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God Has Not Forsaken You

God Has Not Forsaken You

Along with the horrors of the Holocaust, we must never forget the courage and unwavering faith.

by

Mr. Joseph Friedenson passed away on the Shabbat right before Purim, known as Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance when we remember what the Amalek did to the Jewish People. How fitting, for my Zeidy, who endured many years of suffering at the hands of the Nazis, dedicated his life to sharing his memories of those times. But these were never bitter memories. (Although he was my wife's biological Zeidy, I had the privilege to form such a close relationship with him that I refer to him as my Zeidy too.)

Zeidy never spoke about the soldiers who beat him. He never spoke about the daily shootings which took place around him. He never spoke about his entire family and townspeople who were led to the gas chambers. Zeidy spoke about the never-ending faith and spiritual strength that were displayed by Jews during the horrors of the Holocaust. He spoke about the Jews who would share their last crumbs of bread with starving children and families, not knowing if and when their own stockpile would be replenished. He spoke about the unwavering faith of even the most "simple Jew" in the death camps or what he called “the universities of Nazi atrocities.” Zeidy “graduated” from seven universities of Nazi atrocities with his rock solid faith in God intact. He regaled us about the Jewish nation and how we are eternal and unique, always using the term “indestructible.”

Yossel Friedenson was born in Lodz, Poland. As a teenager he attended the illustrious Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin until the war broke out in 1939. He and his family were sent to the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941. His wife-to-be, Gittel Leah, was smuggled into the ghetto so that they could marry.

Zeidy came from a prominent family. His father, Eliezer Gershon Friedenson, was one of the founding partners of the Bais Yaakov Movement with Sara Schneirer.

A stalwart activist for Agudath Israel, Zeidy continued his work in the United States in 1951. Most notably, he was the founding editor of Dos Yiddishe Vort, a Yiddish Monthly Newspaper. As the Yiddish-speaking community dwindled, he found himself writing most of the paper in the later years. He held this position until the day he died.

He had the unique talent of speaking German and Polish, extremely unique for a Chassidic Jew from Lodz. It was a very useful tool for his survival in the camps as it gave him a use to the Nazis. He told us how before one Passover in Starchowitz, a slave labor camp, he was able to negotiate some extra flour from the kitchen and they were able to bake matzah. When the camp commandant walked in and saw them eating the matzah, he yelled at him, “Friedenson, fres broidt - eat bread! Don’t eat these crackers – they won’t give you any nourishment at all. What are these crackers?”

It was apparent even to the German guard during those times of horror and hopelessness that the Jewish people are indestructible

After explaining to him that it was Passover and Jews are forbidden to eat bread, the Commandant became furious. “Your God has forsaken you and you still believe in Him?! You still eat these crackers just because He told you? Your God has completely abandoned you, don’t you see that?”

The Commandant seemed to have stumped the entire group; they recognized the dire situation that they were in. While he was struggling to find an answer, a Jew named Akiva Goldschtof piped up. “No,” he said. “God has not totally forsaken us. It is true that God has temporarily put us in this situation, but not totally and not forever.” Zeidy said that those words resonated with the camp inmates until they were transferred to Auschwitz in 1944.

Before leaving Starchowitz, while the group was passing through the doors on their way to Auschwitz, a German soldier named Bruno Papa turned to my Zeidy and said, “Friedenson, don’t you remember what Goldschtof said: ‘Not totally and not forever’? You guys will be fine. Your God will take care of you.” Zeidy would point out that it was apparent even to the German guard during those times of horror and hopelessness that the Jewish people are indestructible.

Mr. Friedenson with some of his great-grandchildren.Mr. Friedenson with some of
his great-grandchildren.

Instead of focusing on the unimaginable hell and suffering of the Holocaust, Zeidy made the point of telling young generations other facets that were all too often left undiscussed: Divine Providence and the promise of Jewish eternity, their relatives’ heroic dedication to perform mitzvot despite risking their lives, their grandparents’ indestructible faith and courage.

Zeidy lived with one slogan: "Ver hut gechulemt" – “who would have dreamed…” When a new great grandchild was born, or a grandchild finished a tractate of Talmud, or when they stood up proudly to ask the “Four Questions” on the Seder night, this was the expression on his face.  “Who would have dreamed when we pulled up to Auschwitz on Tisha B'Av, 1944 that we would live to see this.” He sat and smiled as if each of these occasions were his own private revenge on Hitler and the Nazis.

