| Magazine Feature |

Second Chance for Life

When Rav Yaakov Shlomo Friedman wound up in a DP camp faced with halachic scenarios more complex than he could ever imagine, he organized a beis din and helped survivors reestablish a sense of normalcy


Photos: Family archives


hen World War II was over, Rav Yaakov Shlomo HaKohein Friedman stood at a complicated, unwitting crossroads: For six years, he’d survived a Siberian exile, after which he was drafted to work for the Soviet NKVD (he refused to cooperate with them), yet when he finally made his way to a DP camp in West Berlin, he was thrust into arbitrating complicated post-war halachic situations he’d never dreamed of. He was a talmid chacham and rav of stature before the war, but he hadn’t had access to any seforim in years — how could he now take responsibility for gittin, agunos, and the like?

Rav Friedman was born in 1890 in Dinov, a small town in Galicia, Poland. By the 1920s he was a sought-after halachic arbiter, but even as a young child, he channeled most of his energy to collecting tzedakah for widows and orphans. As he grew older, he always looked for chesed opportunities, from giving firewood to poor people in his in-laws’ shtetl, Rockava, to writing letters home for refugees in Hungary during World War I, while he himself was a refugee as well.

In 1940, deported to Siberia with his wife and five of his children — two of them were later killed at the hands of the Nazis — he found ingenious ways to daven, learn, and keep Shabbos and Yom Tov even in that frigid exile. In 1946, the family managed to escape from Communist Russia and eventually crossed over to West Berlin, where the Americans were running a DP camp called Shlachtensee — a temporary home to over 3,000 Jewish refugees. After the ravages of war, the camp was a welcome haven: Each family received clothing and three kosher meals a day, and and was eligible for an apartment, a stipend, and raw food to prepare in their own kitchen. With great reluctance yet realizing the necessity of proper rabbinic leadership in overwhelming post-war confusion, Rav Friedman, with several other rabbanim, took the reins of leadership, remaining in Shlachtensee for about a year until the camp was evacuated because of the Berlin Blockade. He then moved to Feldafing, a DP camp near Munich, where he established a cheder. Afterward he moved to Munich itself where he became the city’s rav; eventually, he became the rav of the main shul of Berlin as well. In 1956, he finally fulfilled a dream and moved to Eretz Yisrael where he led a shul in Petach Tikvah.

Rav Friedman left a special legacy — detailed memoirs about his life from when he was a young child all the way through the early 1970s. The memoir stops abruptly, and the family isn’t sure if the pages were lost or if he never got to finish what he started. Either way, the memoir ends the way it begins — with Rav Friedman raising money for a poor widow. Because through all his trials and adventures, doing chesed was the most important definition of his life.

The following are perhaps the most fascinating parts of his memoir, from the years 1946–1954, during his time in Shlachtensee, Berlin, and Munich. With no other choice, Rav Friedman found himself a tireless agent for his people who’d survived against all odds.


Busy Beis Din

“Rabbi, do you check the brides regarding the question of agunah before marrying them?” 


he first evening in Schlachtensee, when I went to daven Maariv, I saw a chuppah taking place with a rabbi officiating. Wonderful, I thought, someone is upholding Yiddishkeit. The next evening when I went to Maariv, there was another wedding — these people were getting married for a second time after having lost their spouses during the war. Out of curiosity, I went to the rabbi the next day and asked him, “Kevod Harav, do you check the brides regarding the question of agunah before marrying them?”

“Agunah? What agunah?” he replied. “Today there is no Yovel and there is no agunah.”

I was shocked. He could be conducting marriages for women who were halachically married to their first husbands. I went to the director of the camp, Lieutenant Harold Fishbein, and told him that I thought the rabbi of the lager wasn’t qualified. He agreed with me. “I know,” he said, “I’ve been wanting to replace him for quite some time now. All he does all day is play cards, but I had no one to replace him. Now I want you to take over.”

