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Just One More Day  

Binyomin Zev absorbed from this the principle of “b’chol derachecha da’eihu” — whatever you do, always have in mind Hashem’s will 


ne of the very last known talmidim of the prewar Nitra yeshivah, Reb Binyomin Zev Lowy a”h, passed away this month in Mount Kisco, New York, aged 100.

Mr. Lowy learned in Nitra, Slovakia, from 1937 through Elul 1944, when it was the last surviving yeshivah on the European continent, then hid when it was forced to close. He begged to live just one more day, and Hashem granted him another 80 years. He remained a lifelong Nitra talmid, the ways of the yeshivah clinging to him as he sat in the beis medrash well into his nineties, writing notes on the Gemara like a diligent yeshivah bochur; as he led Shacharis last Rosh Hashanah with emotion and solemnity; and as he treated those around him with old-world courtesy.

His mother, Chana Engel, came from Tokay, near Kerestir, where her brother, Rav Shloime Engel, was a very prominent chassid of Reb Shaya’le zy”a, and she had helped Reb Shaya’le’s rebbetzin cook food for the crowds who gathered at their table. But not long after Reb Shaye’le was mesader kiddushin at her wedding to Dovid Lowy, the young couple moved to Pressburg (Bratislava), and the Oberland influence defined their son’s life.

First educated in Pressburg’s Talmud Torah, Binyomin Zev was only 14 when he was sent to learn in Nitra. The yeshivah was led by the venerated Rav Shmuel Dovid Ungar ztz”l of Nitra, a tzaddik whose emphasis on Torah and avodah molded hundreds of talmidim. The young bochur would stay in yeshivah most of bein hazmanim and go home for just a single Shabbos.

All his life, he recalled approaching the Nitra Rav (known to talmidim simply as “the Rebbe”) to ask permission to go home for a Shabbos.

The Rebbe gave him a hard time. “Now you want to go home? When it’s time to arrange chavrusas and get ready for the new zeman?!”

“But I’ve been here the entire bein hazmanim,” Binyomin Zev explained. “I haven’t seen my parents for a long time.”

The Rebbe, unimpressed, said no. The young bochur resignedly left the room.

Then Rav Ungar called him back.

“Why didn’t you say that you want to fulfill the mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim? You should have thought of the mitzvah.”

He tried it. “Rebbe, can I go home to my parents to be mekayeim the mitzvah of kibbud av va’eim?”

Avadeh, you should go,” said his rebbe.

Binyomin Zev absorbed from this the principle of “b’chol derachecha da’eihu” — whatever you do, always have in mind Hashem’s will — which he carried his entire life.


nother life lesson came on Rosh Chodesh Av 1944. The day before, German officers tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Although they failed, the fake news of Hitler’s death briefly circulated.

Bochurim in the Nitra yeshiva were in the middle of reciting Hallel when they heard excited shouts from outside. “Hitler is dead! The war will end!”

The bochurim near the window passed the good news around the beis medrash.

After davening, the Rebbe inquired about the noise in the middle of Hallel, and was told the news. His reaction was far from delighted.

“I knew whoever lived out this milchamah would need big zechusim. Now that we’re zocheh, the first thing is to thank. Yet you receive such news and speak in the middle of davening, in the beis medrash?! After such a neis, is this our response?”

The Rebbe asked which bochurim had spoken, and forbade them from attending his shiur.

Binyomin Zev Lowy was among the group. They were distraught and confused. What should they do? Leave the yeshivah? But where else was there to go?

A gabbai advised them to go together to the Rebbe, express their regret, and take upon themselves never to speak during davening. He forgave them.

Mr. Lowy never again spoke during davening. At family bar mitzvahs, he would tell this story and implore his doros to do the same — not to speak in Yiddish, not in Lashon Hakodesh, not to lift up tefillin and speak, but simply not to speak.


ven as Nazis hunted down Yidden across Europe, the Nitra yeshivah continued with regular sedorim and weekly farhers. Local police had been bribed to inform them of German raids, and every bochur had a pre-arranged hiding place.

Until 20 Elul 1944, when a Slovakian partisan revolt caused a regime clampdown, and the yeshivah was locked. Every Jew in Nitra now had to run for his life.

Mr. Lowy hid with 15 other bochurim in the cramped attic of the beis medrash. The Germans were using the beis medrash below. It bothered him that there was only one exit; if they were discovered, they would be trapped. On Erev Yom Kippur, he took out a pocket knife and managed to widen a hole above his head in the roof.

