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The Nazi Accomplice in the Circumcision

The Nazi Accomplice in the Circumcision

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Each morning at dawn, the Germans would lead us out of the camp for a day of hard labor that ended only at nightfall. Each pair of workers was given a huge saw and expected to cut its quota of logs. Because of the horrendous conditions in the camp and the starvation rations on which we were supposed to subsist, most of us could barely stand on our feet. But we sawed away, knowing that our lives depended upon it; anyone collapsing on the job or failing to meet his daily quota was killed on the spot, G‑d forbid.

One day, as I pulled and pushed the heavy saw with my partner, I was approached by a young woman from our work detail. The pallor of her face showed her to be in an extremely weak physical state. "Rebbe," she whispered to me, "do you have a knife?"

I immediately understood her intention and felt the great responsibility that rested upon me. "My daughter," I begged, concentrating all the love and conviction in my heart in the effort to dissuade her from her intended deed. "Do not take your own life. I know that your life is now a living hell, from which death seems a blessed release. But we must never lose hope. With G‑d's help, we will survive this ordeal and see better days."

But the woman seemed oblivious to my words. "A knife," she repeated. "I must have a knife. Now. Before it is too late."

At that moment, one of the German guards noticed our whispered conversation and approached us. "What did she say to you?" He demanded of me.

We both froze. Conversing during work was a grave transgression. Many a camp inmate had been shot on the spot for far lesser crimes.

The woman was first to recover. "I asked him for a knife," she said. To my horror, she then addressed her request to the guard: "Give me a knife!"

The German, too, guessed her intention, and a devilish smile flickered on his lips. Doubtless he had seen the bodies of those who, out of desperation, threw themselves during the night on the electrified fence that surrounded the camp; but this would be a novel sight for him. Still smiling, he reached into his pocket and handed her a small knife.

Taking the knife, she hurried back to her work station and bent over a small bundle of rags that she had placed on a log. Quickly unraveling the bundle, she took out a tiny infant. Before our astonished eyes, she swiftly and skillfully circumcised the week-old boy.

"Blessed are You, G‑d our G‑d, King of the Universe," she recited in a clear voice, "Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enter him into the covenant of Abraham our Father."

Cradling the child in her arms, she soothed his cries. Then, she addressed the heavens: "Master of the Universe! Eight days ago you gave me a child. I know that neither I nor he will long survive in this accursed place. But now, when you take him back, you will receive him as a complete Jew."

"Your knife," she said, handing the holy object back to the German. "Thank you."

This story was told by Rabbi Israel Spira, the Rebbe of Bluzhov, who witnessed it in the Janowska Concentration Camp:

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Isaiah B Troy NY October 26, 2017

Traditional, observant Jews acknowledge, respect, and follow the timeless law of G-d written in every human heart. For this, you receive accusations of hypocrisy, deception, greed, and outright story fabrication, especially concerning the all-too-real Shoah.

The "world" hates your light because it dwells in darkness, resenting any illumination that could sting its reluctant eyes.

Please accept a word and prayer of encouragement from a faithful Catholic, grateful for the Scriptures we share and the dedication you show. Reply

Anonymous USA July 14, 2016

She had Faith in the L-D Reply

Anonymous UK December 14, 2015

Circumcision by mother The boy should be especially proud of his circumcision and so should his mother. Reply

Chaya Blitzer Hamden, Connecticut via chabadofhamden.com December 16, 2013

Mother circumsizing son like Tziporah... When Moses delayed circumsing his son, due to Moses' obligation to visit his father in law, Yisro, to express his appreciation for his help and support, his wife, Tzipora, worried that Moses would not be able to return in time to circumcise his son by the required 8th day. Therefore, as Torah relates, Tzipora took a flint and circumcised their son herself, in her deep respect for the proper observance of circumcision, by the due, proper time. Perhaps, it was her great mitzvah at that time, which provided the blessing and protection, ages later, for that courageous mother in the concentration camp. Boldly demanding a knife from the concentration camp guard--and the guard acquiescing by giving her the knife she desperately needed to circumcise her son--The mother's courage was indeed, a great mitzvah. Reply

Bill Atlanta GA October 19, 2013

Holocaust deniers Since the 1970s I have noticed an alarming, ugly trend among some Christian groups in America- the trend has been to abandon Israel and to take up the cause of the intifada. The trend was slow at first but has gained momentum in the 2000s. It starts out by speaking against Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza, but it doesn't stop there. It goes on to question the Right of Return to Israel for any Jew; it will then go on to not so much as deny the Holocaust as to ignore it, and finally, with the passage of time, practically deny its significance while acknowledging its historicity only when pressed. I first noticed this up close in a Presbyterian group whose leadership subtly acknowledged the supposed justice of the intifada. I recall being the only person in the leadership to speak out on behalf of Israel and in a few years, I left the group. Thank you Ms. Kurtin for the spiritually insightful quote from Rev. Flannery. The Rebbe's story of the woman and her child will live forever. Reply

