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A Lost Luria

A Lost Luria

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Me helping Alex into tefillin for the first time in his life.
Me helping Alex into tefillin for the first time in his life.

In 1943, in the town of Gutschein, Germany, the Luria family welcomed their firstborn son into the world with tremendous joy.

But the joy was short lived. Just a few hours later, the Nazis rounded up the town’s Jewish population, the Lurias among them, and herded them into cattle cars bound for the concentration camps in the East.

Miriam Luria held her little bundle tightly in the dank, cramped car, desperate to save him from discovery and certain death. She had a few pills with her, and she placed them in the baby’s mouth, hoping that the overdose would cause him to sleep silently.

Days later, the train came to a jarring halt. They had arrived in Auschwitz.

Starved and dazed, the Jews of Gutschein joined the line for selektzia, the selection determining who was suitable for slave labor and who was destined for the gas chambers.

Miriam was young and able bodied, and she drew a breath of relief as she passed the selection. On her back, hidden deep inside a sling, her baby boy slept on, blissfully unaware of the cruel world into which he had been born.

Miriam knew that if her baby remained in the camp he would certainly be discovered. Soon she saw her chance. Passing close to the electric fence surrounding the camp, she noticed a kind-looking peasant on the other side. With a prayer on her lips, she threw him her backpack.

The kind man felt sorry for the child and promised to do what he could. He kept his word, and shortly thereafter brought the tiny Luria to an orphanage for gentiles.

Miraculously, both Miriam and her husband survived and were liberated from the camps at the end of the war. They immediately began to comb Europe, trudging from one orphanage to another in search of their precious son. Each negative reply pushed them deeper into despair.

But they did not give up. After years of false leads, they followed a tip to Paris, where they found their little bundle, now a five-year-old boy.

The family emigrated to Australia soon after being reunited. As Miriam put it, they wanted “to be as far away from Europe as possible.” At the same time, they did their best to erase any trace of the Jewish identity that had been the cause of so much suffering. They named their son Alex and never told him that he was a Jew.

Alex was never taken to a synagogue. He only learned that he was Jewish from his classmates, who mocked him.

Once, Miriam brought her son to a rabbi, hoping that he would be able explain the mystery of Judaism. But “he didn’t really explain anything,” Alex said, “He just gave me all the right reasons why they hate me…”


This summer, a friend and I travelled through central Australia in a motor home loaded with Jewish supplies and enough kosher food to last for several weeks. We were on a mission for Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia (RARA), searching for Jews who could use some Jewish inspiration.

Thumbing through the white pages in Ballarat, Victoria, we noticed the name “Luria.” How did the name of one of the noblest rabbinic families in Jewish history end up in the Ballarat phonebook? We took note of the address and decided to try our luck.

A man who appeared to be about 70 answered our knock, and we explained that we were rabbis travelling through the outback visiting Jewish people.

Alex proudly affixing a mezuzah to his door.
Alex proudly affixing a mezuzah to his door.

Alex’s face lit up. “The Christians were coming after me for a long time to try to convert me, and I would never listen. But I always wished that the Jewish community, my people, would reach out to me in the same way,” he said.

During our visit, Alex put on tefillin for the first time in his life and placed a mezuzah on his doorpost. As we were about to leave, Alex stopped us: “My father always told me that I was a descendant of a rabbi named Isaac Luria,” he said. “Ever heard of him?”

Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572), known as the “Arizal,” was one of the greatest Kabbalists of all time. His writings form the basis of almost all later mystical works.

Needless to say, we saved Alex’s phone number and promised to keep in touch.

As we drove away, we couldn’t help thinking that the Arizal must have had immense satisfaction from seeing his descendant reconnect to his heritage. It had been a very long journey, but Alex Luria was finally on his way home.

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Discussion (15)
August 12, 2014
Wonderful
Wow amazing story. And great to see a picture of a possible relative! How long ago was this story written and is he still alive? Kate Lurie
Kate Lurie
Manchester
September 18, 2013
Saving Babies and Partnership
We say that Gd "brings forth bread from the earth", but that isn't true....until humans involve themselves. Maybe in the same way, Gd sometimes "saves lives" when other people take action.
Anonymous
Kingston, Ontario
September 18, 2013
Saving Babies and Partnership
We say that Gd "brings forth bread from the earth", but that isn't true....until humans involve themselves. Maybe in the same way, Gd sometimes "saves lives" when other people take action.
Anonymous
Kingston, Ontario
August 20, 2012
The unseen hand...
RE: “If the Holy One was truly into saving Jewish babies, He could have saved a whole lot more.”

Answer: The Holy One did save a whole lot more.
Many terrible crimes have and are still being committed against humanity. These are the sins of people. These are not the sins of G_d. HE only is holy and just, loving and merciful. All of humanity stands condemned and we, together, plead for mercy.

Psalm 51:4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge.
jabusch
Sendai, Japan
August 19, 2012
The unseen hand...
Jabusch, justice? Mercy? And the millions of other babies who were casually slaughtered--where was their justice, their mercy? This baby survived because of the desperate act of a mother and the decency of a righteous gentile. If the Holy One was truly into saving Jewish babies, He could have saved a whole lot more.
Fruma
Delray Beach, FL
July 29, 2012
Tears
in my eyes when I read this story. God bless the shluchim.
Lyone Fein-Bernbaum
Columbus
chabadiowacity.com
July 29, 2012
The Holy Aris' Relative
Thanks to the determined young men
and women who found this precious
Soul in a very unlikely place, so we too
are inspired by his families story of survival
and holy connection to the Luria family.
Anonymous
jewishcenter.info
July 27, 2012
those who were saved.
Many are the people rejected by their own people .

As Jews we need to be nore welcoming and encouraging to one another.
Andy
July 26, 2012
other famous Lurias
Beautiful Story. Well written. I can't believe that his woman was able to hide her newborn like that. It's so sad, and miraculous at the same time. Also how did they know that the 5 year old boy they found was there son. I guess a mother always knows her own.

I think that It's unlikely that Alex descended from Rabbi Shlomo Luria (Maharashal). Alex specifically said that he was related to Rabbi Isaac Luria, so it's more likeky Arizal. However, there are a lot of Isaacs and Many Lurias, so...and It's likely that Arizal may have had other sons... after-all back then records were not exactly perfect. in any case, as long as he believes that his ancestor was Arizal, it's very well maybe the case

other famous Lurias:

Salvador Luria (famous biologist) Sephardi Jewish
Alexander Luria Jewish Soviet Psychologist
Anonymous
Boston, MA
July 25, 2012
Wow...what a story...!
Thanks for sharing this one...its a real Baal Shem Tov story!
Golda
Watertown , NY
chabadjec.org
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