The kiddush on Shabbos morning in the Bobov shul in New York was already underway when the two guests, an older man and his son, entered and quietly took seats in the back.

The Rebbe, Rav Shloime Halberstam ztz”l, presided over the gathering of chassidim, who were Holocaust survivors like himself. Suddenly the Rebbe took note of the late arrivals.

“Shalom aleichem!” said the Rebbe heartily, rising from his seat to honor the guests, to the amazement of everyone. The chassidim glanced around and wondered why the Rebbe was according such respect to this clean-shaven older gentleman.

“Do you know who this is?” the Rebbe asked the chassidim. “This is Reb Shaya Blau. He saved hundreds, maybe thousands of Yidden from the Nazi inferno. Ich bin mekaneh zein Gan Eden — I envy his share in Gan Eden!”

Who was Reb Shaya Blau a”h, and how did he save so many from the Churban in Europe? His son, Reb Lazer — who accompanied his father to that kiddush in the Bobov shul — recounts the tale.

Reb Shaya actually got his first test of bravery not in World War II, but in World War I, as a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army. Through the hardships of military service, he kept a warm connection to Yiddishkeit by learning from a Kitzur Shulchan Aruch he carried with him at all times.

Once, he came under enemy fire in a battle, and fell to the ground. When the smoke cleared, he saw that he had been hit — but only in the thumb, from which he was bleeding profusely. He lifted himself up, wrapped his thumb in a cloth to stop the bleeding, and decided to end his army career.

It took him two days to make it to his parents’ house, and upon arriving, he found a package addressed to them. Wondering what it was, he opened it to find his Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. Inside the sefer, the Jew who had sent it inscribed, “This is the sefer of your son Shaya. I witnessed him being shot to death.” This Jew had seen Reb Shaya fall, but by the time he was able to make his way over to him, Shaya was gone, leaving behind only the sefer.

As Reb Shaya read and reread those words, he felt overwhelmed with gratitude to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. He kept that sefer as a precious memento his whole life, and bequeathed it to his son Lazer after his passing. (The family first heard this story at the shivah.)

“It’s really the story of my father’s life,” Reb Lazer says. “It was miracle after miracle.”

Although miracles played a part, Reb Shaya wrote a large part of the story with his grit, tenacity, and ingenuity. When, during World War II, Hungary came under the rule of the fascist Arrow Cross party, and the Jews were made to don yellow stars, Reb Shaya Blau refused. With his fluent Hungarian, he managed to mingle with the fascist Nyliaskeresztes members in Budapest. He managed to trick them into making him a member.

In March 1944, the Germans occupied Hungary and ordered Jews to assemble in the town square. Reb Shaya begged his father not to go. His father listened to him, and thus was saved. Many others were much less fortunate. Shaya saw that new tactics were needed at this stage of the war. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 699)