The Last Night before the Hurban of Ozerow

Ben Zion Wacholder with baby granddaughterIn honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am sharing this excerpt from my father Ben Zion Wacholder’s memoir of the days before the deportation of the Jews of his town of Ozarow, Poland:

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 town’s people, 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.

A little later:

By now the bundle I was to take with me was neatly packed. It contained a shirt, a blanket, shaving equipment, two pairs of socks, and a pair of Tefillin. “We did not pack the Rabbenu Tam Tefillin,” Father noted. Rashi’s Tefillin would be enough for one parading as a Goy. I said nothing, not wishing to shock him with the news that as a Goy, I would no longer wear Tefillin. My little sister Shifrah asked whether she could reveal our secret. Aaron wanted permission to wear my discarded shoes. Mother put a shawl around my neck, “You have been sickly since your birth.”

It was a dark and overcast night as I left the house and the town of my birth. Except for three and a half years in the Yeshivah, academies whose only subject of instruction was Talmud, my entire world consisted of Ozerow and its surrounding villages and forests. Now I was leaving my birthplace, going to the railroad station to purchase a ticket going nowhere. At that time I did not know that there existed tables that listed all the stops of the train. I decided to listen carefully to the people who preceded me in buying the tickets, asking for the same locality. I had already crossed the street when I heard my younger brother and sister calling me. With the tears in her eyes still unwiped, Shifrah told me that I had forgotten to take my false identification papers, which she proceeded to put into my pocket, while giving me a final kiss.

The Last Night Before the Hurban of Ozarov was edited and published by my niece Shifra.  Pictured are my father z”l and my youngest daughter.

More on the Holocaust:

The Story of the Treblinka Extermination Camp

We Learned Not to Ask: Second Generation Holocaust Survivors


  1. Such a moving story. I feel so lucky that my parents excaped Russia in 1917. We all share in the pain.


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