I protested that I wasn’t up to the job. It had been more than six years since I’d seen a full Shas and a Shulchan Aruch. During the nearly seven years since the war started, six years of which were in the galus of Russia, I had forgotten the halachos that a moreh hora’ah needs to know. It would take me time to refresh, and besides, I’d never been a rav of such a large community. Lieutenant Fishbein wouldn’t take no for an answer, though. “Find some people to help you,” he said. “Surely there are some among the refugees here in Schlachtensee who are more qualified than this current rabbi.”

And so I organized a beis din of talmidei chachamim with prewar semichah. They were Rav Yitzchak Glickman [who went on to Bergen-Belsen where, together with other rabbanim, he freed 61 agunos before making aliyah in 1948 and becoming a rav in Holon—Ed.], Rav Yitzchak (Itchle) Granick, Rav Moshe Leifer, and Rav Boruch Goldstein. Later, after some of the rabbanim left for Eretz Yisrael or America, I added Rav Moshe Ehrlich and Rav Chaim Fink. I introduced them to Lietenant Fishbein and his governing committee. The rabbanim didn’t want to establish the beis din without me, although I really didn’t feel qualified. But they promised me that for each case we would review the applicable halachos together.

It turned out that the beis din was a busy venture.

Schlachtensee was eventually split into two camps, and so the beis din split into two as well — Schlachtensee and Tempelhof. Yet every Thursday we would get together to review the cases and issue our rulings as a single panel. I would be up entire nights reviewing the halachos relevant to the cases that came before us, and even though I was the weakest member of our group, my fellow dayanim elected me to be the rosh beis din. When it came to running the court, I actually had quite a bit of practical experience, as I’d served as secretary for Rav Meir Shapiro, the Lubliner Rav, while he was rav of Sanok. Also, I had been a borer for cases in Krasne in front of Rav Shmuel Fierer. I was assisted by a very capable secretary, Reb Asher Hechtkopf from Zemosh, and an excellent sofer, Reb Yehoshua Teicher from near Belz, who was well-versed in the laws of gittin.


Never too late

“We didn’t give him a bris — we can’t even let him dress like a boy!”



e heard about a family from Tomishov whose four-year-old boy was going around dressed as a girl. We thought perhaps the boy didn’t have a bris milah and this was the parents’ way of keeping us from interfering. We sent a messenger to talk to the parents, but the mother didn’t let him in. We started asking around to get some more information on the father. We learned that he was a goldsmith and that he had partnered with a German gold dealer, so finances were not an issue. We also learned that he davened daily in a certain shul in Berlin, and on Shabbos he davened with us in Schlachtensee. He seemed like a fine Yid, so one evening I went to the parents and confronted them myself. “Why are you doing this?” I asked them. “Why are you dressing your boy like a girl?”

The couple became very embarrassed. They told me when they had met in Russia, she was a widow whose first husband had died early in the war. They decided to marry, but as there wasn’t a qualified rav who could officiate at a halachic wedding with chuppah and kiddushin, they decided to have a civil marriage at the town hall, and when they’d find a beis din or rav they would marry according to halachah. But once they had a baby, it became too humiliating to go to a rav, so they just left things as they were.

“We didn’t give him a bris or a pidyon haben,” they said. “We can’t even let him dress like a boy! Out of shame, we decided that we wouldn’t even acknowledge that he’s our child.”

I calmed the parents down and reassured them that the child was kosher — still, it was necessary to correct the situation immediately. I searched throughout Germany and found people in Stetten who were able to confirm her first husband’s death, giving a sworn statement to the local rav in Stetten, Rav Rubinstein. Motazei Shabbos we married them under a chuppah, and Sunday morning after davening, we made the bris. Sunday evening, we had the pidyon haben, and then we made a gala seudah. It was really unforgettable, both for them and for me.


Guided to safety

“Not a single person stopped to save the old man”


I davened every morning in the Joachimstaler Strasse Synagogue in Berlin. One morning I was going to shul, when I noticed an old man walking in the busy street, right in the middle of the oncoming traffic. None of the people in their morning rush were bothering to stop him, and it was only a matter of time before he would become a traffic statistic. Still holding my tallis and tefillin, I ran into the street, grabbed the old man, and walked him to the safety of the sidewalk. At that moment, the old man’s son came running up to us. He had been looking for his father, and had seen me walking his father to safety. He thanked me profusely.