He sat and smiled as if each of these occasions were his own private revenge on Hitler and the Nazis.

My favorite memory occurred a few years ago while sitting around the Shabbat table. We were singing old Chasidic classics from the many pre-war dynasties. Suddenly he stopped and said, “I just remembered a story that I never told anyone.”

He said that in the camps there was a Chassidic Jew named Meilich Rubenson who would make a melave malka, a meal after Shabbat every Saturday night. “This meal didn’t include any food – there was no food to be had. It consisted of singing. Rubenson would gather a group of Jews together and we would sing this song: ‘God said to Jacob, don't fear my servant. Have no fear my servant, Jacob. I fear no one but you Hashem...’ It was laughable, a joke! Everyone knew that the Germans were winning the war and there was very little hope for us, if any. But this Jew, with his singing and faith, gave strength and hope to all the Jews in the camp. It gave us the strength to go on."

We all cried – not bitter tears, but tears of joy, tears of hope, tears that tell the story of our people through thousands of years of pain and suffering and yet, here we are, still going strong.

The next day after he related this story, he was invited to speak in a shul in Rockland County, New York. It was three days before Tisha B'Av, a most appropriate time for him to speak to the younger generation about his experiences. I urged him to tell this story he just remembered. "Zeidy, don't just say the story – sing the song." And he did. While the audience sobbed, two young men stood up and said, "We are Meilich Rubenson's grandchildren. Thank you for sharing that incredible story about our zeidy. We had never heard it.”

Zeidy’s message for the next generation was always that we must never forget. We must never forget the horrors and the barbaric acts of the Holocaust, but we must also never forget the courage and the unwavering faith, and the Divine Providence that took place during those times.

May his lifelong work of disseminating this message continue to be a merit for him, his family and for the entire Jewish nation.

Published: April 6, 2013


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Visitor Comments: 10

(7) Mary, May 23, 2013 4:16 PM

incredible faith

I have known people who have been through much less yet are angry and bitter as a result. He showed incredible faith and the ability to see what good lay in every situation.

(6) Joey, April 9, 2013 6:13 PM

Thank you for this! It is important to focus on the light within so much darkness. God bless!

(5) alan goldman, April 8, 2013 2:41 PM

never again

My opinion in no way detracts from this wonderful Zeidy, but we as Jews are faced with another Holocaust. The Muslim world has made their intentions very clear and Neither God or righteous people will save us just as they did not save us in the past.
No, only Israel's military might has kept our enemies at bay.
All Jews should be armed including those of us in the USA. Never Again.

scott adams, April 8, 2013 6:21 PM

god

only GOD can save his people!!!

Anonymous, April 9, 2013 5:14 AM

we must do our effort, but Hashem is the only One Who can save us

How can you say that only Israel's military might has saved us? Do you realize that it was a miracle and the kindness of G-D that has enabled the Israeli army to secure the victories that it did? Hashem has always been the One protecting the Jews and Israel. Hashem saved us from egypt, and since has preserved and protected us through pogroms, expulsions, crusades and yes, the holocaust. We do not know why Hashem brought the holcaust, but He redeemed us from it's horrors. But due to G-D's kindness, we survived, the camps were liberated, and Hitler, may his name be obliterated, were defeated. As we say at the Passover seder, "in every generation they rise up against us to annihilate us, but Hashem saves us from their hands." Even non Jewish professors have realized that if not for G-D preserving and protecting us, in all natural ways, we would not be around anymore. All other ancient nations have died out, been conquered, but we the Jews, Hashem's treasured nation is still around. The Muslims do want to wipe us off the face of the earth. They have nuclear power. Do you really think that if we arm ourselves, we can save ourselves from them? Will a gun defend us once Israel and America have G-D forbid been annihilated, devastated, and completely destroyed by nuclear weapons? besides, if G-D decrees something, no amount of arms, soldiers, technology, money, ingenuity....can save us. As we say in psalms (33), " a king is not saved through a great army, a strong person won't be saved through a lot of strength. A horse is in vain for salvation, and with a great army he will not escape." and "some rely on chariots, some on horses, but we in the name of Hashem our G-D... They have... fallen, but we have arisen..."(20) We must do our hishtadlut (effort) and try to protect ourselves, but ultimately it is all in the hands of G-D and we must rely on Him and pray to Him to protect us and bring the Messiah speedily with mercy. We must follow His ways, and keep and study His Torah.

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