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The following is the full text of the first chapter of "The Unheeded Cry" by Dr. Abraham Fuchs and is reproduced here with permission.
Chapter 1: A Biographical Sketch
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RABBI CHAIM MICHAEL DOV WEISSMANDL, known as Reb Michoel Ber, was born in Debrecen, Hungary on Marcheshvan 4, 5664 (1903). When he was still a child his family moved to Tyrnau (in Slovakian, Trnava); there his father, Reb Joseph, served as a shochet.
Although Tyrnau was a Christian town which contained many churches and a seminary for the priesthood (it was even popularly known as "Little Rome"), it nevertheless had a Jewish history. In the fourteenth century, it had been the home of Rabbi Isaac Tirna, who wrote Minhagim, an important book of customs (published in Venice, 1591). Before World War II there were approximately four hounded Jewish families in Tyrnau of whom more than half were Orthodox.
At first Rabbi Weissmandl studied in a local cheder but then when he was older, he commuted daily to the nearby town of Sered where he studied under Rabbi David Wesseley, who headed a small yeshivah there.
Reb Joseph Weissmandl had three sons and two daughters. Rabbi Weissmandl was the oldest and in the late years he always spoke of his father with deep affection and great respect. Once he revealed that his father was exceedingly meticulous in reciting the special midnight prayers (Tikkun Chatzot) and when he saw that his sons were asleep, he would weep and pray only that he merit devout and scholarly sons.
Rabbi Weissmandl suffered a great psychological shock when his father died in 1941. At that time he was living in Nitra. On a Friday, just before the onset of Sabbath, a stranger approached him in the street and asked him, "What was the name of the patriarch Abrahams mother?" Rabbi Weissmandl did not understand the point of the question, so the stranger repeated it several times adding, "If you do not answer, you will be sorry." That Saturday night, he received the news that his father had died. Rabbi Weissmandl believed that there was a connection between his fathers death and the strangers question. Late the same night when he opened a book about the laws of mourning called "Mishmeret Shalom" he found the following sentence: " Amatlai the daughter of Karnavo the mother of the patriarch Abraham is a remedy in a time of danger." He then understood that his father must have been ill at the time he was asked the question. Rabbi Weissmandl frequently told this story to his colleagues and pupils.
After his fathers death, Rabbi Weissmandl used to travel frequently to his mothers home to comfort and encourage her. He was brokenhearted and became very introspective. He let his hair grow long as a manifestation of his mourning and only had it cut just before Shevat 14, when he traveled to the Sheva Berachot (marriage celebrations) of his brother-in-law, Rabbi Shalom Moshe Ungar. For the rest of his life, Rabbi Weissmandl remembered his father in love and pain.
AT THE AGE of twelve, Rabbi Weissmandl wrote an original lecture (pshetel) to deliver at his bar-mitzvah. However, when his grandfather, R Menachem Meir Berthauer of Pressburg, arrived to take part in the celebrations, he offered to give the bar-mitzvah boy ten gold crowns if he would forgo delivering the lecture in public. The grandfather was a humble man who was fully aware of his grandsons brilliance; therefore he was apprehensive that the acclaim which the boy would receive might turn his head and make him proud. Rabbi Weissmandl acceded to his grandfathers request and used part of the money to buy Rabbenu Bachyas commentary on the Torah. The circle of Rabbi Weissmandls life closed when he died while studying that same book.
The lecture he had prepared for his bar-mitzvah did not go to waste. Thirty-six years later he delivered it to the pupils at his yeshivah. He lectured for an hour and the audience was deeply impressed by his brilliance and erudition. At the end, he made an off-hand remark that it had been his bar-mitzvah speech which he had not delivered at his grandfathers request.
For some time Rabbi Weissmandl studied at the yeshivah of Rabbi Joseph Zvi Dushinsky in Galanta but he gained the bulk of his education from Rabbi Samuel David Ungar, the rabbi of Tyrnau and later of Nitra. Since Rabbi Weissmandl was deeply attached to his first teacher, Rabbi David Wesseley, the transfer to Rabbi Ungar was psychologically very difficult for him. For two years he studied alone without attending the yeshivah in Tyrnau. Only after he realized Rabbi Ungars great humility and after he had heard the fervor with which he recited the Ahavah Rabbah ("Great Love") prayer, did Rabbi Weissmandl become attached to him. From then on, he remained Rabbi Ungars faithful and devoted disciple until they were separated in the final expulsion of the Jews from Slovakia in 1944.