The next morning this story appeared in the newspaper: “The Berlin mayor’s father, who suffers from dementia, was found wandering in the middle of traffic on Joachimstaler Strasse. Not a single person had the compassion to stop what he was doing and rescue an old man, except for the Rabbiner Y.S. Friedman, who was on his way to the synagogue….”

From that day on if I needed anything from a city official or a municipal office, I had an open door. I believe this incident was Heaven-sent in order that I’d be able to help people.


If the shoe fits

“We need to stop him from leaving”


One day I received an urgent call from our sister beis din: “There is a Yid in Berlin who intends to leave tomorrow for Australia. He needs to give his sister-in-law chalitzah (to free her to marry after her husband, his brother, died childless), but his wife won’t let him. We need to stop him from leaving.”

I caught a taxi, and within an hour, I was at the Tempelhof Beis Din. Waiting there was a 22-year-old woman with her elderly mother. The young woman’s brother was also there, angry and frustrated, carrying on and shouting.

I summoned the brother-in-law, the brother of the deceased, to the beis din, but as I expected, he refused to come. He was just passing through from Russia, and he assumed the local beis din didn’t have any jurisdiction over him.

I didn’t hesitate to pull out all the stops, though. General Clay’s adjutant knew me well from when I’d given a Yizkor derashah and held a Pesach Seder for his Jewish troops. I took a taxi to the adjutant’s office and asked that he block the exit permit for Mr. Moshe Gross and his family. The adjutant listened while I explained the halachos involved, and when I finished, he picked up the telephone and arranged for the pass to be blocked.

Three days later, an angry Mr. Gross came to my office in Schlachtensee. “What right do you have to keep me here? You must allow me to continue on my travels!”

Now that I had him in my office, I wasn’t going to let him get away.

“Why won’t you give your sister-in-law chalitzah? In fact,” I continued, “you should thank me for not allowing you to leave Berlin. Had you left without giving chalitzah, you would have antagonized the neshamah of your deceased brother. Are you prepared to endure such pain your entire life? Now, I want you to sign a commitment that you will give your sister-in-law chalitzah.”

He signed.

As soon as I had his signature, I went to Tempelhof to confer with the dayanim there on how to proceed. One of the essential items in a chalitzah is the special shoe. Before the war, every large community had at least one chalitzah shoe, and it was accepted practice to lend it out to any neighboring community that needed it. When I arrived at Tempelhof, I learned that the special chalitzah shoe that belonged to the Great Synagogue of Berlin had been destroyed during the war. This shoe has unique specifications, and couldn’t be made quickly or by just anybody, especially not in Europe right after the war.

I then called the Frankfurt Yiddish Kehillah and asked if they had a chalitzah shoe. They said their shoe was also destroyed during the war, but in Forchheim, just outside of Frankfurt, there was a rabbi who had such a shoe. I called the rav and asked him if he could lend it to us, but he refused to let it out of his possession, let alone send it to Berlin. He suggested we come to him in Frankfurt, and he would perform the chalitzah there. I tried to explain to the rabbi that if the brother left West Berlin, he would run away and leave the country before giving chalitzah. Still, the rav wouldn’t budge.

There was an American chaplain in Schlachtensee — Rabbi Mayer Abramowitz — and I asked him if  he would fly to Forchheim and do whatever it took to return with the shoe. Within the hour, our chaplain was on the plane to Frankfurt for the two-hour flight. By nine that evening, Lieutenant Abramowitz was back in Berlin with the shoe. But just as he returned, we received a telegraph from the rabbi in Forchheim. He forbade us to use the shoe. He said we’d stolen it.

