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Yekkish Royalty on American Shores

Libi Astaire

During Yamim Noraim, Jews everywhere plead to be written down in the Book of Life. In the 1930s inGermany, that plea took on a special poignancy, and one family—the family of Rav and Rebbetzin Shimon Schwab — received the answer to their prayers on the fourth of Tishrei, 1936. Their daughter, Mrs. Judith Rosenberg, recalls growing up in the home of Yekkish royalty.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

immigrant  childrenSometimes you can tell a lot from a person’s appearance; other times, you can learn a lot. Looking at Judith, “Judy,” Rosenberg, the daughter of Rav and Rebbetzin Shimon Schwab ztz”l,

a person would never guess from her warm smile and laughing eyes that she started life as a refugee from Nazi Germany. One wouldn’t know that she spent her early years in the company of books, because there weren’t any frum girls her age to play with in her new home inBaltimore,Maryland.

If those early childhood experiences had any sort of lasting impression upon her, it seems that it certainly wasn’t a negative one; there isn’t a single complaint etched into her still young-looking face. If anything, she says, her childhood experiences have made her more sensitive to the needs of others.

A Nes for the New Year

Yet there’s no denying the fact that her neshamah came down to this world during one of the saddest times in Jewish history, the year 1933, the year when the Nazi regime, yemach shemam, came to power in Germany.

At the time, her father was the District Rabbi of Ichenhausen, Bavaria, a region in southern Germanythat was home to several small but ancient Jewish communities. Even though he was still only in his mid-twenties, Rav Schwab — who was born in Frankfurt am Main and was a product of both the Hirsch-realschule founded by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, and the Lithuanian yeshivos at Telshe and Mir — had already come to the attention of Germany’s Jewish community. Indeed, the young rav, who was full of energy and plans for the future, hoped to open a yeshivah and dormitory that would serve bochurim living in the Ichenhausen region.

It was not to be. The yeshivah was closed soon after it opened, due to threats from local thugs. Rav Schwab, who was unwilling to risk any harm befalling his students, told the bochurim to pack their things and go home. But what about him and his family, which then included three small children: Judith, her older brother Moshe, and her younger brother Yosef Chaim? They were home.

That home became increasingly uncomfortable on Shushan Purim of 1936. “My father was a very good speaker,” Mrs. Rosenberg explains. “He was giving a speech in his shul and he used the word vermittler, which means a mediator or middleman. There was a spy sitting in the shul and he thought he heard the word ‘Hitler’ — he thought my father had said something derogatory about him.”

Rav Schwab was arrested and questioned. Fortunately, his oratory skills stood him in good stead, and he was able to convince his interrogators that the spy had made a mistake. He was released, but everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before there would be other incidents. Rav Schwab was being followed; the authorities were monitoring every word he said, everything he did.

The tension increased when a rav from a neighboring town was arrested in the middle of the night and hanged. “My father was very conscious of always wanting to make a Kiddush Hashem,” says Mrs. Rosenberg. “He therefore decided that if he should be arrested in the middle of the night, the officials wouldn’t find him in bed and in his night clothes. Every night, he slept in a chair, fully dressed, so that if he was taken he would be able to face the ordeal with dignity.”

 

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