were able to say Kaddish for their parents, Polish Jews who had been killed by the Nazis. “

Lulek is now 76 and grew up to become the Ashkenazi chief Rabbi of Israel.  Last March the Rabbi met with President Obama and said of Rabbi Schechter, “For me, he was alive,” Rabbi Lau said in an interview with The Times on Monday. “I speak about him with tears in my eyes.”

Rabbi Lulek is obviously one of the people who should know my fathers story and, if the feud with my brother Hugh is ever settled, Rabbi Lau is certainly a person I would want to contact.

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