Lieutenant Abramowitz explained what happened: As soon as he arrived in Frankfurt, he contacted an army buddy who was stationed there. The friend picked him up from the airport in a military jeep, and they drove over to the rabbi’s house. No matter how Rabbi Abramowitz tried to persuade the rabbi to lend us the shoe, he steadfastly refused. Lieutenant Abramowitz and his buddy left, but when the rabbi went to daven Minchah, they went back to the house and asked the rebbetzin to allow them to sketch the shoe so that they could have it reproduced — Lieutenant Abramowitz had a smile that could charm anyone. The rebbetzin gave him the shoe to sketch and then left him to go into the kitchen. As soon as he was alone, Rabbi Abramowitz grabbed the shoe and jumped into the jeep with his buddy, who drove him to the airport. Luckily, there was a plane about to take off for Berlin. As an American officer, he was able to board the plane at the last moment. When the rabbi came home after Maariv and heard what happened, he sent off the telegraph. Needless to say, I didn’t accept his declaration not to use the shoe — after all, a chalitzah shoe is created as a communal service.

The next day I went to Tempelhof. It was the first time any of us had had to do a chalitzah, so none of us wanted to be the leading rav in the proceedings. We ended up drawing lots, and I was chosen to head the ceremony. I spent the next 24 hours reviewing the halachos.

When the chalitzah was completed, the brother-in-law — who admitted that he was determined not to give his sister-in-law chalitzah — now said he felt as if a stone had been lifted from his heart. Later the young widow with her mother and brother came to thank me. The young woman said she couldn’t have survived being an agunah at age 22.

In 1957, I was already living in Eretz Yisrael, and I was the Kohein at a pidyon haben. There was a commotion in the ladies’ section that seemed aimed at me, so I went to investigate. As I entered the ezras nashim, a woman cried out, “Yossel! I can swear that’s the rav who saved me!” I asked her what she was talking about. She said that ten years before, she needed a chalitzah in Berlin. Ah yes, I remembered.


Becoming part of us

“You’ll see, as soon as he sees the knife, he’ll refuse the bris”


Otto Ostrovetski was a 56-year-old professor of philosophy who had written a paper discrediting Christianity, which landed him a 12-month prison sentence. After that ordeal, he came to the beis din to be megayer. The Jewish Gemeinde of Berlin was against the conversion, though — they didn’t want to antagonize the Christian community. The beis din in Jerusalem, however, instructed us to accede to the professor’s request for geirus. They had received his letter of intent to convert, which showed that he was motivated by a deep love and respect for the Jewish religion.

The professor was not a young man and he wasn’t in the best of health, and so our mohel didn’t want to take the responsibility to do the bris milah. Therefore, we summoned the mohel from Berlin’s Jewish community, who happened to be a doctor who was on the staff of the Jewish Hospital. The doctor couldn’t refuse me, but he didn’t believe the professor would go through with the bris.

“You’ll see, Herr Rabbiner, as soon as he sees the knife, he’ll refuse to continue.”

I told him, “We must work according to halachah, and if it doesn’t work out, we still know we’ve done our duty.” It seemed to me that the doctor also didn’t want to antagonize the Christian community.

We went to the Jewish Hospital with ten men for a minyan. The doctor, who obviously wanted to scare the professor from going through with the bris, whispered to the attending nurses loud enough so the professor would overhear: “If you see that the patient is about to die while I’m performing the bris, you must tell me immediately!”

As soon as the professor heard this, he called me over, and in front all the nurses and the doctor, asked, “Herr Rabbiner, what is the halachah if I die during the bris? Do I die a Christian or a Jew?”

I replied emphatically, “You are a Jew as soon as the bris begins, and your neshamah goes to Heaven as a full-fledged Jew.”

As soon as he heard that, he cried out, “Doctor! Let’s get on with the bris!”

Ostrovetski’s insistence so moved the doctor that he proceeded without further hesitation.

Ostrovetski stayed in the hospital for two weeks recuperating. During that time he peppered me with all sorts of halachic questions. After his release, we took him to the mikveh and arranged for a teacher so that he could learn to read from the siddur; in a short time he was able to daven on his own. He married a Jewish woman and bought everything new for his kitchen — he didn’t want to kasher anything. And Shabbos was his special day of joy.

