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Two Candles for Sammy

Two Candles for Sammy

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I first heard of Sammy Rosenbaum in 1965, when a Mrs. Rawicz from Rabka came into my office in Vienna to testify at a War Crimes trial. Mrs. Rawicz remembered Sammy Rosenbaum as "a frail boy, with a pale, thin face and big, dark eyes, who looked much older than his age -- as did many children who learned too early about life." Sammy was nine years old in 1939 when the Germans entered Rabka and made life a nightmare.

Sammy's father was a tailor who lived in two musty rooms and a tiny kitchen in an old house. But they were happy and religious. Every Friday night Sammy went with his father to the synagogue, after his mother and sister lit the Shabbat candles.

In 1940 the SS set up a training center in a former Polish Army barracks near Rabka. In the early phase of the war, the SS platoons shot their victims; fifty, a hundred, even a hundred and fifty people a day.

The SS men were being hardened at Rabka so they would become insensitive to blood, to the agonizing cries of women and children. The job must be done with a minimum of fuss and maximum of efficiency. That was a Fuhrerbefehl -- the Fuhrer's order.

The school commander was SS Untersturmfuhrer Wilhelm Rosenbaum from Hamburg. Cynical and brutal, he walked around with a riding crop. "His appearance frightened us," the woman from Rabka remembered.

Early in 1942, SS Rosenbaum ordered all Rabka's Jews to appear at the local school to "register." The sick and the elderly would be deported, and the others would labor for the Wehrmacht.

Toward the end of the registration, SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum appeared, accompanied by two deputies, Hermann Oder and Walter Proch. SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum read through the list of names. "Suddenly, he beat his riding crop hard on the table," the woman from Rabka told me. "We each winced as if we had been whipped." SS man Rosenbaum shouted: "What's this? Rosenbaum? Jews! How dare these verdammte Juden have my good German name?"

He threw the list on the table and strode out. We knew the Rosenbaums would be killed; it was only a matter of time. People would be executed because their name was Rosenberg, or if their first name happened to be Adolf or Hermann.

The Police school practiced executions in a clearing in the woods. SS students shot Jews and Poles rounded up by the Gestapo, while SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum observed students' reactions with clinical detachment. If a student flinched, he was removed from the execution squad and sent to the front.

After the registration, Mrs. Rawicz worked in the police school as a charwoman. "When the SS men came back from the clearing in the woods I had to clean their boots covered with blood." It was a Friday morning in June 1942. Two SS men escorted "the Jew Rosenbaum," his wife, and their fifteen-year-old daughter Paula. Behind them came SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum.

"The woman and the girl were marched around the schoolhouse and then I heard some shots," the witness said. "I saw SS man Rosenbaum beat our Rosenbaum with his riding crop, shouting: 'You dirty Jews, I'll teach you a lesson for having my German name!' Then the SS man took his revolver and shot Rosenbaum the tailor two or three times. Then the SS sent an unarmed kapo (Jewish policeman) to the quarry to get Sammy.

He went to Zakryty in a horse drawn cart. He stopped and waved at Sammy Rosenbaum. Everybody in the quarry stared -- the Jewish laborers and the SS guards. Sammy put the stone in his hands on the truck, and walked toward the cart.

Sammy looked up at the kapo. "Where are they?" he asked - "Father, Mother, and Paula. Where?" The kapo just shook his head.

Sammy understood. "They're dead." He muttered, and spoke matter-of-factly: "Our name is Rosenbaum, and now you've come for me." He stepped up and sat down next to the kapo.

The policeman had expected the boy to cry, perhaps run away. Riding out to Zakryty, the policeman wondered how he might have forewarned the boy, allow him to disappear in the woods, where the Polish underground might help him. Now it was too late. The SS guards were watching.

The kapo told Sammy what had happened that morning. Sammy asked if they could stop for a moment at his house. When they got there, he stepped down and walked into the front room, leaving the door open. He looked over the table with the half-filled teacups left from breakfast. He looked at the clock. It was half past three. Father, Mother and Paula were already buried, and no one had lit a candle for them. Slowly methodically, Sammy cleaned off the table and put the candlesticks on it.

