Pesach is almost upon us. My family always tell a story towards the end of the Passover Seder, when we open the door for Eliyahu HaNavi – Elijah the prophet. This story’s focus is about a personal and miraculous encounter with the prophet Eliyahu.
A few years back my brother Harry found the records of my father Jacob Rosenzweig A”H from the Auschwitz concentration camp (inmate number 50314, who was incarcerated on July 19, 1942 and freed in May, 1945. He was a jobnick -German for worker – who worked distributing food to the barracks that housed Jewish inmates.). My father’s experience there was guided by his absolute Bitachon – trust in God. He related a number of miraculous and amazing stories that happened to him during the holocaust and I would like to tell one about how his life was saved by Eliyahu HaNavi.
In the summer of 1944, there were too many workers in the camp population. It was decided to exterminate a certain number of them by having them appear before the infamous butcher Dr. Josef Mengele. On a given morning, the inmates were to line up before a platform and stand naked before Mengele. They would approach him in single file and he would signal with his hand to either go to the left towards the gas chambers or to the right and return to the camp.
When my father’s turn came, Mengele pointed towards the left, to certain death. Suddenly, a colonel in the SS jumped up onto the platform and told Mengele that this Jew was his personal secretary and should be immediately released. Mengele with proud authority told him to find a new secretary.
The colonel replied that a very important mission was given to him by Hitler himself and this Jew had all the classified information in his head and couldn’t be replaced. Again Mengele refused to release my father. An argument ensued between the colonel and Mengele over who had jurisdiction over this Jew. Finally, the colonel won out and Mengele announced to the colonel, “take that Jewish swine away from here.” My father was released and the colonel grabbed my father by the neck and shoved him down the ramp.
My father told us that never before that encounter with certain death did he ever see that colonel and never afterwards did he ever see him again. As far as he was concerned, the colonel was Eliyahu HaNavi, who according to Jewish lore appeared at times in disguise to save Jews.
Was he actually Eliyahu HaNavi? We’ll never know, but my father’s Bitachon was not only strengthened, but his experience was a sign for him to do great things for the Jewish inmates. He made sure that children arriving in the camp had proper shoes and hats in order not to get sick – which was a death sentence in Auschwitz. He was part of the camp’s underground and because he moved freely around the camp, would smuggle armaments from disabled military vehicles that were brought to Auschwitz for spare parts. Towards the end of their stay, two crematoriums were bombed and the death of many Jews was impeded because of the bombing. He was able to provide additional food to many sick inmates.
He even celebrated Chanukah by skimming and collecting the fat off his meager portions of soup. On Chanukah a few inmates poured tiny amounts of oil into a makeshift candle hollowed out of a carrot. This of course was forbidden and an automatic death sentence was decreed and carried out by the guards if anyone was discovered lighting candles during Chanukah. One evening after lighting their makeshift candle, while reciting the blessing, a Nazi guard entered the barracks and stood directly in front of them and the lit candle. For some unfathomable reason he wasn’t able to see the flame. He stood right in front of the burning candle and told them to stop singing. Again, a miraculous event saved his life and inspired the lives of those around him.
Over the years I have spoken to survivors who verified these stories. At various Bar Mitzvot celebrations and weddings, out of town guests would come over to my father and overcome with emotion, would tell us how my father had given them an extra loaf of bread, a word of encouragement or just the inspiration to survive another day.
In 1983, my mother called us from Canada and told us that she had made an appointment with a man we should meet. This man was a spokesman for Israel Bonds, who traveled the world speaking of his unique experiences with Mengele in Auschwitz who had done sadistic experiments on groups of Jewish twins. My brother Harry, my sister Gracie and I met one of the twins in the Holyland Hotel in Jerusalem (if I remember correctly his name was Mark Berkowitz). Berkowitz had recently been a keynote speaker in Windsor and had presented my father with an award as an outstanding contributor to Israel Bonds and the local Jewish community.
Being observant of Kashrut and Shomer Shabbat (Sabbath observant) he spent the Shabbat before the Sunday event in my parent’s home. He told us that though he was a boy and my father a grown man when he arrived in Auschwitz, he recognized my father as someone who helped arriving children to survive their horrific ordeal. He told us that whenever he spoke he would start his talk with a story about his arrival and of an encounter with an anonymous Jew he called “Der Giteh Yid” (the good Jew). Over that Shabbat, while discussing their experiences, he recognized my father as this “Giteh Yid.”
Like survivors of Auschwitz and other camps, many Jews were delivered from slavery from Egypt and complained and showed a lack of faith in God and in His servant Moshe. Then and now, it took a very special people to rise above their horrific experiences and see God’s master plan. We observe the commandments and rituals of Pesach in honor of our ancestors who had that Bitachon and could see His miracles during such profound darkness. How blessed my family is to have had a personal relationship with such a “Giteh Yid.”