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Dancing With G-d

Dancing With G-d

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They were mere boys—all under the age of eighteen—but in this particular case, their youth proved to be a liability, not the asset it had been under other circumstances. It was puzzling, really: Most camp commandants consigned teenagers sixteen and older to life, since they were deemed hardy enough for the slave labor force into which they were conscripted. But this camp commandant had drawn the line at eighteen instead, decreeing that all those who were younger be sent to certain death. His orders for additional selections grew more shrill and fevered with each passing day, multiplying the numbers that were fed into the furnaces. Perhaps it was the advent of the Jewish High Holidays that had unleashed his fury, or, in perverse irony, his own heinous way of celebrating.

It was the fall of 1944 at Auschwitz, and Hungarian Jews—the last nationality to be transported to the camp—had arrived in massive numbers. The furnaces worked overtime as the inmates were sped to their inexorable fate. Everything about the camp seemed so surreal—the perpetual fog cover of smoke and ash, the barren landscape of barbed wire and slime—that it served to mirror the prisoners' own profound sense of displacement and disorientation. Everything had happened so fast: being crammed into the cattle cars that had disgorged them at Auschwitz; the quick, merciless dismemberment of families as spouses, children, parents an siblings were torn apart from one another during the selections; being dispassionately stripped of the clothing and personal belongings that made them human, and the freezing-cold showers and assembly-line delousing that had followed. In the course of only minutes, the new inmates had lost everything they owned, everything they loved.

Already, some were engulfed by the horror, so studded by their sudden plunge into hell, so mummified into Muselmann (the walking dead), that they could barely remember their own names, Never before had the gas chamber's concrete floor shaken under the pounding of fifty pairs of feet stamping in unbridled joy. let alone the religious holidays. But there were those remnants, those few who still cared about observing the Jewish holidays; among them were fifty religious boys who had just been selected for the gas chamber and were now being herded into a bathhouse, ostensibly to take "showers." It was late enough in concentration camp history that they boys knew the truth. Gas would pour through the pipes, not water. It was a ruse that the Nazis used to disarm the inmates, to ensure their cooperation. But these spiritual heroes made a conscious decision not to give in to them, choosing defiance instead.

Amid the tumult in the bathhouse, one boy sprang up and shouted: "Brothers! Today is the holiday of Simchat Torah, when the Jewish world rejoices, having concluded the reading of the Torah over the past year, followed directly with the commencement of the new cycle of the Torah reading. During our short lives, we have tried to uphold the Torah to the best of our ability, and now we have one last chance to do so. Before we die, let us celebrate Simchat Torah one last time.

"We do not possess anything anymore," the boy continued. "We have nothing. We do not have clothes to cover us, nor a sefer Torah (Torah scroll) with which to dance. So let us dance with G‑d Himself—who is surely here among us—before we return our souls to Him."

Since it had first been erected and used, the gas chambers had absorbed a cacophony of human sounds—screams, cries, moans, benedictions—that would forever reside within its cold earthen stone walls. But never before had its rafters trembled with the pure, sweet strains of fifty young voices raised in fervent song, never before had its concrete floor shaken under the pounding of fifty pairs of feet stamping in unbridled joy. The boys pierced the heavens with their song: "Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu u'mah nayim goraleinu umah yafah yerushateinu…" (How fortunate are we and how wonderful is our portion and how beautiful is our heritage.)

"What is going on in there?" One scowling Nazi guard asked his comrade as they waited outside. "Why hasn't the gas been turned on yet?"

"It sounds like they're singing…and dancing. Are they crazy?" another guard said in disbelief.

"Go find out what's causing the delay," an officer commanded. "And get the commandant."

Summoned to the doors of the gas chamber, the commandant listened with growing fury to the incongruous revelry inside. He had watched Jews marching to their deaths hundreds of times before—some weeping softly, others reciting prayers—and he had relished these scenes. But this—this singing and dancing—this was unacceptable. He flung open the gas chamber doors and pulled one boy toward him.

"You!" he shouted. "Tell me why you are singing and dancing now."

"Because leaving a world where Nazi beasts reign is cause for celebration," the boy sneered. "And because we are overjoyed at the prospect of reuniting with our beloved parents, whom you murdered so viciously."

The commandant became enraged at the boy's contemptuous words. Obsequiousness…fear...last-ditch attempts to ingratiate one's self into his favour—those were acceptable modes of behavior. Insolence was not.