"I could see Sammy from the outside," the kapo told Mrs. Rawicz. "He put on his skullcap, and lit the candles. Two for his father, two for his mother, two for his sister. And he prayed. I saw his lips moving. He said Kaddish for them." Kaddish is the prayer for the dead. Father Rosenbaum always said Kaddish for his dead parents, and had shown Sammy the prayer. Now he was the only one left in his family. He stood quietly, looking at the six candles.

The Jewish policeman outside saw Sammy slowly shaking his head, as though he suddenly remembered something. Then Sammy placed two more candles on the table, took a match and lit them, and prayed.

"The boy knew he was already dead," the policeman said later. "He lit the candles and said Kaddish for himself."

Sammy came out, and sat down near the kapo, who was crying. The boy didn't cry. The kapo wiped away his tears with the back of his hand and pulled the reins, but the tears kept coming. The boy didn't say a word. He gently touched the older man's arm, to comfort him -- to forgive him for taking him away.

They rode to the clearing in the woods, where SS Fuhrer Rosenbaum and his students waited.

"About time!" screamed the SS man.

No tombstone bears Sammy Rosenbaum's name. No one might have remembered him if the woman from Rabka had not come into my office. But every year, one day in June, I light two candles for him and say Kaddish.

Excerpted from the Simon Wiesenthal Memoirs
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Christine Seattle, WA December 1, 2011

I am the sister that wrote the comment on Oct 4, 2009. I am out of the monastery, briefly, but will be returning. Any religion that professes hatred does not pray to God. At least, not the God I pray to. We should always opt to love each other. Can any of us say that we truly know God? No. He knows us. What can come of the terrible fate of this innocent victim, indeed all the victims of war? That he and they are not forgotten; what they suffered can stop others from hating. Let us take a lesson from Sammy who lit a candle in the darkest place imaginable, and turned that little candle into a great light for the world as he did!!! And…to all my Jewish brothers and sisters Thank you for my heritage. I could not say my yes…if you had not said yours thousands of years before me... Reply

Werner Oder Bournemouth, UK November 22, 2011

I am very interested in the story you tell about the Rosenbaums. It may interest you that this story and all the happenings in Rabka have been recorded in the book: BATTLING NAZI DEMONS by Werner Oder. I would very much like to speak with you about this part of history and the recent events taking place in Rabka.
Shalom Reply

Aggie Smolecki Eagan, MN November 20, 2011

My name is Aggie Smolecki and my father Czeslaw, " Chester" Smolecki was born in Rabka Poland in 1933. My father's family ( my grandparents) hid the Rosenbaums for a time period. Mrs. Rosenbaum gave my grandmother a beautiful necklace and china-- which my Aunt still has in Rabka, as a token of their strong friendship. I am in the process of writing a book which details my dad's experience as a child who served as a runner, bringing food to the Polish underground. He also witnessed shootings of Jews and others, from a hiding spot in the forest. My dad has severe PTSD and I am trying to put down his memories- of Poles who bravely tried to save Jews and their fellow brothers. My family succeeded in saving a Jewish baby, who continues to live today at the age of 78--to speak of her life. I pray for the Spirit of my dad's childhood friend, Sammy Rosenbaum and his entire family. Reply

Anonymous phx, az December 27, 2009

"god gives us free will then asks us to choose"

I dont understand how it can be free when you are a little child and influences from outside of you come to you . To cause you to do wrong thing and make wrong decisions. If "he always watches" then why would a loving god "allow " this to happen? Reply

Masha Chaya Mastin Franklin, USA December 27, 2009

I read this story years ago in high school from the book "Murderers Among Us." Again I read the story. I wonder how can these people who murdered this family and others like them live with themselves. I read this before it became the thing to return to our faith. I was ahead of my time. Reply

hani caracas, vzla November 22, 2009

i am confused, why would he light two for each? Reply

Chrisitne Convy Sacramento, CA October 4, 2009

I will never forget this story. I am Catholic and quite Orthodox Catholic. The suffering that went on in this war, to end all wars, was so horrific that not one word can be uttered of it and I am reduced to bitter tears. How can man do this to man? I do not understand why God would allow this to happen. It was the darkest evil ever inflicted on any race in the history of man and yet I know God gives us free will, asks us to choose, then He watches... All should take the time to look at Him and give praise and to ALWAYS KNOW THAT HE WATCHES... I am hopefully going back to a contemplative order of sisters soon and I want you to know that from behind the 20 foot wall of my choice. I will say a special prayer for all my Jewish brothers and sisters and especially for all the souls caught up in that unforgettable horror. God Bless you all on your most important feast day. May God send His Love and bless you all abundantly Always. Reply