While he was still a yeshivah student, Rabbi Weissmandl had an outstanding knowledge of the very complicated laws of mikvaot (ritual baths which must be constructed according to exceedingly complex and rigorous rules) and of mathematical formulas required in order to build a mikvah (ritual bath). In fact, he helped in planning the mikvah which was part of the Tyrnau public baths complex.
In 1931, Rabbi Ungar was invited to become rabbi in Nitra and the young Rabbi Weissmandl tried to dissuade him from accepting the invitation on the grounds that Tyrnau was an ancient famous Jewish community. Rabbi Ungar, however, insisted on going to Nitra and articulated a strange feeling he had. "My heart tells me," he said "that there will come a time when there will not be a yeshivah in any other place but Nitra and I want to be there." When Rabbi Ungar moved to Nitra, his faithful student went with him.
As a seventeen-year-old yeshivah student, Rabbi Weissmandl published three short volumes of novellae (Talmudic interpretations) he had heard from his teacher. He did this on his own without obtaining Rabbi Ungars permission and when he realized that his teacher did not approve he cancelled his plans to publish further volumes which he had prepared.
For a number of years, Rabbi Weissmandl served as the "Chazor Bochur" in the yeshivah and as the "Gabbai de-charifus" (i.e., the student in charge of assigning students to lecture in-depth on Talmud every Sabbath) and in 1931 published a volume of his research called ""Hilchot Ha-chodesh""(the Laws of Fixing the New Moon). At times he worked on various inventions and intended to support himself from his inventions and be independent.
RABBI WEISSMANDL made several journeys to visit the great Torah sages in Poland and Lithuania. Among others, he visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, the Gerer Rebbe, the Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky. In Vilna, Rabbi Grodzinsky asked him, "Tell me, you come from a town near Pressbury, the city of the Chatam Sofer do they still study Torah there as intensively as they did in the past?"
Since Rabbi Weissmandl did not have sufficient money for a prolonged stay in one place, he bought a railway tourist ticket which allowed him to travel all through Poland, when the train arrived at a town he would get off and visit the Jewish cemetery there or the rabbis and rebbes in that town. At night he would continue his journey.
Rabbi Weissmandl was an expert at deciphering ancient manuscripts and frequently compared them to printed versions. He traveled to Oxford, England, three times to continue his research at the famed Bodleian library collection of Hebrew manuscripts. On one occasion an ancient manuscript was brought to the library while he was there and the resident scholars identified its author mistakenly. Rabbi Weissmandl revealed the true author to the chief librarian and from then on he was treated with great regard. He was given the rare privilege of using the librarys facilities even when they were closed to the public. During his visits to Oxford, he recorded variant readings from the manuscripts as well as hundreds of unpublished rabbinic responsa which he intended to publish.
In Oxford, Rabbi Weissmandl became acquainted with a non-Jewish scholar who had a phenomenal knowledge of Talmud; he quoted entire tractates from memory. Rabbi Weissmandl was very impressed with his knowledge and memory but whenever he mentioned that scholar he used to say that his knowledge, although phenomenal, was artificial because one must sense the spirituality and inner meaning of Torah.