His German colleagues ostracized him, so Ostrovetski moved to America. For many years after, he sent me an annual shanah tovah card.


Forest fire

“I know an officer who can get the boy out”


One day as I was sitting in the offices of the rabbinate in Schlachtensee, a yeshivah bochur by the name of Berel Feldman entered. He had come with a letter from Rav Hillel Lichtenstein, the Krasner Rav, who wrote that an orphaned Jewish child, son of a distinguished family, was now living among gentiles and he wanted me to bring the boy back to Yiddishkeit.

In the letter he wrote, “My friend was fleeing Hungary, going through the Sudetenland toward Germany. Somehow he was separated from his 15-year-old son, Binyamin. My friend, who died in the war, has come to me in a dream twice, asking for my help. In the dream he says to me, ‘Know that my child is there in the Sudetenland, living in the forest with the warden and his family, completely cut off from Yiddishkeit. If he’s not rescued soon, he’ll become a goy, just like them, and remain there, G-d forbid, forever. I beseech you, do all that you can and rescue him!’ ”

Berel told me that the Krasner Rav instructed him not to come back without Binyamin. As for me, the letter set my hair on end, and I went to work immediately.

First, I needed to find where the Sudetenland bordered with Germany. Then I had to ascertain if there was a large forest in that region that might fit the description in the dream. Indeed, there was such a place, Chemnitz, near Dresden. The area was in East Germany, so I went into East Berlin to find a way to get there. The gabbai of the East Berlin Gemeinde checked around for me, reporting back that the area was highly restricted to outside travelers. The Russians were building an atomic facility there and the only ones who could enter the area were high-ranking Russian officers. But the gabbai had an idea — he knew a major in the Russian army, a frum Jew who was said to be a descendant of Reb Zusha of Anipoli, and he would set up a meeting. The major was a fine person and promised to help. First he wanted to go to Chemnitz and see if such a boy really existed — after all, our information came from a dream. I gave the officer a large sum of money to facilitate his investigations, and told him not spare any expense in his efforts.

I was shocked when the major returned to report that he had found the boy in the forest, living with the warden and his family, exactly as indicated in the dream!

“How do you know it’s him?” I asked the Jewish officer.

“The warden and his entire family are blond. Yet there is one boy there, a 16 or 17 year old, who has dark curly hair.” The major went on: “I myself can’t take the boy out. If I’m caught, I’ll be punished. But I know an officer who can get the boy out without getting caught, someone who’ll do it for the right price.”

The deal was arranged. We left 400 rubles in gold with the gabbai of the East Berlin Gemeinde, that would be released to this officer once the boy was safely delivered to me in West Berlin. Now, at the time, my son-in-law, Yankel Kurzer, had a cigarette business in Dresden, a town not far from Chemnitz. I asked him if he could go to Chemnitz and verify if the place and the boy really existed. When he reported back that the boy was indeed there, I asked him to coordinate the final details of the boy’s rescue with the two Russian officers. Reb Yankel then sent a telegram to the boy, telling him to be at a specific post office at a specific time, to receive a telephone call.

At the appointed time, Reb Yankel made the call. “Are you Binyamin Stern?” he asked.

“Yes,” the boy answered.

“Do you know that you are Jewish?”


“Do you want to come back?”


Reb Yankel told Binyamin when to be ready and where to wait. “A car will stop and a door will open. Then jump in,” Yankel instructed.

At the prearranged time, the car arrived for the rendezvous. The rear door opened, and a teenage boy jumped in. Reb Yankel was in the back seat. He asked in Yiddish, “Are you Binyamin?”

The boy replied in German, “Yes. Where are you taking me?”

Reb Yankel said, “You are going to West Berlin.”

“Are you coming with me?” asked the boy.

“No. I am getting out in Dresden,” said Reb Yankel. “You’ll stay in this car and follow the driver’s instructions. Near Berlin, another man will take over. You must stay with him until he delivers you to my father-in-law in West Berlin.”

