Vehi She'amda - The Promise

April 06th 2017

By Rabbi Zvi Gefen


My grandfather, Moshe Chaim Gefen, was taken from Auschwitz , along with 300 other Jews to a nearby labour camp, Tshiben, for slave labour in a Nazi run factory. Two weeks earlier that camp had been holding captive many English prisoners of war who were released the day before the Jews arrived. The allies knew that the English POWs had been released but didn’t know that Jews had arrived there from Auschwitz, and one night dropped bombs over the camp. While the Nazis hid in their deep trenches, the Jews ran and hid themselves in the pits created by the bombs. Miraculously, almost none of the Jews were injured.

The bombs destroyed and burned the entire factory. The refinery went up in flames and many of the camp guards died in the attack. My grandfather relates that after the attack a Nazi officer screamed at them saying “You miraculous Jews, you just keep on living!”

The great ‘singing Rabbi’, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach in a heart wrenching song, ‘The Last Seder in the Warsaw Ghetto’ vividly portrays the question that was on the minds of so many during the war. A small child adds his own question to the Mah Nishtana: will I or anyone else will be around to ask these questions next year, or indeed any father to answer the questions? The father answers honestly, “I don’t know if I will be alive, I don’t know if you will be alive, but I know there will always be a Jew somewhere asking the questions of the Ma Nishtana”.

In the words of Mark Twain “The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal, but the Jew. All forces pass, but he remains”.

Singing והיא שעמדה, we raise our glasses and celebrate the miraculous survival of the Jewish people despite the odds stacked against us.