Kiddush Hashem. In memory of Szymon Huberband

rabbi Szymon Huberband / the first page of the report “Martyrdom for Faith”. Ringelblum Archive, JHI collection

On August 18, 1942, Szymon Huberband, a rabbi, who, according to Emanuel Ringelblum, was one of the most important collaborators of the Oneg Shabbat group, was deported to Treblinka. We present a fragment of his written accounts about saving the Torah from destruction by the Germans.

Szymon Huberband was born in 1909 in Chęciny near Kielce in the Świętokrzyskie region of Poland. He came from the family of the local tzadik, married a rabbi’s daughter and also became a rabbi himself. At the same time, he wrote articles as an amateur historian. In September 1939, his family was killed in a German bombing raid. Huberband, like many refugees, arrived at the Warsaw ghetto. There he became an employee of the Jewish Social Self-Help and established contact with the “Oneg Shabbat” group. He married again, to the daughter of rabbi Jakub Zylbersztajn. On August 18, 1942, together with his second wife, he was led to the Umschlagplatz by the Germans. Probably on the same day he was murdered in Treblinka or died on the train.

Ringelblum highly appreciated the writings of Huberband and his contribution to the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto. The rabbi described events from Warsaw and the towns of Mazovia, Upper Silesia, the lands of Łódź, Świętokrzyskie and Lublin. In one of the studies, entitled Martyrdom for Faith, Huberband reported cases of Jews saving holy books from destruction.

Kiddush Hashem can be expressed in three ways: a) The Jew sacrifices his life when he is forced to renounce his faith; b) a Jew gives his life to save another Jew, let alone save many Jews; c) The Jew falls while fighting to protect the Jews[1].

We present excerpts from this work, in which Huberband wanted to present examples of “active” [2] kiddush ha-shem, that is, actively sacrificing one’s life for faith.

Piotrków

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur 5700 a car with German officers arrived in front of the synagogue. They took all the Torah scrolls, more than thirty in number, and threw them on the square opposite the synagogue. The square was surrounded by a wooden fence that separated it from Piłsudskiego and Jerozolimska Streets. Houses and buildings belonging to Jews formed the border of the square on both sides.

There was a door in the wooden fence in the stretch along Piłsudski street. An armed gendarme stood by this door, making sure that the Jews did not carry the Torah scrolls from there.

Day after day passed, and so came Sukkot. It rained frequently. The Torah scrolls in the square, some even without dresses, were scattered in puddles and in the mud that had been created by rainfall.

The hearts of Jews who passed the square and saw the disgrace of the Torah, the greatest holiness, this great offense against God, were bleeding, and tears were shedding from their eyes. Every passerby was clenching his fists in their pockets, but there was nothing he could do.

The desecration of sanctity greatly concerned a long-time Bund judge in the Piotrków town hall, a member of the town council, leader of the Jewish commune, one of the pillars of the Bund in Piotrków – Abraham Wajshof. [3]

Wajshof organized a few Bund comrades, and when the gendarme was guarding the door in the fence on Piłsudskiego Street, they got to the square through the neighboring Jewish house. Almost in front of the gendarme, they quickly took the Torah scrolls and returned the same way they had come. When the gendarme came to the square after a short time, he found no Torah scrolls there. (…)

In the summer of 1941, all local Jewish leaders were arrested in Piotrków, including: president Tenenberg, Wajshof, Piotrków town hall judges and Jakub Berliner, chairman of the community board, a man who devoted his life to social work (…), Wajngart, Frajnd, Adler, Zojer and others. They were all taken to Auschwitz and finished there.

May their memory be blessed. [4]

 

View of the castle and synagogue in Będzin, around 1900. Source: Polona

Będzin

In September 1939, as soon as the criminals entered Będzin, they encircled the Jewish quarter and with the synagogue. Then they set fire to the synagogue and all nearby houses.

Every Jew who left his house was shot on the spot. However, a few Jews broke into the burning synagogue – with Mr. Szlezinger, his son and son-in-law at the head, and they reached the Aron Kodesh. Without looking back at the fire raging on all sides, each man managed to save two Torah scrolls – one in each hand.

However, when they came to the door of the burning synagogue, all of them were shot by the criminals and died a martyr’s death. May their memory be blessed.[5]

Aleksandrów

After the arrival of those men, the bacchanalia of burning and tearing Torah scrolls, tallites, tefillins, sacred books and other religious objects began immediately.

At the end of September 1939, the synagogue and the Beth Midrash were set on fire. On the day the synagogue and the Beth Midrash were set on fire, they gathered many Torah scrolls and brought them to the market square. There they lit a great fire and burned it.

During the joyful burning of books, Motl Hochman, a resident of Aleksandrów, passed by. An officer led him up and ordered him to tear a Torah scroll. The man flatly refused.

The officer tried to make him do it by beating him. This, however, to no avail.

Reb Motl Hochman stood firm.

The officer got furious and screamed that if Hochman didn’t tear the Torah scroll, he would shoot him like a dog. The Jew refused.

The officer gave the order to shoot him. Two soldiers led him to the wall, aimed their rifles, and Reb Motl Hochman shouted out loud: Shema Israel!

At that moment, Koch, a great German factory owner from Aleksandrów, who knew this Jew well, was passing by. Koch, although a harsh anti-Semite, began to ask the officer to pardon Hochman and spare his life.

And a miracle happened. The officer agreed to spare his life. He gave the order to count Hochman’s bones, which the soldiers meticulously obeyed.

Hochman did not tear the Torah scroll. [6]

The synagogue in Sierpc, burned down by the Germans on the night of September 29-30, 1939. Source: Wikipedia

Sierpc

During the burning of the synagogue at the end of September 1939, it was ordered that the entire Jewish population should surround it and watch it burn. During the fire, a young man named Mosze, learned in Torah, escaped from the crowd of Jews. He got into a burning synagogue, where he was surrounded on all sides by hellish fire. He reached the Aron Kodesh and took two Torah scrolls in his hands.

When he made a return move, the villains showered him with a hail of bullets. He fell with both Torah scrolls. Together with the synagogue and the Torah scrolls, his body was also burned. [7]

Written and translated by Przemysław Batorski
Footnotes:
[1] Archiwum Ringelbluma, v. 32, Pisma rabina Szymona Huberbanda, ed. by Anna Ciałowicz, transl. by Anna Ciałowicz, Magdalena Siek, Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warsaw 2017, p. 122. For online publication, transcript of original writing has been simplified.
[2] Ibid., p. 123.
[3] Before the war, an official and social activist in Piotrków, a local government activist, judge of the town hall, chairman of the commune board and chairman of the Bund (Konarskiego 4 Street).
[4] Ibid., p. 124-126.
[5] Ibid., p. 127.
[6] Ibid., p. 128-129.
[7] Ibid., p. 133-134.