Anonymous West Hills California August 9, 2013

From a Holocaust survivor I was 13 years old when the war broke out in Poland, I am a sole survivor from a family of more than 300 from Radom, Poland. The rest went into the gas chambers. What kept me alive was hope. Even though I was very hungry, those six years in the various camps, I just needed great hope for tomorrow. I used to envy a bird who was able to fly.
I was working with five other boys, in an ammunition factory, a piece of steel sliver went into my foot, five boys took me back to the camp, to remove the piece of sliver. When I returned the next morning my five friend were shot and left in two feet of snow. A piece of sliver saved my life, so I do believe in miracles. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA February 12, 2012

Beverly, you live in Houston, and I don't know why you were shocked at that response. Texas and New Mexico are rife with people who are extremely anti-semitic. You were surprised? Really. You've lived there for years, a Daniel in a Lion's Den. By the way, I hope you sued him for emotional distress. Reply

beverly Kurtin Hutst, TX February 11, 2012

47 of my family A former friend of mine saw a memorial of the Shoah. He scoffed, saying that I did not believe that it happened. Then he told me that "those Jews made up that so that they could steal the Arab's land."
I don't know who was more surprised when I flew out of my wheelchair, grabbed him by the throat and threw him out of my house!
I screamed at him, "you fool, I am a Jew! Never come back here again!".

I had been training him...and he said that to me?

I wonder what happened to our sister. I hope to meet her in the life to come. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA February 9, 2012

This brought tears from my eyes. I became choked up. Thank you. Reply

Ivan Maribor, NA/Slovenia October 23, 2011

The Light in cursed place I've never read something so inspirational. When I am in bad mood I read this story again and again. Thank you and Thank G_D for let me read this story. Reply

Anonymous July 19, 2011

Powerfull and Amazing I haven't read for a long long time something so powerfull and inspirational. Is there vessel in me to be able to accept the light that is radiating from this event? Reply

Beverly Kurtin Hurst, TX January 25, 2010

May I have her courage I have read and reread this article, each time the result is the same; infinite pride for my sister who did what must be done to bring her son into the Covenant and tears from wondering if I could do similarly.
One of the many excuses that Hitler used for his ultimate pogrom was that we Jews introduced circumcision to the world along with a moral code that brought down paganism. Dennis Prager and Joseph in their book "Why the Jews?" quote The Reverend Edward H. Flannery of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops: "It was Judaism that brought the concept of a G-d-given universal moral law into the world...the Jew carries the burden of G-d in history [and] for this has never been forgiven.
Judaism demands responsibility, something the vast majority of the world rejects. They want someone else to blame for their sins. But who, I wonder can they blame? The Jews brought the concept of good and evil to the planet, the least Jew haters can do is lay the fault for their sins on us. Reply

Beverly Kurtin Hurst, TX January 24, 2010

Deniers Holocaust Deniers are simply Jew Haters, nothing less, nothing more. The Arab world might as well add denial as part and parcel of the Koran; they treat it as if it actually was. The whole reason for denial is simply this: To turn the State of Israel into a bastard country. People who formerly supported Israel wholeheartedly have viciously turned against her and by extension, the Jews of the world. Particularly noxious are the various Christian denominations who have turned their backs on Israel because they have adopted the denial stance.
The woman who chose to listen to G-d rather than break the covenant that started with Abraham. She was truly sanctified because she feared G-d more than she feared for her own life or even what the guard would do to her and her son. This story has stuck in my mind as what each of us must do in order to make G-d smile. Reply

chaim sm, ca via chabadonmontana.com January 14, 2010

...the holy object... Yes, a Nazi's knife can become a holy object... That is the power of the Jew... Reply

Anonymous October 29, 2009

wow! this is such an amazing story, i truly thought the woman would take her life, and instead she circumcised her son!! Reply

Dr. Beverly Kurtin October 26, 2009

Anger Although I am touched deeply by this remarkable telling of this story, I am puzzled and angered by the Holocaust deniers who dare deny that the atrocities brought on by the Holocaust actually happened, especially in light that fewer than 60 years have past and photographs taken on the orders of Dwight Eisenhower are widely spread around the world.
What particularly galls me is the number of "Christians" who claim to love G-d, yet deny what happened. How can this be?
I sometimes have "survivor guilt" because I was alive during the time that my brothers and sisters were experiencing horrors I shall never know, yet why did I survive while they died?
I hope that each denier wake up to choke on their lying tongues. May I be forgiven, but there can be, IMHO, no forgiveness of deniers. Reply

Bill Sarpas Louisville, USA October 26, 2009

WOW ...here I sit speachless, what humanity in the face of savage brutality, how does one respond, what a twist in the story, what a blessing, what hope... Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, MI/USA via baischabad.com October 26, 2009

Wow This left me breathless. I hope I have this woman's courage and faith. And I pray I never have the chance to find out if it is so. Reply

Yossi Engel Adelaide, South Australia, Australia October 26, 2009

Re: "who is Rabbi Spira" comment Rabbi Israel Spira is the highly-regarded Bluzhever Rebbe OBM, who survived the brutal Nazi concentration camps (etc.) while offering encouragement and strength to his persecuted (and worse!) brethren & sisters there. He is also the author of many of the stirring & heart-rending stories (of which this story is one) told in Yaffa Eliach's moving book "Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust" (Vintage Books NY, a Division of 'Random House'). Reply

Anonymous Palm Springs, California October 22, 2009

A Devoted Mother Made me cry. Reply

Circumcision is the first commandment given by G-d to Abraham, the first Jew, and is central to Judaism.
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