Memories of an Annihilated World: The Nadvorna Rebbe Recalls a World Gone up in Smoke
By: Yehuda Alter
As we experience yet another Tisha b’Av, we reflect upon the churban of the Beis Hamikdash, as well as the terribly calamities that have befallen our nation in the two thousand years hence. The memory of the Holocaust—and the unfathomable suffering that our People have experienced during those times—remains fresh in our conscience.
Rockland Daily spoke with Rav Leibish Laufer, shlit”a, Admor of Nadvorna in Boro Park, who recalled the thriving Jewish life of Torah and chassidus before the war—all of which was lost in the Holocaust.
On his father’s side he is descended from Rebbe Mordechai of Nadvorna, and on his mother’s side from the Rebbe Elimelech of Lizensk, zy”a—but his parents made their way to the Hungarian town of Debrecen, where his father was known as the Nadvorna Rebbe. The sights and sounds from those days were etched into his memory, and remain with him to this day.
“Some of the greatest talmidei Chachomim in the entire Hungary—Yidden who toiled in Torah from morning till night—lived in Debrecen, and were extremely close to my father,” the Rebbe recalled.
But immediately when the Nazis, ym”sh, came into Hungary, the persecution began. They occupied the building belonging to the Jewish community, and from there they began carrying out their terrible acts.
“They designated a few homes as the ghetto of Debrecen, and this is where all the Yidden of the town were forced to live. From here we were taken outside the town, to a brick factory, where we were made to reside.
“Every day brought new troubles, and people would come to my father to consult with him. The Russians were miles away from us, but it was not bashert for them to be able to come in and free us yet. Many of us—including myself—would be taken from here to Auschwitz, never to return.
“I vividly recall when it was my turn to be transported out of Debrecen. A young Nazi, maybe 18 years old, was yelling ‘faster, faster, faster...’ whipping us all the while… it was terrifying. The wagons were not meant for humans, but for cattle. There were two openings in the roof to allow some air inside.
“Arriving in the geihinom, we were confronted with the most terrifying sights. Mengele, ym”sh, sent me to the right, and my father to the left. And this was the last time I saw him, Hy”d. Even in those terrible moments, it never occurred to me what the ‘sophisticated’ Nazis had in mind.
As part of our induction to Auschwitz, we each received a number. Mine was 109053.
“Every day, on my way to harsh labor, I would pass the women’s camp, where I would see my mother and sisters. We would later find out that my mother was niftar in the hospital in Auschwitz.
“The Nazis gave me shoes that were too big for me, and one day they fell off in the snow. They did not let me retrieve them, and I walked around, working barefoot in he freezing snow. Returning to the barracks, I contracted a high fever and collapsed. Miraculously, they allowed me to go to the hospital—where I contracted typhus. No one thought that I would survive the ordeal. For five-and-a-half months, I lay there in that hospital—deathly ill, surrounded by illness and starvation… but Hashem wanted me to live.
“When the American’s liberated us, I was too weak to rejoice. They transferred me to a hospital, where I recovered. Two of my sisters were on the list of survivors. One died in Bergen Belsen… but we had no idea of the whereabouts of the second one.
Rav Leibish met his three brothers in Switzerland, and proceeded to Montreal where he enrolled in yeshiva, eventually coming to Brooklyn where he reestablished his life—continuing the glorious legacy of his holy ancestors, be’ezras Hashem until the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.