Rabbi Ephraim Oshry was just 27 years old when the local Lithuanians attacked his Jewish neighborhood, Slobodka, and went from street to street, torturing and butchering every Jewish man, woman or child they encountered. That night, June 25, 1941, was the beginning of the end of Jewish Lithuania. An image Rabbi Oshry could never forget and whose lesson he always strove to fulfill was that of the sexton of the Slobodka Yeshiva, Reb Gershon, who with his throat slit pleaded to his fellow Jews, "Children, when you are freed, tell about our suffering and hell!"

Rabbi Oshry, who had studied under the most renowned Torah sages, was one of the few rabbinical authorities for the Jews seeking the Torah's answers for their heart-wrenching questions throughout the war. Rabbi Oshry hoped to one day show the world how his fellow Jews thought, felt and behaved in the most inhumane of circumstances. When asked a question, he would write the details on scraps of paper, along with the responses he provided. He then hid these papers in cans which were buried in the ground of the concentration camp near Kovno.

Rabbi Oshry miraculously survived the war. However, his beloved wife and children were murdered in the concentration camps. He later remarried, to a woman who herself was a survivor of Auschwitz.

After the war, Rabbi Oshry unearthed the hidden cans, and then painstakingly reviewed each and every question with Torah texts, as his original answers were based solely on memory. Once properly researched, he then compiled a five volume work in Hebrew of the responses, titled Shaalot U'Teshuvot Mimaamakim ("Questions and Answers From the Depths"). This was later translated into a one-volume work titled Responsa From the Holocaust.

Soon after the war, Rabbi Oshry founded the Yeshiva Me'or HaGolah in Rome for orphaned refugee children who had survived the Holocaust. After moving to New York, he served as president of an organization of rabbis who survived the concentration camps. Rabbi Oshry passed away on Rosh Hoshanah of 2003, at the age of 89, leaving behind his wife, three daughters and six sons.

The following are excerpts from the English translation, published by the Judaica Press, 1983.

Bringing Tefillin into a Hospital Where all Personal Objects are Burned

Question:

…I was asked to render a halachic decision on the following problem: A boy, whose leg the Germans had amputated, lay in the hospital. Wishing to pray daily to his Creator, he sent a request through Jewish channels that a pair of tefillin be sent into the hospital. A persistent rumor in the ghetto claimed that the Germans burned every patient's personal possessions upon his death or dismissal. Knowing what might happen to the tefillin, was it still permissible to send a pair into the hospital?

Response:

I ruled that the tefillin might be sent to the lad so that he could fulfill the Torah's commandment…. The story of the Germans burning personal effects was an unsubstantiated rumor, one of many produced by the fear that reigned in the ghetto. If we had known it to be a fact, I would definitely have forbidden sending him the tefillin. But a rumor alone was not enough to deprive that lad from praying with tefillin. They were sent through a trustworthy emissary who gave them secretly to the boy, away from German eyes.

I also felt that the tefillin would be an inspiration to the boy, a recent baal teshuvah who had changed his life around from non-observance to observance... Dr. Davidovitch, who worked in the hospital, testified to the boy's immense joy when he donned the tefillin for the first time.

On 3 Tishrei 5702 [September 23, 1941] when the accursed Germans destroyed the Little Ghetto, they also burned down the hospital, incinerating the patients, nurses, and doctors inside. Some 60 Jews, including Dr. Davidovitch and the boy to whom the tefillin had been sent, were killed in the fire. G‑d avenge their blood!

Wonder of wonders! One of the Jews who had been inside the hospital, was miraculously saved, and told of what happened before the incineration. The boy had guarded the tefillin literally with his life. When he realized that the hospital would be destroyed together with its patients and its staff, he asked this man to make every effort to hide the tefillin so that they would not fall into the hands of the murderers who would surely destroy them. The man succeeded in escaping from the hospital trap and showed us the treasure, the boy's tefillin that had been saved. May G‑d fulfill in our time the verse, "For You, O G‑d, have set in afire, and You will restore it through fire."

(Pages 21-23)