As a youth, Rabbi Weissmandl was an extremely diligent student and particularly spent days and nights in study when he was preparing a new edition of "Sefer Kikayon de-Yonah," a Talmudic commentary which the Nitra students were accustomed to study. In those days he slept very little, and for months at a time he never undressed to go to bed. In less than a year he reviewed the fifteen tractates of the Talmud included in the above-mentioned book which was ultimately printed by the governors of the Nitra yeshivah with Rabbi Weissmandls notes and emendations. At the end of the volume, he added notes to Sulchan Aruch Even Ha-Ezer on the basis of a manuscript he had discovered in Oxford. Rabbi Weissmandl also wrote an introduction to the book, giving the biography of its author and directing some pointed remarks in elegant style to those who were likely to criticize the book. In free translation, this is what he wrote:
It is a clear and indisputable truth that all possible excuses for mistakes whether unintentional or deliberate will be in vain. The supporter has no question while no answers will satisfy the critics. When a man wants to judge his fellow generously, he needs no aids and all the excuses in the world will not stop one who wants to do the opposite. Therefore, it is only logical and sensible not to vindicate oneself with pleas and supplications at the beginning of a book like a beggar, hat-in-hand
Many glosses were overlooked, sometimes unwittingly and sometimes by forgetfulness or because of lack of time or space. Clearly, if the book had been printed without notes or glosses at all, as it was in previous editions, nobody would have objected. However, now that it has been printed with corrections to whatever degree we have succeeded some readers will defend our efforts while others will take offense. This is no novelty; it has always been so
This is what a publisher must tell every honest reader and he who thinks it in his heart must articulate it with his lips. Now, let all those who object rest easy, and let the critic not be consumed by bitterness. May he be blessed who accepts an honest answer and as for him who refuses to accept let him be blessed too.
ON SHEVAT 14, 5697 (1937), Rabbi Weissmandl married Bracha Rachel, the daughter of his teacher Rabbi Samuel David Ungar. For the tenaim (engagement) party, which was held some time earlier, the bridegroom had returned from England, where he had been pursuing his research in Oxford. At the celebration, he gave a brilliant lecture which lasted for two and one half hours. In his discourse, he discussed the legal aspects of sivlonot (gifts which a man gives his future bride). At the beginning of his talk, he recounted that in Oxford he had found manuscripts containing several problems on the subject raised by an ancient Torah sage, Rabbi Simon Sharabi. Rabbi Weissmandl intended to resolve these questions. He proceeded to explain, on the basis of the manuscript sources he had discovered, the custom of the Jews of Oberland (Upper Hungary) not to commit the engagement conditions to writing.
Rabbi David Meisels of Satoraljuajhely, who was present at the celebration, was so impressed that he told the yeshivah students who were there that if one of them could repeat the lecture, he would ordain him as a rabbi on the spot. As a wedding gift, he granted the bridegroom rabbinical ordination and enthusiastically praised his Torah knowledge. Rabbi Ungar, the father-in-law, said that he had nothing to add and limited himself to saying, "The bridegroom is pious through and through!"
Both before and after his marriage, Rabbi Weissmandl was very active on behalf of the Nitra yeshivah, and in fact, he was Rabbi Ungars right-hand man. There were periods when he taught one of the classes in the yeshivah. In 1936 he gave the "simple lessons" which at that time studied the Talmudic Tractate Sheviit. This class was intended for rapid surface rather than in-depth study to give the students a wider knowledge of Talmud. Rabbi Weissmandl, however, taught it in great depth citing dozens of external sources including manuscripts he had found in Oxford. When he would finish a subject, he used to say, "Everything I have said is ancillary to the subject and I have not yet touched on the actual subject!"
Even in his youth, Rabbi Weissmandl exhibited two clear character traits. On the one hand he was a serious, settled man and on the other he was capable of humor and gaiety. When he recited the kinot (dirges said on Tishah Be-Av), or when he described the tortures of hell in his sermons, he would weep bitterly and his audience would join him in weeping. But on happy occasions and particularly on Purim he would climb on the table and entertain the company with barbed witticisms and jokes.
He was a magnificent and persuasive orator. In the Nitra yeshivah it was customary to hold a meeting of all Rabbi Ungars former and current students every five years. In one such gathering in the 1930s, men who had studied with Rabbi Ungar when he was a dayyan (a rabbinical judge) in Krompachy participated together with students from his days in Tyrnau and Nitra. This was a meeting of fathers and sons who had studied Torah at the same source. At these gatherings, Rabbi Ungar would address his students on matters of ethics and piety; the job of discussing the practical and financial situation of the yeshivah was left to Rabbi Weissmandl. On this occasion too he did his job. He had been in Vienna prior to the meeting, so the governors of the yeshivah sent him a message requesting him to return for the meeting and to prepare himself to tell the gathered students about the serious financial difficulties the yeshivah was facing. When he began his presentation, he told his audience about the governors message to talk about the needs of the yeshivah and added, "To what can this be compared? To a man with a toothache who people tell how to cry when the dentist hurts him! Does he need to prepare himself to cry!? When it hurts, you cry! The yeshivah has no funds. That hurts and that is why we are crying! There is no need to prepare yourself to cry it comes naturally!"