"I'll teach you a lesson," he screamed as the boys continued to dance and sing, heedless of his presence. "You thought that the gas chamber would be your last stop. You'll find out otherwise. The gas chamber would have been easy and painless compared to what awaits you now. I will torture each one of you with unbearable suffering. I will slice your flesh till you expire." The commandant ordered the guards to remove the boys from the gas chamber and place them in a holding block overnight. He planned to begin the torture sessions the following day.

But the next morning, his plans again went awry. A high-ranking Nazi officer had traveled to Auschwitz to round up slave labor for a work camp that lacked sufficient help. He needed to find several hundred young, able-bodied men capable of performing gruelling work under barbarous conditions. As he strode through the camp looking for prospects, the Nazi officer just happened to pass by the barracks in which the fifty religious boys had been temporarily housed. Their vitality undiminished by their overnight stay, the boys still radiated strength and good healthy. "Excellent," the Nazi officer smiled in satisfaction. "Exactly the type of boys I need."

The Nazi officer pulled rank on the camp commandant, who revealed nothing about his original plans for the boys' fate. He stood silently as the Nazi officer ordered the boys—and several hundred other inmates—to board the trucks that rolled out of Auschwitz into safer climes. Some say that the boys left the grounds singing.

Postscript: Survivors of Auschwitz report that all fifty boys survived the war.

This story comes from the brand-new book "Small Miracles of the Holocaust: Extraordinary Coincidences of Faith, Hope and Survival" by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal, published by The Lyons Press, August 2008. The book is available at all book store chains, Jewish Book Stores, and online book stores. Right now, for a limited time only, amazon.com is offering a special introductory rate.
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Anonymous Rhode Island October 23, 2016

Came to this story by "accident" I found my way here as I sought something else. This will forever be stamped on my heart with awe, respect for those fifty, gratitude to the author who made the story available, and Glory for G-d holding each of us carefully. Reply

Anonymous usa October 6, 2015

Dancing with G-d Thank you for this story of joy. There's many things going through my mind. G-d's people have had to live through much for millennia. In this world are born two kinds of people, the righteous and the unrighteous. G-d wants to find the righteous and help them to do more good work. But people don't wear signs showing who they are and where their hearts are. So, G-d sent His people into the world to look for them, but they found many unrighteous people because they are easy to find. And G-d's people in the midst of trouble and danger turned to Him to ask for help. He put in them a special joy and sense to lead them to the righteous people who would help them. And they did find them. Many places of safety and help. But sometimes they had to show the unrighteous how to love G-d, too. The indomitable spirit of G-d's people works best under pressure. Reply

Laurie Joshua Tree, CA,USA October 6, 2015

Many people around the world think life is very wonderful for an American citizen. I guess they see from the outside a glowing picture. Most of us may not understand the horrible things G-d's people have lived through. And we could only offer our small comforts to help. But if you look past the pretty houses with the gardens to what lies within you may find tortured lives looking for a moment of joy. In reading this story I have found mine. Reply

Pastor Marc Bialeck Wisconsin October 4, 2015

Dachau Concentration Camp In 1968 I visited Dachau when I was stationed in Regensberg, Germany. The first thing I noticed as we entered the town of Dachau was the smell of burnt flesh as if it were yesterday. That alone was mind baffling, and I could almost feel the tears welling up inside me. As I went through the camp and seen the pictures of what was done to fellow Jews a strong bitterness began to rise in me. How anyone could allow this to happen. It was all too surreal. I now know why these camps must be preserved. So the sick people of today that say this never happened should be forced to go through these camps and smell and see for themselves. I had several relatives who were in Aus Shvitz, and saw the horrors they talked about in pictures at Dachau. I Pray all that suffered and died at the cruel hands of these nazis are at peace with God now. For the suffering was beyond belief. Reply

Casper Netherlands October 3, 2015

Amazing story I read it before, and again, today. And I can tell you this is the most amazing story I read in a long time, if not ever. Reply

Maureen Welden Canada October 14, 2014

Holocaust My heart aches every time I read or hear these stories of the Holocaust .I cannot even write the words or think the words that describe what a horrible crime against mankind this was. Was I there? No. Then why do I feel such tremendous pain in my heart. I am having a hard time just writing this . I am not Jewish (wish I was) but I want only the best for Israel and all the Jewish people. I know they Love me. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma October 4, 2013

