I met a man tonight at my temple; he is a member I had not spoken with before. He was there with his wife to say Kaddish for his brother, who passed about two weeks ago. He told me about his hometown, Hrubieszow, Poland. In 1941, the Nazis had killed all the tailors, along with their other Jewish victims, and the local Gestapo discovered that they needed tailors to help loot the dead Jews’ possessions and send them back to their families in Germany. This man—then, a young boy of thirteen (he never became bar mitzvah) had some tailoring experience, and he told the Gestapo that he could find them some tailors, which he did. They were in hiding.
The Nazis needed the tailors to carefully fold and sew the looted bedsheets around the valises they stole, so that they fitted the valises, exactly. I didn’t understand why, but it was important enough that, if a tailor did not do a good job, they would murder him and his family.
The boy himself was “befriended” by a Gestapo chief who showed him a suit-jacket that was very finely made—batwing lapels, lined both inside and out with wool, and in need of a pressing. The Nazi specified that the pressing job had to be done “just so,” or the boy would die. The boy did a good job—he had to—and the Nazi rewarded him by giving him a fresh egg, which was “like gold, in those days.”
It was difficult for me to listen. The man promised he had many more stories; he has already related them to the US Holocaust Museum, and to the Spielberg Project. There is a particular photo in the Museum showing him with the many people he rescued.
The stories are not yet done. I cannot listen without almost crying. Imagine: an egg, “like gold, in those days.”
I hugged him when he was leaving.
“Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos,” we said to one another.
“It is an honor to know you,” I said.
“There are more stories.”
I know. And I must listen; I must bear witness, and tell them to others.