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The Walnut

Add good food, company, and a story retold for generations, and you have the scene set for the tale of Zeidy z”l and the walnut


n our family, every Yom Tov has a story. Some are short, some are long, some sound realistic, and some seem unreal, but all relate to an ancestral act that evokes pride in our heritage and personal yichus.

My family’s Succos story is magical. There’s something about the succah and its warmth, the stars on the wall and in the sky, the sechach and the neighbors’ songs, that bring a coziness to my heart.  Add good food, company, and a story retold for generations, and you have the scene set for the tale of Zeidy z”l and the walnut.

With the arrival of draft notices requiring all able-bodied men to report to a labor camp, the rumblings of the much-feared German army reached the city of Újpest, Hungary, ahead of the German appearance.

My grandfather, Ari Greenberg, an 18-year-old bochur who’d been shteiging in yeshivah until his mother’s fear summoned him home, was at a loss, feeling powerless in the face of his terror. The unknown loomed before him, as menacing as the soldiers goose-stepping into town.

Despite the danger, Zeidy and his friends tried to learn and daven, staying hidden in the shadows by day. They emerged from their hideouts at night, hoping to find a solution to their terrible predicament. But as the enlistment date drew near, they realized there was no place to hide, and they’d have to present themselves at the draft office on the given date.

Ari’s last goodbyes with his parents were something he never fully shared with us. It must’ve been too painful; the knowledge that he’d likely never see his family again combined with the fear of the situation they’d find themselves in if he would.

His mother, sobbing, had packed a knapsack of basic clothing, some leftover schmaltz from Pesach, shoelaces, needles, buttons, and thread from the once-flourishing family leather business. Ari added his tefillin and a sefer Noam Elimelech for security and headed to an uncertain future.

Life in the munkatábor (labor camp) in Kőszeg where he was stationed was brutal. The Germans worked the young men mercilessly, giving them a measly allotment of bread and horsemeat soup. Ari, young and energetic, traded the more nutritious but treif soup for bread, praying his strength would not wane.

Throughout the blazing summer, he dug out hiding spots from German planes, while back in his hometown, the Germans hoarded the masses into ghettos, selektzias happening with increasing frequency. Rumors reached Ari that his sisters had fled Újpest and were trying to blend into the metropolitan mass in Budapest, but his parents’ fate remained unknown.

Days stretched into bone-wearying nights. Zeidy and his friends counted the days to keep track of the calendar. Soon, preparations for the Yamim Tovim filtered into their conversations. The boys woke up early, davened with tears, and hurried out to work. Their supervisors only knew of quotas that had to be filled, not of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A hurried Mussaf was whispered during lunch break, tears took the place of the shofar. Another day and then another, and Succos was upon them. They could but dream of the Succos of yesteryear.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

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