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The Yekkishe Chassidista

Gittel Chany Rosengarten and Leah Gebber

One hand brushed the ghetto wall; the other clutched Aryan identity papers. Questions pursued her: Should she take on the persona of a gentile, or live as a Jew? Run to freedom, or slip into the horrific ghetto prison? Rosa Rubinfeld faced a choice that would alter the course of her entire life. Whatever befalls my nation will be my lot, as well, she decided. And in placing her lot with her people, Rosa was accorded a special role in history: she saved the life of the Satmar Rebbe.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

treeMa once attempted to make her way into the Satmar Rebbe’s inner chamber. The chassidim barred her entry.” Toby Rubinfeld, Rosa’s granddaughter, retells a story that is now a family legend: “His rebbetzin, Alta Feiga, instructed that she be allowed inside, telling the chassidim, ‘What’s ours and what’s yours — it’s all hers.’ ”


On the Run

Rosawas born into a legacy. Raised in Tirnau, (then inCzechoslovakia), her parents were prominent Torah personalities. Her father, Rav Yosef Fürst, was orphaned at the age of 14, and grew up in the home of the Kashever Rav. He married Hanele Frey, a granddaughter of the Ksav Sofer.Rosa’s mother often reminisced about how the Ksav Sofer attended her brother’s bar mitzvah.

In between his obligations at his winery, Rosa’s father learned, relishing every second and filling the house with a plaintive niggun. The Fürsts’ ten-bedroom home hosted prominent guests and their private mikveh bespoke their position in the community.

The Nazis invadedCzechoslovakiawhenRosawas a teen. Fearful of the whispered rumors, her parents sent her to live in the home of a non-Jew. When the risk got too great, the gentile refused to harbor her, and Rosa was hidden in another non-Jew’s attic until plans could be made to smuggle her into freeHungary.

It took two attempts, an arrest, a spell in prison, a hefty bribe, and a midnight escape to get Rosa toHungary. Rosa was 21 when she arrived inHungary— an unwelcome refugee. The populace dreaded a German invasion and feared the Hungarian police, and even relatives declared that it was too dangerous to provide shelter for the young girl.

Ever reliant on her wit and creativity, Rosa Fürst became Flora Neugröschel, assuming the identity of a Hungarian girl who had made aliyah seven years before without reporting her emigration. Under this false identity, a prominent community member employed her as a live-in maid. Clearly a second-class citizen in the family’s home, Rosa ate alone in the kitchen after the family had eaten. She burnished the banisters by hand, washed, and scrubbed.

After a year, her parents followed her toHungary, where they rented an apartment outside the city. By now they had lost their financial stability, andRosacontinued at her job. And then, one day,Rosa’s employer summoned her for a private interview.

“I thought she wanted to reward me for my good work,”Rosarecalls. “No. She wanted me to marry her nephew — a 50-year-old man! She told me to write to my father and ask him permission. Of course, I didn’t write, but she pressured me so much that in the end she herself took the pen in her hands, and wrote to Flora Neugröschel’s real father, asking him to agree to the marriage. He was very confused when he received the letter — his daughter, after all, was inPalestine! He contacted my employer and told her that she had hired me under false pretenses.”

Rosa’s employer was furious and dismissed her on the spot, leaving her with no source of sustenance.Rosaremembers her reaction: “I felt like I was being thrown to the jaws of death. I had nothing, nowhere to go. I offered to sleep in the basement or the washroom, but the woman refused. I packed my case, and went to the park. I sat down on a bench and looked between the trees, up to the sky. And I called out, ‘Hashem, don’t leave me. I’m alone. Where should I go? Help me.’ ”


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