Man's Search for Meaning This particular book, that is about the search for meaning during one of our darkest times, brings out a truth that is very difficult to imbibe, and that is meaning is achieved by the heroic little things people did for each other, on a daily basis, in a time of utter despair and hopelessness. And these little things, added up to a light that was unquenchable in the midst of such darkness, of soul numbing hatred, that made people question G_d, even those who felt that unmistakeable presence, even in the camps did ask, the eternal wailing why. The only answer to that why is in the candles we light, the light within, the i within, itself, to me, a candle. I can visualize that i, burning in the night, and kindling others with the kindness, that must emanate that does test us, even in those darkest unfathomable moments.

If this is a Love story, and I know flame, to have a flame is to have one who is beloved, then I do see the Moses fire, the Burning Bush, bearing lasting metaphoric TRUTH. Reply

Adina Leah Edmonton Alberta, Canada October 2, 2013

It's amazing how we Jews can just go on and never fall, such spirit! Reply

Christina Cape Town September 25, 2013

Dancing in a circle of friends Thank you dear friends for dancing in a circle. Reply

Laura Ellen Truelove Sewanee, TN, USA October 19, 2011

Choosing Life, Not Death These boys chose LIFE in affirming they were in G-d's presence and therefore, why not celebrate and dance to G-d's glory? They chose BLESSING when they sang and danced with G-d in the death chamber. Even in a death camp, they looked darkness and cursing squarely in the eye and chose life and blessing. Reply

Tilly Boesche-Zacharow Berlin, Germany October 19, 2011

What a story...Dancing with G-d!!! I want to buy this book, I must have it. It is wonderful to read. I try to buy it at amazon.I will tell about it in the group of my friends.
Thank you very much Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, MA October 3, 2010

Where WAS God? there is a question, why didn't God step in to save them all? Perhaps because God wrote the entire story. This is what I am saying, and it is terribly difficult to pose these questions and tentative answers. Which then lead to more questions.

Now IF God wrote the entire story, meaning ALL stories, the miracles, the glorious stories, and also the terrible ones, with glints of this, being miraculous coincidences we call the visible hand of God, then I am saying, there is a far far greater story surrounding ALL STORIES, and for that, I am waiting for the master storyteller to open another door, a door of consciousness, that will lead us all, into reading these stories in a different light.

I must personally maintain, that no matter how hard it is to contemplate the bad parts of all of our stories, the darkest shadow side, that the ultimate story will bring us all towards a realization of a master story that is entirely about LOVE itself. Reply

Miguel Angel Lima, Peru October 2, 2010

Like Daniel and his friends These boys make me remember Daniel and his friend and hoe his love and dtermination to honor G-d favour them to bring glory to G-d's name. I love it. Reply

Debra Rock Creek, BC, Canada September 30, 2010

Survivors of Auschwitz BRAVO! Another reason to Bless G-d!
I offten wonder why G-d didn't step in and save them all...one small child torn from a Mother 's arms was one too many.
None will ever be forgotten...for we are one, they all live on in us. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, MA September 29, 2010

Joy It has been pointed out, many times, that within Joy is the Yiddish word, Oy. When I read these stories of extraordinary coincidence I greet them with awe, and certainly joy, because these young men survived. Their song lives on in the retelling of this story. Sadly, the circumstances they found themselves in, such terrible circumstances, makes one wonder, continuously, because God was indubitably there, The press of thousands of amazing stories like this tell us something.

Where was God for the others? Those who perished?

There has to be a greater story surrounding all stories. There must be. And I am waiting for this story, because I know God was in the camps, and I see the hand of God everywhere, all the time!

This symphony has a conductor. So, to come to grips with this, is a task I am thinking we are meant to take on, to put God on trial. I am confident this story is ultimately, about LOVE, because otherwise, I don't think we would feel, so often, so beloved. Reply

Anonymous woodcliff lake, new jersey May 31, 2010

WOW i love the strenth and happiness that we jews have!!!!!! Reply

Anonymous June 5, 2009

wow Survivors of Auschwitz report that all fifty boys survived the war. Reply

Lesley Levy Hubbard Laurel, Maryland, USA May 28, 2009

Dancing with G-d One of the most inspiring stories I have ever read. Reply