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Beit Midrash Series Chassidish Stories

Judgement and Accountability

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Hundreds of Jewish laborers stood at the head of the mountain, the freshly-mined gravel piling up next to them. Passing through their minds were despondent thoughts of their family members who were exterminated in the gas chambers by the accursed Nazis, who were now sucking the marrow from their bones and enslaving them with hard labor.
Among the laborers placed at the mountaintop stood out the illuminating personality of the Rebbe from Stropkov, who didn't lose his radiance, even under the Nazi oppression. The Rebbe chose this most difficult work, since other, easier work entailed desecrating the Shabbat.
Every so often an S.S. man would pass by with a whip in his hand, with which he would lash on the backs of the laborers for no reason. The Rebbe accepted this suffering with love [toward G-d], and his greatest source of happiness was the fact that as a result of this hard labor, he wouldn't be forced to desecrate the Shabbat.
The S.S. men patrolling the place commanded the Jews to load the gravel into wheelbarrows. Anyone whose strength failed him was shot to death on the spot. Many of the miners who chiseled out the stones and were too exhausted to continue the backbreaking work were murdered on the mountaintop. The Germans didn't ask for any explanations or excuses. When they saw a Jew who stopped working, they executed him immediately. Sometimes they would brutalize him with their whips beforehand. The miners were murdered one after another, like flies. The Nazis kicked the bodies off the path and forced the surviving laborers to rush with the gravel-laden wheelbarrows down the steep path leading to the bottom of the mountain in order for them to be used in the construction sites in the camp. The Rebbe silently loaded the gravel onto the wheelbarrow and descended to the bottom, alternately breathing deeply and gasping, and returned again to the top of the gravel pile. In spite of everything, he managed to retain his humanity, and even to continuously utter chapters of Mishnayot he remembered by heart.
On one of those days, as he led the wheelbarrow down the steep, slippery slope, the Rebbe collapsed on the ground, totally sapped of strength, and the heavy cart turned over on its side. He tried to return the wheelbarrow back to the path, but felt his strength was entirely gone. He remained there powerless, unable to lift up the wheelbarrow, at the same time bringing to a halt the other laborers descending behind him, who couldn't pass him by on the narrow path. Finally he fell to the earth, unable to get up.
The S.S. men become aware of the stoppage of work, and hurried over to see who caused the sudden delay. When they saw the Rebbe prostrate and helpless on the ground, four of the uniformed murderers descended upon him. One held the Rebbe's back to the ground with his spiked boots, a second held his head to prevent him from moving from his place, and the two remaining ones took turns beating him with leather whips. With every blow dealt by the savages, the Rebbe uttered the words of the Vidui (confession, which is said by one who is about to die): "Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu..."(we have been guilty, we have been treasonous, we have stolen...). When the Nazis were sure that the Jew had breathed his last and there was no need to shoot him, they pushed him off the path with their boots.
The Jews who were with him were unable to help him; whoever would do that would be shot on the spot. The Rebbe remained off the path, abandoned, writhing in pain, with no one to help him. His condition was deteriorating quickly and his end seemed near.
Suddenly a high-ranking Nazi officer, who was in charge of guarding the entire camp, passed by. He glanced at the Jew stretched out on the ground, and thundered at the German soldiers, "Who is responsible for this man? Who will be judged and held accountable if he should die?"
The bewildered S.S. men stared at their commander as one who had taken leave of his senses. The lives of the Jews were Hefker-totally in their hands, of no value whatsoever. What judgement and accountability was he talking about? And as if that wasn't enough, the officer commanded them to carry the Rebbe, to bandage his wounds, and after he recovered, to transfer him to the camp kitchen where he would receive easier work preparing food.
No one understood what happened here, neither the Jews holding the metal wheelbarrows nor the Nazi slave drivers subjugating them. Every day Nazi officers would encounter Jews whose strength was spent, pull out their pistols and shoot them at their pleasure. And here this prominent Nazi officer decides to preserve the life of a Jew, and even to give him easier work in the kitchen.
This is the way the life of the Rebbe from Stropkov was saved
After the Holocaust the Rebbe recounted that when he opened his eyes, he knew with certainty that this was an angel from Heaven in the image of a Nazi officer who came to save his life, because on Rosh Hashana of that year, it was inscribed and sealed that he should live through those days of inferno.
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