Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



Light in the Valley of Tears

Esther Teichtal

A blind, penniless Holocaust survivor stumbles into England at the end of the war, half his family gone and his prospects nil. But what begins as a tragedy ends in triumph. Hershel Herskovic decided he’d continue living.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Six hundred boys in striped prison clothing and clumsy wooden clogs are roughly shepherded toward their end at the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Accompanied by 25 SS men, the ragged bunch is brought to a halt near the brick building and ordered to undress. Hershel Herskovic tries to stay calm. Mustering his bravery, he composes a silent prayer: “Afilu cherev chadah [even if a sharp sword rests]” upon one’s neck, one should not despair of Hashem’s mercy. He repeats it once. And then again. And then again and again, to calm his nerves. As they undress amid a barrage of bloodthirsty blows, their fear gives way to a sad, stark reality. Smoke is belching from a plain-looking chimney, a sickening smell they recognize instantly. Boys begin to cry, run around, and beg the Sonderkommando for mercy. Some boys recite Vidui, while others sing. Still, Hershel stays calm. A group of older Greek Jews suddenly joins them. They seem more out of place than the Hungarian boys of Hershel’s group, and even more flustered. Three SS officers appear out of nowhere. “The one in the middle was a doctor,” recalls Reb Hershel, 70 years later. “He came flanked by two attendants.” “All boys line up!” yell the Nazi murderers. One boy at a time, the Nazi officers feel the boys’ muscles for strength. Then they tell them to perform ten knee bends, run to the wall and back, and turn around. The lucky ones are sent to the right, while most of the group remains facing left. There and then, at the gateway to death, 51 boys are instructed to return to the barracks. Hershel Herskovic is one of them. In his rush to rejoin the world of the living, he stumbles out of the building with his unwieldy clogs the wrong way around. “It was Simchas Torah,” he says, sitting at his son’s dining room table on a recent Jerusalem morning. His childlike smile, like a lighthouse beacon, shines through the angst. With a little prompting from his son, Rav Avrohom, he elaborates: “My birthday! It was as if I was born all over again — I was given back my life as a gift.”

To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


MM217
 
Using Our Free Will Effectively
Yonoson Rosenblum The image we carry of ourselves is key
Pitcher-Perfect
Eytan Kobre The ripple effects of one Jew’s kiddush Sheim Shamayim
Living the High Life
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger It is exhilarating to matter, to be truly alive
It’s Time for Us to Speak Up
Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie We must speak out proudly for the values of Yiddishkeit
Kiruv Is Not Dead
Rabbi Meir Goldberg Do these sound like uninspired or closed students?
Frosting on the Cake
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman “Let’s not let a missing chocolate cake ruin our siyum!”
A Warm Corner in Flatbush
Yosef Zoimen It was a simple shul with a choshuve leader
Out of Control
Jacob L. Freedman “That’s illegal, Dr. Fine. I can’t have a part in this”
Song of Reckoning in the Skulener Court
Riki Goldstein “It’s awe-inspiring to watch the Rebbe sing this song”
“U’teshuvah, U’tefillah, U’tzedakah”
Riki Goldstein Throughout the Yamim Noraim, three words accompany us
The Rebbe Held His Gaze
Riki Goldstein A moment etched in Reb Dovid Werdyger’s memory forever
The Road Taken
Faigy Peritzman In the end it’s clear who really merits true happiness
Sincere Apology
Sarah Chana Radcliffe A heartfelt and complete apology can turn things around
Power Pack of Mercy
Mrs. Shani Mendlowitz The 13 Attributes of Mercy are “an infinite treasure”
The Appraiser: Part II
D. Himy M.S. CCC-SLP, and Zivia Reischer “Eli needs to see people who struggled to achieve”