History Articles

Rising Above A Spirit Too Lofty to Be Quelled

concentration camp

With Pesach approaching, the pace quickens. I always lose five pounds in the two weeks before Yom Tov, just from the nervous energy expended in getting out the chometz and bringing in the Pesach.

My mother-in-law, the Bluzever Rebbetzin, z”l, used to just wave away the tension. “My hardest Pesach was in Bergen-Belsen,” she used to say. “There it was hard to get rid of the chometz. After all, that’s all we had to eat…”

What was it like to make Pesach in Bergen-Belsen, not just one year, but two years – two years of a progressively worsening situation? This is the tale we retell every Pesach.

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In this, our Tisha b’Av issue, we present edited excerpts from Fire, Ice, Air: A Polish Jew’s Memoir of Yeshiva, Siberia, America, by Baltimore’s own Rabbi Simcha Shafran, with Avi Shafran. In this selection, Rabbi Shafran, a 14-year-old yeshiva bachur, has been captured by the Soviets and sent to Siberia, along with others who chose not to accept Soviet citizenship. Traveling with them is Rabbi Yehudah Leib Nekritz, zt”l, their leader and spiritual mentor.

June-July 1941 (Sivan-Tammuz, 5701)

Our train began to move, and gained speed as it headed eastward. The journey took weeks. Although the car was crowded, we would make our way to a corner when it was time to pray, and did so with a minyan. We would also study with Rabbi Nekritz when we could. Much of the time we lay on the makeshift bunks that lined the walls of the train, and pondered our lives, our responsibilities as Jews, and what trials the future held for us….

Finally, we arrived in Novosibirsk, the large city at the onset of Siberia, the easternmost end of the rail line. The guards took us off the train, and put us on a barge, since the only way deeper into Siberia was by river. That water journey also seemed to take weeks, although time had become a slippery thing. Our particular group’s destination was a town called Nizhna Machavaya – Lower Machavaya. There we were to stay, 10 young men – boys would better have described most of us – and their teacher, Rabbi Nekritz; his wife, and their two daughters; and several other Jewish families.

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In Memory of Mr. Jacob Boehm- From our Archives 1992

yartzheit candle

Survivors of the Holocaust

Mr. Jacob Boehm

Anyone who has lived in Baltimore for a while remembers the familiar figure of Mr. Jacob Boehm in his white apron, hacking at the lettuces or working the deli in his store, the famous, Jack’s. The store, which the Boehms started not long after their arrival in Baltimore in 1948, was one of the only kosher groceries for a long time, and became a forerunner of Seven Mile Market. It was Mr. Boehm who first brought chalav Yisrael and other kosher products to Baltimore. Mr. Boehm was also very active in community endeavors, especially the establishment of Yeshivas Kochav Yitzchok which was known then as Shearis Hapleita. Here is his personal and very moving story.

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An American Jewish Story: In Honor of my Parents’ Triple Simcha

In memory of Mr. Merril Lehman a"h we are posting an article that his son, Robert Lehman wrote in the Where What When in 2011.

Our family recently celebrated the 95th birthday of my father, Mr. Merrill B. Lehman; the 90th birthday of my mother, Mrs. Nanette Lehman; and my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary. This triple family simcha provides an opportunity to reflect on the path of Orthodox Judaism in America over the past 175 years and, particularly, the perseverance of Orthodox Judaism in Baltimore.

My family’s history in America started nearly 175 years ago with the migration of my great-great-great-grandparents, the Bergman and Gundersheimer families, on my father’s side, and the Sycle and Bear families, on my mother’s side, to Richmond, Virginia, from Bavaria, in the early 1830s. They were part of a wave of emigration from Germany in the wake of riots and oppressive edicts – one famous edict decreed that only one son of Jewish families could marry – that reversed many of the advances in civil rights, citizenship, equal treatment, and economic opportunities that the Jews had recently attained as a result of Napoleon’s Emancipation.

In Richmond, the first Jewish immigrants were Sefardic and settled in the city in the late 1700s. The first shul was Sefardic. The German Jews who came after them formed their own shul, and soon became the dominant community. The Sefardic and German synagogues merged in the early 19th century to become Beth Ahaba Congregation, now known as Temple Beth Ahaba. The nusach of this new congregation was the German Ashkenaz rite.

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Remembering Kristallnacht

Kristallnacht was the cataclysmic event of November 9, 1938, that effectively terminated the 2,000-year-long history of Jews in Germany.

A program memorializing this tragic event will be presented by Chevra Ahavas Chesed, Inc. of Baltimore, on November 13, 2005…but first, the story:

Jews had lived in Germany from the time of the Romans; records exist of a thriving Jewish community in the city of Cologne in the year 321 C.E. By 1938, a year before the onset of World War II, Jews constituted only .8 percent of the total population in Germany, some 540 thousand Jews living among 65 million Germans.

On the evening of November 9, 1938, the Nazis unleashed a wave of pogroms against Germany’s Jews. Organized groups of party thugs attacked Jewish homes, and in the space of a few hours, hundreds of synagogues with their holy books, ritual objects, and Torah scrolls were set on fire throughout Germany. Storefronts of Jewish businesses were smashed and their contents looted. Almost 7,500 businesses were destroyed. Cemeteries and schools were vandalized. Thousands of Jews were brutally beaten, and about 100 were killed. At least 30,000 Jewish men were sent to Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Buchenwald concentration camps. This included the writer of these lines, who was sent to Dachau as a sixteen-year-old.

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Survivors of the Holocaust – Biographies

This article originally appeared in the summer 1992 issue of the Where What When. It is as relevant and poignant as ever.

They live down the block or just around the corner. We meet them in the stores they have built, the shuls they have established, and at the simchas they attend. (They especially love a simcha!) They worked hard all their lives and are great grandparents now. They are the Survivors.

They talk and laugh and shop and read. They seem the same as we. But, how could they be? Each one stifles within his or her heart the pain of

Read More:Survivors of the Holocaust – Biographies