Wednesday, August 10, 2016

"I See Those Shoes Every Night Before I Go To Sleep"

From the archives and apropos for Tisha B'av...

This morning in the mikva dressing room I had an interesting conversation with a talmid chochom in the neighborhood named Rav Zonnenfeld [he is a great grandson of Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld who was the leader of Charedi Jews in Israel a hundred years ago]. He related that he used to be a neighbor of Rav Gustman who was one of the greatest Roshei Yeshiva in the world in the previous generation.

When Rav Gustman's wife passed away and he sat shiva, he closed the door and told Rav Zonnenfeld stories about his experiences in the holocaust for 2 hours. One story he told was that Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski [the gadol hador in pre-war Europe] once took him on a walk and started telling him about the various herbs and plants in the forest, which were edible and which were poisonous. Rav Gustman couldn't understand why he was suddenly telling him all this. When the war broke out he ran away to the forest and subsisted on the plants for 3 months. He then understood that Rav Chaim Ozer was preparing him.

I add what I once wrote on a blog called "alleywaystotorah":

Rav Yisrael Zeév Gustman. Anyone who has ever learned Gemara on the highest levels has been exposed to his brilliant Talmudic lectures. At the young age of 21 he was already sitting on the same Rabbinic court together with Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski - the elder sage of the generation. He survived the Holocaust. All of the Rabbis of Vilna were pursued mercilessly by the Nazis, humiliated, tortured, then killed. Rav Gustman himself was almost murdered. They beat him, he lost a lot of blood then fainted. The Nazis left him for dead. Baruch Hashem he survived. He hid together with his wife in a pit for a year and a half. But he kept busy. He had a Gemara Zevachim with him which he learned a few dozen times!!

Professer Auman [who recently won a Nobel prize] lost his son Shlomo, in the war in Lebanon [in the early 1980's]. Rav Gustman went to console the mourners and related to them the following: "You don't know that I had a son named Meir'ke. He was a beautiful child. I am not saying that because he was my son. He was really a beautiful child!!"

He turned to the widow, the parents, the brothers and sisters and said:"My son was taken from my hands and thrown on a truck in the 'kinderaktion'. The wife of the Yeshiva's Mashgiach stood next to me and they took her son as well. She turned to the Nazi and said "Throw me on the truck also." The Nazi answered "Wait lady, your turn will come soon." The screams that emanated from the mouths of the children on the truck were nothing compared to the screams of the mothers.

I ruled that everyone must run away from the ghetto and I also escaped. I told my family [his wife and daughter], 'I am the officer and you are the soldiers.' When I say duck - you duck. They shot at us from six meters away and nobody was hurt."

Rav Gustman then continued relating about life in the ghetto. After his son was killed he took his small shoes in order to sell them when he left the ghetto for forced labor. He succeeded in selling the shoes for flour and carrots. He came back to the ghetto and shared the food with the widow of Rav Chaim Ozer, whose stomach was bloated from hunger. At first she refused to take it and insisted that he give the food to his wife and daughter. Only when Rav Gustman assured her that there is enough for everybody did she agree to take. Rav Gustman himself did not taste the food in order not to fulfill the pasuk "And you will eat the flesh of your sons" [Vayikra 26/29].

Then the Rov sat up and spread out his hands and said "Now I will tell you what is happening in the world of truth. My Meir'ke is saying to Shlomo 'Fortunate are you Shlomo'le that you have merited. I did not merit! I did not have the zchus to endanger myself while fighting back against our enemies in order to save the Jewish People. You were zocheh!!!'"

Professer Aumann arose from the ground and hugged Rav Gustman and exclaimed with great emotion "Nichamtani nichamtani!!!" [You have consoled me, you have consoled me.]

One time someone close to Rav Gustman told him that the story about his son, the ghetto and the shoes should be told to every Jewish child in Eretz Yisrael. Rav Gustman turned to his companion and answered with tremendous emotion "I can't. I see those shoes every night before I go to sleep."

[Related by Dr. Feingold - Rav Gustman's dentist - and printed in the newspaper "Basheva" by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed]

[I must add that contrary to the image portrayed by some, Rav Gustman preferred that boys learn Torah in yeshiva over serving in the army. In his yeshiva the boys did not serve and the day his yeshiva received the draft exemption was a holiday for him].

Zchusom yagein aleinu.