Rabbi David Skulski’s mission to collect every scrap of Holocaust testimony
Following the advice of the Imrei Emes of Gur, Rabbi David Skulski’s father got his family out of prewar Poland and into Eretz Yisrael just in the nick of time. Growing up in Jerusalem, David Skulski’s heart and mind remained connected to the Jews of Europe who weren’t as fortunate as his family was. For the past half-century, Rabbi Skulski has dedicated his life to perpetuating the memories of the religious Holocaust victims and survivors, and in the process, has amassed a treasure trove of documentation showing how Jews gave their lives al kiddush Hashem as spiritual lions and not as lambs led to the slaughter
Only on rare occasions would Rabbi David Skulski’s uncle agree to recount his personal saga of how he survived the unspeakable horrors of Auschwitz. The deprivation. The starvation. The cruelty. The fear of imminent death. The incomparable grief of seeing other Jews suffer physically and spiritually.
So on one such occasion, when his uncle opened up, young David listened intently for nearly three hours.
“Afterward, my uncle asked me, ‘David, do you believe the stories I just told you?’ ” Rabbi Skulski recalls.
“I replied, ‘What’s the question? Of course I believe you.’ ”
“Well, I myself don’t believe it’s possible that I experienced all this and still remained a human being,” his uncle said.
This riveting conversation — etched into Rabbi Skulski’s memory to this day — went one step further.
“David,” his uncle asked, “who was the biggest enemy of the Jews in the Holocaust?”
David said Hitler. His uncle said no. David guessed again.
“The commandant of Auschwitz?”
“No,” replied his uncle. “My biggest enemy was seeing the bottom of the food pot when it was empty.”
The story has a postscript that Rabbi Skulski takes to heart every day when he wakes up. “David, when I get up every morning and say Modeh Ani, I say it with a difference. In Auschwitz, I was as good as dead. I would wake up thinking, ‘How could I possibly survive another day?’ Just being able to say Modeh Ani was like receiving a new gift. David, remember — every day is a new gift.”
More than 60 years have passed since David Skulski heard this story, which influenced the course of his life forever.
Giving up an apprenticeship in his father-in-law’s diamond polishing business (“It didn’t speak to me,” Rabbi Skulski said), he instead grasped the opportunity to perpetuate the memories of religious Holocaust victims by telling their often untold and underestimated stories.
After almost 50 years of research — 40 of them as director of the Ganzach Kiddush Hashem in Bnei Brak — Rabbi Skulski and a team of dedicated archivists have documented the collective memories of thousands of Jews whose neshamos shined until their final breath with the luster of a mesirus nefesh that belied the condition of their emaciated frames.
The Ganzach Kiddush Hashem documents their stories through artifacts, photos, personal testimonies on videos, and books, making them accessible to the general public and to researchers through publications, teacher training, study sessions, conferences, and social media. The existence of the Ganzach itself demonstrates powerfully that no matter how brutal our enemies, and no matter how close we get to the brink of outright annihilation, no human force is stronger than the gevurah of Jews who adhere to their emunah in Hashem despite all suffering.
“We should never feel that we were led like sheep to the slaughter,” Rabbi Skulski said. “Our hearts clung to the ways of Hashem. That’s what drives a Jew. The Nazis want to nullify the mitzvos, but the Jews davka want to keep them. That was our way to fight. Did we have ammunition? Yes. The fight was in our hearts.”
(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 772)