On the night of Kol Nidrei, the Nazis discovered the little attic and dragged the bochurim out. Binyomin Zev managed to swing himself out over the roof, climb down, and escape. He ran to a wooded area and hid among the trees overnight.

His prayer that night, he later said, was to live another day, to have the special opportunity Yom Kippur offers, before he was caught. “If I am going to be shot, please let me live until Yom Kippur is over, so I can achieve kapparas avonos first.”

Morning dawned, making his hiding place too obvious. Fortunately, Binyomin Zev knew where his close friend, Reb Amrom Weissmandl, had gone. Almost knew. He knew the name of the gentile and the street, but not the house number. With no choice, he knocked on the first door and asked for the gentile by name. It was the right address.

Initially, the gentile denied he was harboring anyone, but when Amrom heard his friend and joined him in pleading, he relented. Under a false floorboard, the two friends lived and learned from Yom Kippur until Asarah B’Teves.

Amrom Weissmandl Hy”d, a brother of Reb Michoel Ber, was a newly married yungerman whose wife was hidden in another bunker. He kept a diary because “when we tell our children and grandchildren about this time, they will think we are exaggerating.” In it he recorded learning Mishnayos Moed each day, covering 18 new perakim daily and reviewing 18 previous ones. They also played chess with the irreligious Jew who shared their hiding place, to help him pass the lonely hours.

Meanwhile, the Yidden of Nitra, men, women, and children, had been deported to Auschwitz. Some fled underground, the Nitra Rav hiding in the forest with family members, several bochurim and families in bunkers and hideouts. Rav Michoel Ber Weissmandl, the Nitra Rav’s son-in-law, a rescue activist who had delayed the deportation of Slovakian Jewry for two years and had jumped off a train bound for Auschwitz, had prepared a channel of communication in advance.

He sent messengers to bring money, food, a handwritten Jewish calendar, and messages to the various hideouts. Reb Amrom and Binyomin Zev received a small Gemara, masechtos Zevachim and Menachos, which they began learning. Binyomin Zev recalled later that the joyful intensity of learning Gemara helped them forget there was a bitter war going on.

The final entry in Amrom Weissmandl’s journal was written on Asarah B’Teves. Soon afterward, the hiding place was discovered, and the three Yidden were dragged to the train station to be transferred to Auschwitz. As they were waiting, they realized that even with two SS men guarding them, there might still be a chance to escape if they ran in three different directions. Together, they decided to count to three, then run. Amrom was to run to the right, Binyomin Zev to the left.

On the count of three, however, Amrom froze and didn’t move. They had been wrong about the guard giving chase — he simply took out his gun and fired at the fleeing Jew. Binyomin Zev, hit in the stomach, fell to the platform.


urprisingly, an ambulance was called, and he was transported to the local hospital, under guard. A Slovakian doctor looked at the wound.

“You cannot survive this bullet. You have up to three hours, then you’ll be gone. If there were a rabbi, I would call him in to perform the last rites, but as there is no rabbi left in the village, I will call the priest.”

Once he had asked the priest to abandon trying to convert him to the Catholic religion, Binyomin Zev found himself alone. He later recalled, “I said to the Eibeshter, ‘I have no one left — no parents, no rebbes, no chaveirim, only You. I place myself in Your hands and I accept whatever You want to do with me, gladly.’ Once I accepted it, I felt so calm. Those three hours were the best in my entire life. I’ve never had such peace since then.”

Later, the doctor reappeared. Since the patient was still alive, he ordered him to be taken to the operating theater. He found that the bullet had just missed essential organs, and removed it. Binyomin Zev slowly recovered.

Recovery, though, would mean being handed over to the SS. Binyomin Zev sent a message through a decent gentile nurse to Reb Michoel Ber, while pretending he still could not move from his bed. A disguised Nitra bochur found him at the hospital and placed a bag under his bed containing clothing and a note with instructions. Binyomin Zev met him outside on the appointed night, and the bochur helped him escape to another bunker.

There he remained, with ten other Nitra talmidim, until the second night of Pesach, when the Russians liberated Nitra.

