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I Will Bind You to Me Forever

Barbara Bensoussan

“When you go under the chuppah, make sure he’s a man who puts on tefillin.” It was her father’s last wish. After the fires died down and she tried to recreate a life amid the ashes, she knew she would need to find a man who was bound to his Creator by the straps of his tefillin. A request from her past became the foundation of her future.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Was born in Pabianice, Poland, an industrial city near Lodz known for the production of fabric. My “Tatche” (Tatteh), Rabbi Chaim Dovid Kuperberg, came from a family of Alexander Chassidim and learned in yeshivah until he was 25. He was very learned — someone who had known my family before the war once he told me, “Your father knew the entire Shas by heart.” My mother’s parents were well off, and so they “bought” a talmid chacham for their daughter Chava. 

People assumed my parents were wealthy, but my father z”l had no talent for business. If he bought wool, it was cotton that people wanted; if he tried selling pearls, buyers preferred glass. Before long he’d depleted the money he’d received from his in-laws.

When I was still a baby, my frustrated mother ran home to her father’s house. I remember standing in my crib one afternoon, looking out the window, and seeing my father hurrying toward my grandparents’ house. He picked me up and started walking home with me. My mother screamed, furious, but he told her, “If you want your baby, you have to come home!” 

I was a nursing baby, so my mother didn’t have a choice. I guess they made their peace, because they had four more children after me, three girls and finally a boy.

My brother Sholom Hersh was five when the Germans came to our area in 1939. Shortly afterward, two nuns came to our door. My mother wasn’t home; I was there with my father and the other children. The nuns offered to take the four younger children to the church for shelter. I hated priests and nuns. I told them, “My mother isn’t home. When she comes back, we’ll decide.” My father thought maybe we should send them, but I refused.

The Germans moved the Jews to an older, crowded section of the city. It was an open ghetto, where we lived for two years, seven people to a room. We were paid to work — making coats for soldiers — and could purchase rations with our earnings. Though meat was scarce, when there were questions about shechitah, my father was called to pasken.

My mother had a strong hankering for meat. “Find out where they’re shechting, and I’ll go supervise,” my father told her. They left at five thirty the next morning but ran into a German, who began shooting at them; my parents ran away and hid. After that episode, my mother stopped nagging my father for meat.

At one point the Germans started distributing meat, but word got out that it came from horses. The rabbinate from the ghetto decided the children should eat it, although it had to be cooked in a nonkosher home. At 14 years old, my father left the choice of whether to eat it or not up to me. I declined.

On five different occasions, my father was almost sent to the camps, but each time I managed to get him away. Once he was supposed to go on a transport with 800 men. Panicked, I begged the president of the Jewish council to take my father off the list.

“You’re not the only one who wants her father out,” he told me.

I yelled, “My father will go when your son’s father goes!”  

 

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