It was late on Friday afternoon, close to candle lighting, when the Russian major, wearing civilian clothes, entered our house with Binyamin. Meanwhile, Berel, faithful to his instructions from the Krasner Rav, hadn’t left us the whole time. When Binyamin came in, Berel couldn’t contain his surprise. “Binyamin, is that you?” he exclaimed. “It’s almost Shabbos!”

My rebbetzin went over to the boy and put a yarmulke on his head. Then she put a cookie into his hand and said, “Nu, mach a bruchah.”

But after his initial desire to come back to the Jewish people, now Binyamin seemed confused. He demanded that the major take him back. “I want my family. I want to go back.” The major answered him, “You cannot go back! These are your people, not those Christians.”

Now we had our work cut out for us. Binyamin wouldn’t eat or speak and we had to keep constant watch over him. We were afraid he’d try to run away. Sunday morning Berel said to Binyamin, “Come put on tefillin. How long since you last put on tefillin?”

At first he refused, but a little while later, with tears in his eyes he said, “I am Binyamin. Can I have a pair of tefillin?”

He put on the tefillin, and davened very slowly. Finally, he told us his part of the story. His father had also come to him in a dream, which must have shaken him to his core. After davening he asked Berel, “Please bring me a Gemara. I want to see if I still remember how to learn.”

Binyamin later told us that of course he knew he wasn’t a child of the warden — he was 15 when his father died — but he decided his best option for physical and emotional survival was to live with them as if he were one of them. He was a lost, vulnerable teenager, without a soul in the world, and he didn’t know what else to do.

I arranged for Binyamin to receive a DP camp identity card so he could travel to West Germany to seek out his relatives. The Krasner Rav’s joy was indescribable. He wrote me a lengthy letter, saying how he’d been fasting after realizing his dream had emanated from ruach hakodesh and feeling unworthy of such a revelation, and assuring me that the neshamah of Binyamin’s father would always be my defender in the Heavenly Court.


Scroll of salvation

“I knew it was very holy, so I rolled it up and took it with me when I fled”


There was a knock on the door. Mr. Shapiro from Vilna was there, and he was agitated.

“Rebbi! You won’t believe what I’ve just seen — I can hardly believe it myself! I was in a shop looking to purchase some gold scrap, and the shop owner, a Christian from Krakow, let me into the back room where, behind glass doors, was a silver Christian statue together with a sefer Torah. The Torah seemed brand new — it didn’t even have the atzei chayim attached!”

I went to visit the shop owner, and asked him how he had come by the sefer Torah and why he kept it in the same case with the statue. He told me, “When the Nazis invaded Poland, many people joined the Fascist Party. I was constantly pressured to join them, but I’m a businessman and I didn’t want to play politics, so I refused. Then things became dangerous for me and I had to flee Krakow. During my escape, I ran into a Jewish home which looked like it had recently been abandoned in a rush. There on the table was this sefer Torah – it looked like the scribe had just been working on it when he upped and fled. I knew that it was very holy, so I rolled it up and took it with me. I also had the Christian statue with me. I ran into the fields and hid in a hole in the ground. Miraculously, my pursuers passed over my hiding place three times and didn’t find me. I had these two holy objects with me, and I don’t know which one of them saved me, so I’m keeping them both.”

I asked him if he would consider selling the sefer Torah, but he was adamant — he refused to hear a price. I tried to reason with him: “These objects are of two different religions. To keep them together is a disgrace to both religions!” But he wouldn’t budge.

I went to the police and reported that there was a Jewish holy artifact which was obtained through theft, and that I, as the rabbi for the surviving Polish Jews, had the right to claim it for the shul in Schlachtensee, Berlin, where the surviving Polish Jews gathered to daven.

The police went to investigate. The shopkeeper told them that he’d received the scroll as a gift, and since I had no proof that the Torah was stolen, the police had to agree with the shopkeeper. I went to a lawyer who told me the same thing. Without proof, I had no case.

