Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi-hunter, once spoke at a conference of European rabbis in Bratislava, Slovakia. The rabbis presented the 91-year-old Wiesenthal with an award, and he, visibly moved, told them the following story.

It was in Mauthausen, shortly after liberation. The camp was visited by Rabbi Eliezer Silver, head of Agudat Harabbanim (Union of Orthodox Rabbis of North America), on a mission to offer aid and comfort to the survivors. Rabbi Silver also organized a special service, and he invited Wiesenthal to join the other survivors in prayer. Wiesenthal declined, and explained why.

“In the camp,” Wiesenthal said to Rabbi Silver, “there was one religious man who somehow managed to smuggle in a siddur (prayerbook). At first, I greatly admired the man for his courage—that he’d risked his life in order to bring the siddur in. But the next day I realized, to my horror, that this man was ‘renting out’ this siddur to people in exchange for food. People were giving him their last piece of bread for a few minutes with the prayerbook. This man, who was very thin and emaciated when the whole thing started, was soon eating so much that he died before everyone else—his system couldn’t handle it.”

He continued: “If this is how religious Jews behave, I’m not going to have anything to do with a prayerbook.”

As Wiesenthal turned to walk away, Rabbi Silver touched him on the shoulder and gently said in Yiddish, “Du dummer (you silly man). Why do you look at the Jew who used his siddur to take food out of starving people’s mouths? Why don’t you look at the many Jews who gave up their last piece of bread in order to be able to use a siddur? That’s faith. That’s the true power of the siddur.” Rabbi Silver then embraced him.

“I went to the services the next day,” said Wiesenthal.