Anonymous farmington hls, mi February 23, 2008

it brought tears and a prayer for the dead Reply

Rosemary Brisbane, Qld/Australia via chabadbrisbane.com December 20, 2007

Thank you Anonymous for addressing me and my comment. I read and thought about what you said.

And yes, I also believe that we have the choice of sticking with G-d. Sticking with G-d is what really matters. Sammy stuck with G-d. We can turn to G-d whatever happens and I believe this makes a big difference. Reply

Anonymous December 19, 2007

I am jewish as well I have an answer for you as to why G-D allows Evil.

I beleive that it is to root out those who are not worthy of the end prize. to bring to light the wolves in sheeps clothing. I also think that it is not G-D who allows evil it is us that allows it. We have a choice of sticking with the lord through thick and thin or just taking the easy option.So I beleive that it sadense G-D that it happens and he will protect those who belive in him from the horrors of the evil doers. And those of us who know he is there for us will be rewarded for our un dying love and respect for him. Reply

Paul Barta Budapest, Hungary September 6, 2007

Nowadays we see more and more antisemitism coming from the trash of the web. The message of this story gives us courage to point to the devil and say loud its name. We have to show our enemies that we are not afraid of their dirty antisemitic propaganda and our faith and self-respect are stronger than ever.
I wish Sammy's story would be tought in every school because it can give children a lesson on humanity and respect. Reply

Rosemary Brisbane, Qld/Australia via chabadbrisbane.com August 10, 2007

I read this story some years ago to my philosophy class , lit two candles and played a tape of a Rabbi saying Kaddish. We had each been asked to present a paper on why G-d allows evil. I thought this was a crazy question. Who knows why G-d allows this? Actually the question angered and upset me because it suggested we could know such a thing and because I saw this approach as a waste of time. I thought a good question was how we can stop evil. So I told me story, lit my candles and played my tape. I was glad my classmates cried. Maybe they will stop evil from happening. Maybe. Reply

Werner Pder Bournemouth, UK December 1, 2006

Sammy's story broke my heart, as did that of the many other beautiful people my father Wilhelm and his brother Hermann Oder a callously murdered at Rabka.
I could not give my life for Sammy, for I was not there. Today however I would gladly give my life for any Jew... Reply

Helga Hudspeth May 5, 2005

Over the years I've read about so many people, your people, Sammy, who, during the Holocaust, kept their dignity and their love for G-d. I don't know why, at some point, I singled out one person to represent all these holy people, but I did, and that person is you. And so I want to say to you, to this small-in-statue-only person, that on this 60th Holocaust Remembrance Day I will say Psalms.

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Anonymous September 8, 2004

Rabka:

2004-'Rabka is a small but nice town located near the mountains in southern Poland.There is also a train musuem that displays old trains, it is worth a visit!'(a Virtual Tourist.com visitor).

1930's (Jewish.Gen,Inc)-'In the 1930's the town had a Jewish population of 120 families (about 500 souls)..The town's synagogue and Bet-Midrash drew many worshippers for prayer and for study sessions..In 1929 a Tarbut Hebrew School was founded, and it soon became the center for the Jewish young people..A local library was opened in 1930'..did you go there, Sammy?-and why does it matter anyway, now?-but it does, it does..'Notices were given to the townspeople by means of a drum, which summoned everyone to come out and listen to the herald..'

1942: you said Kaddish for your family and-having no one to do it for you-for yourself. You-as so many others-turned to G-d before your murder.

2004-'Rabka is a small but nice town located near the mountains in southern Poland..'
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