I decided to enlist the help of a Polish priest in Berlin — he was known as a friend of the Jews — and the nice gift I gave him didn’t hurt either. The priest said, “Go to the shop and try to deal with the merchant. While you’re there, I’ll just happen to come in — and don’t worry, I’ll bring him around.”

I arrived at the shop and apologized for bothering him again, but told him I couldn’t rest, thinking about what according to my religion is a huge desecration. Just then, the priest came in, true to his word.

“Hello, John, and a good day to you.”

“Good morning, Your Eminence.”

“Tell me John, what is this Jewish rabbi doing here in your shop?”

“Well you see, Your Eminence, I have this Torah scroll that the Jew wants to buy from me, but I won’t sell it.”

“Why not?” asked the priest. And when John finished relating his story, the priest became outraged. “John! Who do you think really saved you? A Jewish G-d? Certainly not! I insist that you remove the Torah scroll immediately!”

The priest continued in a quieter voice, “However the rabbiner should pay you for the value of the object. In my opinion, we should bring in an appraiser to establish the value of the scroll.”

We all agreed to accept the valuation of an honest appraiser, and John removed the sefer Torah from the glass, so that I could get a better look. The individual panels of parchment were not yet sewn together, which was actually a bit of a relief, since it didn’t yet have the kedushah of a completed Torah scroll.

A few days later the appraiser came to inspect the sefer Torah. He was studying the calligraphic writing and considering the parchment. He said to me, “Herr Rabbiner, this scroll is a work of art. The parchment is handmade, and the writing is truly a work of art. I appraise the scroll to have a value of eight thousand dollars [equivalent to about $90,000 today].”

I was stunned. I could never raise that much money, so I told the appraiser, “Every Jewish schoolboy is taught this calligraphic writing. To us there’s nothing artistic about the writing. The price you’ve stated far exceeds the scroll’s value.”

To the shopkeeper I said, “I offered to buy the scroll for a fair price. If we cannot come to an agreement, then as a rabbi I have fulfilled my obligation. However, I warn you: One who’s desecrated this holy sefer Torah for so long and won’t sell it in good faith should be prepared to suffer bitter consequences!”

I then turned to leave, but something moved him. “Fine,” he said. “Let the rabbiner say how much he can give for the scroll.” We negotiated back and forth and came to an agreement of 10,000 German marks, a bit more than $2,000 [about $23,000 today]. I didn’t have that much money personally, but I was able to borrow it and gladly paid for the sefer Torah. I wrapped it in a silk cloth and took a taxi back to Schlachtensee. People from all over the camp came to see the scroll which had miraculously survived the war.

I gave the Torah to Reb Yaakov Yehoshua Lichter, the Tomishover sofer, who said it was written by two different top-quality sofrim. The first panel, though, was ruined and had to be replaced, so we ordered new parchment from the United States. I purchased atzei chayim and commissioned a velvet mantle. Now, in Berlin after the war there were a lot of silver artifacts, mostly items stolen from Jews. Many of these items were crushed and reduced to scrap for smelting, so if you wanted to find a bargain you could go to one of these scrap dealers and try to find something before it was destroyed. That’s how I found two crowns for my sefer Torah and a set of rimonim for the atzei chayim. These items were already crushed and ready for smelting, so I bought them as scrap and had them refurbished. So in addition to having saved the sefer Torah from its degrading imprisonment, I was also zocheh to save the tashmeshei kedushah.

I had two silver disks made for the tops of the atzei chayim. On one I engraved “Dovid ben Y.S. Friedman HaKohein; on the other I engraved Malla bas Y.S. Friedman.” These are the names of my two children who were killed by the Nazis.

By the summer of 1947 we were reading from the sefer Torah in the Schlachtensee shul — and from then on, it always came with us. May its merit always follow and protect me and my family.

From the memoirs of Harav Yaakov Shlomo HaKohein Friedman. Translated by Meilech Kurzer. Compiled and adapted by his great-granddaughter, Esther Shaindy Leshkowitz.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 779)

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