In the 1980’s, my father, Ben Zion Wacholder, began writing a memoir of his World War II experience in Poland. Unfortunately we only have two chapters, as the rest was on a computer that got stolen. My niece, Shifra Goldenberg, edited the chapters with help from the family and published them on a new website dedicated to my father.
These two chapters contain rich details about Jewish life in the shtetl of Ozerow, and describe how a single family reacted at a critical moment in history.
In light of the upcoming deportation of the Jews, the family had to decide whether my father, as the oldest son (his sister had been shot at the beginning of the war), should stay with the family or try to escape. Originally, my grandfather thought they should all stay together. Here is how my father describes what happened:
No decision was taken by the family as to whether or not I should leave them until the eve of deportation. The lengthy discussions about what ought to be done always ended inconclusively. My parents and brother and sister, together with the great majority of the townspeople continued to cling to the belief that life would somehow continue. Mother was certain that if death overtook her and her husband she would be seated at his footstool in the Gan Eden. Her husband would be seated near the head of the table on account of his piety and profound Talmudic learning, and now, since she was sure he was always ready to be martyred for the sake of sanctification of God’s name, she too was prepared for the coming Messianic feast. I do not fear death, Father said, simply, and neither ought you, my son. And I was not going to abandon them without my father’s permission.
That Saturday night, my Father had a complete change of mind. It was Mother who repeated it to me: He is not to stay with us: he has to take his fate in his own hands, and God will help. To me, my father cited the Talmudic passage from Avodah Zarah 8b which related the deed of Judah son of Baba during the Hadrianic persecutions, which included the prohibition against studying the Torah. All those who dared to teach or study Judaism were slain by the Roman authorities. There was an acute danger that the chain of tradition—the Kabbalah—would be severed forever. What did Judah the son of Baba do? He took four young scholars of the tradition and brought them into the mountains, where he placed his hands on them, granting them Ordination. “Come to me, my son, I shall put my hands upon you” said my father. This he did, giving me a kiss.
You can read the entire account at BenZionWacholder.net.
More on my father and the Holocaust: