For them, Yom Kippur was easy as pie

Erev Yom Hakippurim, 5767.
My Netanya neighbor Livia Bitton Jackson wrote in her Holocaust memoirs, I Have Lived a Thousand Years and Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust that she forced herself and her mother to eat soup crawling with maggots, in order keep from perishing from starvation. Another neighbor Frank Ross sucked on coal because the oil kept hunger pangs at bay. A hungry Edith Cohen chewed on a chicken skin for 4 days without food in a cattle car on the way from Hungary to a Auschwitz. So for them, a simple 25-hour fast on Yom Kippur is…. a piece of cake. Child’s play.

I wrote about this in an article that the Jerusalem Post published in the opinion section of its Friday weekend Magazine Sept.29: Survivors’ Yom Kippur: September 1945.

But while the first postwar Yom Kippur was not difficult gastronomically for survivors, it was painful emotionally. Holidays mean family, and most survivors, generally adolescents and twenty- and thirtysomethings who could withstand the tortures that felled the very young and the very old, were on their own.
The adolescent Edith Cohen was undaunted by the looming fast, having become an old hand at living with a growling stomach. But she was in turmoil because her parents and four siblings had been murdered in the camps, and she had no one to give her the traditional holiday blessing.

If you look in the Yom Kippur mahzor you notice that in addition to the usual Friday night blessing by parents of children, there is an additional blessing for this special night. Orphaned Edith Cohen had no one to bless her in the Feldafing DP camp in 1945. She knocked on the door of Rabbi Yekutiel Halberstam, the Sanz-Klausenberg Rebbe, who had thrown himself into rehabilitation of survivors in the DP camps, having no time to mourn his own loss of wife and eleven children. Edith pleaded to the Rebbe:

“My parents died in the camps. I have no one to bless me.” He graciously complied, put a handkerchief over her hair, placed his hands on her head and blessed her.

The details of that Yom Kippur in the DP camp I describe in my Post article. What I found when researching it was that ……Gen. Eisenhower visited the camp that same Yom Kippur. You can read his reports,letters and photos about his inspections of the concentration camps when he liberated them (see Eisenhower in the center) and on the DP camps in his website archives.

You can see the photos of Generals Eisenhower and Patton visiting the DP camp at Feldafind n September 17, 1945, Yom Kippur, on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website

On Yom Kippur 1945 Eisenhower also knocked at the Klausenberger’s door but…..

… the Rebbe would not speak with him until he had finished his prayers. Afterwards the Rebbe explained: ‘I was praying before the General of Generals, the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He. The earthly general had to wait.’

What struck me most in researching the DP camps was the effort that the Klausenberger Rebbe expended on rehabilitating the girls, something highly unusual for a chassidic rebbe. This was pointed out by one of Israel’s leading Holocaust researchers, Esther Farbstein (academician, and wife of Hevron’s Rosh Yeshiva) who wrote in her book B’Seter Raam, (soon to be published in English as Hidden in Thunder: Perspectives on Faith and Leadership During the Holocaust)

“In particular, he assumed responsibility for finding them suitable husbands. His attitude toward them was so fatherly and personal that some people regarded his educational work with the girls as the pinnacle of his activity.”

Next fall I will write about the unsual sermon the Klausenberger gave that Yom Kippur in the DP camp, as witnessed and retold by Meyer Birnbaum in his Artscroll/Mesorah memoir (written together with CC regular Yonatan Rosenblum)

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via

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4 Responses

  1. Saul Mashbaum says:

    Rav Asher Z. Weiss, a prominent disciple of the Sanz-Klausenberg Rebbe and now one of the leading rabbonim in Yerushalayim, also has spoken of the great effort the Rebbe devoted to the encouragement of the heartbroken and dispirited girls and young women in the DP camps, and his efforts to increase their halachic observance. Among elsewhere, I believe he spoke on this subject at an Agudah National convention years ago; his description of the Rebbe’s activities in this area brought some of his audience to tears.

    Saul Mashbaum

  2. Sammy Finkelman says:

    >> What struck me most in researching the DP camps was the effort that the Klausenberger Rebbe expended on rehabilitating the girls, something usual for a chassidic rebbe.


    Q. Should the word there be unusual? Something unusual? Also anyway, can somebody elaborate?

  3. Phil Silverman says:

    For those who have the book “Along the Maggid’s Journey,” by Pesach Krohn, see page 92 for two touching D.P. camp stories of the Klausenberger Rebbe.

  4. L.Oberstein says:

    Those who are surprized that a true tzadik would care about females are victims of false stereotyping . I find the behavior of , for example, Gerrer Chasidim regarding separation of genders, which incluldes no pictures of women , no matter how modestly they are dressed and hardly any mention of female names in Hamodia, unless they are dead to be strange. However, this has nothing to do with not caring about women, it is a matter of tzniyus. There are wonderful Gerrer Bais Yaakovs,etc. It is a cultural difference from Western society and not my way, but I respect their integrity.

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