After Pesach, the Nitra Rav’s son returned from the forest, bringing the tragic news that the Rav had passed away just five weeks before the liberation. Although they had made a temporary grave in the woods, Binyomin Zev was among the talmidim who went two months later to transfer the Rav to a proper kever in the beis hachayim in Pistcany. They slid a piece of plywood underneath, to carry the earth along with the meis, and his place was at the Rav’s left leg. At one point, the earth moved. After three months, he later testified, the meis was as fresh and whole as if the tzaddik had passed away that day.


he surviving talmidim, who went back to learn in Nitra, were later brought to America by Reb Michoel Ber. Although he had a surviving older brother who was going to Eretz Yisrael, Binyomin Zev wanted to go with the yeshivah. Working in Williamsburg, he served as driver for Rav Michoel Ber, who was arranging an out-of-town location for the yeshivah, somewhere the teenaged orphans would not be exposed to the temptations of the city. Their first location was Somerville, New Jersey.

In 1948, he married, at the Nitra yeshivah in Somerville. His wife, born and raised in Nitra, had survived Auschwitz and the death march and returned to the town, together with the Nitra Rav’s two surviving daughters (later the Klausenburger Rebbetzin and Rebbetzin Fisher). These orphaned girls traveled with the yeshivah to America.

At his son’s wedding, Mr. Lowy recalled the poverty that the bochurim were then experiencing. “I had to borrow a hat from a friend. I could wear it only for the chuppah, because another chassan, in Williamsburg, needed it later on…”

When Somerville didn’t work out, Binyomin Zev drove Reb Michoel Ber around to look for another location. They found a campus in Mount Kisco, Westchester County, for sale. On one side was a large lake, on the other a highway. The place was truly isolated.

“This is the place I want,” said Rav Michoel Ber.

The Lowys settled in Williamsburg, where Binyomin Zev struggled to support his family, working at menial jobs until he found a steady income in electronics repairs. The yeshivah ethos stayed with him in twice-daily learning sessions.

In 1958, Reb Michoel Ber Weissmandl passed away. But his dream lived on. The yeshivah was thriving, but he had envisioned a settlement around it; children growing up in purity, sheltered, outside the city.

In the summer of 1963, the Lowys joined eight families going to Mount Kisco on a trial basis. There were no houses — they spent the summer in an old building. At the end of the summer, the Lowys had to decide if they were going back to the city, where their children were enrolled in schools.

Their son Chaim Shea recalls: “The entire summer, my parents deliberated. Should they stay here in the Nitra settlement, to fulfil Reb Michoel Ber’s dream? Or live in Williamsburg for our chinuch, our cheder and girls’ schools? On the last Shabbos, still undecided, my father sat down to learn with me. He knew that only through learning Gemara with Tosafos would his mind be at its clearest.

“Eventually, he said, ‘If we go back to Williamsburg to put our children into cheder, we’re leaving Reb Michoel Ber’s yesomim here without a cheder. After all he did for us, it can’t be. We will uproot our children, come to Mount Kisco, and start a Talmud Torah. Whatever will be with Reb Michoel Ber’s children will be with ours.’ ”


he first years in Mount Kisco were very difficult. Reb Binyomin Zev helped opened a cheder, hired rebbeim, and farhered the children. Meanwhile, he commuted an hour each way to his Williamsburg electronics job.

“At that time, my father would go to sleep straight after the Friday night seudah in the winter,” says his son. “He would get up at 11 p.m. and learn through the night, going to rest one hour before Shacharis.”

The commute was taking a heavy toll on his morning and evening learning time, so Mr. Lowy sought employment in Westchester County. Several employers fired him over the early winter Friday afternoons, until he found a job in nearby White Plains.

In Mount Kisco, he led Shacharis davening on Rosh Hashanah until his last year. The tefillos were slow and melodious, and the community went silent and waited for him to break down with emotion, unable to continue every year at the end of Modim: “ki mei’olam kivinu Lach [because forever have we hoped to You],” and in yaaleh v’yavo.

When he turned 96, brain seizure medication kept Reb Binyomin Zev from focusing on his learning, his whole day’s occupation since retirement. No longer could he sit for hours with a chavrusa, reaching clarity in difficult Tosafos. Instead, easier topics such as Mishnayos and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch filled his schedule.

It would have been easy to become depressed at this mental frailty, but he fought. Any conversation that could lead to sadness or pain or depression was pushed away. He wrote himself notes saying “simchah” and taped them to his sleeve, asked his children to sing niggunim, and refused to think of his problems.

“We have to carry on b’simchah and never let go. Never lose your simchah.”

In an utterly changed world, b’chol deracheha da’eihu had never left him.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1006)

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