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Belzer Rebbe’s Promise Fulfilled: “I’ve Never Failed To Repay a Favor”

Aharon Granevitch-Granot

While staying one step ahead of the Nazis who targeted him for extermination, Rav Aharon of Belz spent 8 months in Budapest in the home of Reb Yosef Reiner. “I promise you that the entire family will reach Eretz Yisrael,” the Rebbe told his host as he made his final escape from Europe. The Rebbe wrapped his hand in a handkerchief, and passed from child to child. Over 6 decades later, David and Avraham Reiner can still feel the Rebbe’s caress; can still bask in the promise that was miraculously fulfilled.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When the Reiner brothers recount the story of the dramatic rescue of Rav Aharon of Belz, one can nearly picture their small home where the Rebbe was hosted and hidden; the streets of Budapest spring to life, and the Kastner rescue train takes on a new reality.

Avraham and Chaim David, sons of Reb Yosef Reiner (today they go by the last name Ra’anan), were five and seven years old when the Belzer Rebbe arrived in their city of Budapest. He was fleeing from Poland to Hungary, where the Germans hadn’t yet arrived and Jews still enjoyed relative freedom. Although the Jews were drafted into the German forced labor camps around Budapest, they were still able to return to their homes at night and there wasn’t yet a ghetto. Because of this, Budapest had become a city of refuge; hoards of Jewish refugees from all over Eastern Europe poured into the city to find shelter.

Meanwhile, Rav Aharon of Belz was at the top of the Gestapo’s wanted list of rabbis targeted for extermination. He and his half-brother, Rav Mordechai of Bilgoray, managed to stay one step ahead of the Nazis. The two rebbes were smuggled from town to town, across Poland into Hungary. In their most dramatic escape, the brothers were driven out of occupied Poland and into Hungary by a Hungarian counter-intelligence agent who was paid $5, 000 for his efforts. At the border, the Rebbe, his attendant, and Rebbe Mordechai, shorn of their beards and peyos, were disguised as Russian generals who had been captured at the front and were being taken to Budapest for questioning.

Getting across the border was just the first stage. Entry to Budapest was forbidden to anyone who wasn’t a resident, but Jewish minds found ways to solve this problem. First, they got the Rebbe and his entourage in by presenting them as patients from a hospital in one of the surrounding villages. Gradually, as their “illness” progressed, they were brought to the hospital in Budapest, traveling in a Red Cross vehicle whose driver had been bribed. “The Rebbe lay in the hospital for some days,” Reb Avraham recounts. “Broken, crushed, and shaven, he really did look ill. It was told that a Polish-born Jew who saw him lashed out, ‘Why are you putting on an act that you’re a Jew? You’re a Pole and you just want to stay here.’ Weeks later, the man discovered whom he had taunted. Beside himself with shame, he hurried to beg forgiveness.”

In Iyar 1943, the Rebbe arrived in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest. Initially few people knew that he and his holy brother, the Rebbe of Bilgoray, were given accommodations in the local Talmud Torah. But gradually the rumor spread that these two tzaddikim were sojourning in the city.

“Many Jews didn’t dare to go to his home, because they feared that this would identify them as Jews,” the Reiner/Ra’anan brothers recall. “But for many, the news that such tzaddikim had come to the city was like pure water to refresh the weary spirits that thirsted for spiritual strengthening.” People from the surrounding suburbs began to flock to the Rebbe’s Talmud Torah residence on their own return home after   a day of hard labor, degradation, and torment

 

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