Rabbi Weissmandl often accompanied his father-in-law on his journeys, and in 1935 they traveled to Eretz Yisrael. When he visited the Western Wall, he was overcome with religious fervor at the sanctity of the site and in a postcard to R Menachem Moshe Felsenburg he wrote: "Be Blessed with a blessing from Zion the Magnificent; from Zion out of which goes forth the Torah and whose holy stones are better than all the innovations of the Jews in our sacred land."
When he returned from Palestine, he preached a sermon in the synagogue of Zeirei Agudath Israel in Vienna, recounting what he had seen. With great emotion, he described the Mount of Olives where the dead are buried facing east because the Messiah will come from that direction. Rabbi Weissmandl also accompanied his father-in-law to the Knessiah Gedolah, the main convocation of the Agudath Israel world organization.
RABBI WEISSMANDLS ACTIVITIES during the war constitute one of the most striking examples in Jewish history of total dedication and sacrifice in order to save Jews. Here, we will only describe his activities in general terms; in later chapters dealing with the Holocaust and the destruction of European Jewry we will go into detail.
In 1938, when Austria was conquered by Nazi Germany, the first victims were the Jews of Burgenland. They were stripped of everything they owned and expelled to Vienna, where they stayed without any means of support. Rabbi Weissmandl risked his life to travel to Vienna to consult there with the community leaders to see what could be done to help the deportees. The Nazis then gathered approximately sixty rabbis, mostly from Burgenland, and put them on a ship which sailed towards Czechoslovakia. The ship was harried from port to port, because the Czechoslovakians refused them entry and the Austrians would not take them back. Rabbi Weissmandl flew to England, where he succeeded in being received by the Archbishop of Canterbury (the head of the Anglican Church) and by the Foreign Office. He explained the tragic situation, and as a result of his endeavors the rabbis were granted entry-visas to England.
After the Munich Agreements (Sept. 30, 1938) and the Vienna Award (Nov. 2, 1938), parts of Slovakia were annexed by Hungary and a considerable number of Jews there were ruled to be "stateless" and expelled by the Hungarians into the no-mans land between Slovakia and Hungary. In a telegram dated November 23, Rabbi Weissmandl turned to Samuel Hoare, the British foreign minister, and to the Archbishop of Canterbury and begged them to intervene on behalf of the refugees. In the telegram which was sent from Nitra, he said:
In the last five days Hungarian authorities have expelled thousands of Jews with great cruelty, in rain and darkness, to the no-mans land along the Slovakian border. In our great trouble I beseech Your Excellency to intervene.
The Archbishop of Canterbury passed the telegram on to the Foreign Office on the same day and added a note saying that he had met Rabbi Weissmandl and respected him "He is worthy of credence." On the following day, however, the Foreign Office rejected the plea. It advised that the telegram be ignored and not answered, since the subject was not included in the Munich agreements.
AT THE BEGINNING OF THE PERSECUTIONS OF THE Jews in Slovakia, Rabbi Weissmandl planned the emigration of several hundred Jewish families to Canada, among them families from Nitra and Tyrnau, but the plan was never realized. Later, Jews from Nitra and Tyrnau were among the first to be sent to Auschwitz, where they were forced to work in the construction of the crematoria and deal with the bodies of the victims. Ultimately, they too were killed. When they arrived in Auschwitz, instead of Canada, the people of Nitra and Tyrnau made a gruesome joke, "Well, weve arrived in Canada."
In 1942-1944, Rabbi Weissmandl was active in the Hatzalah (Rescue) Committee in Pressburg (Bratislava). The leadership of that committee included Rabbi Armin Frieder, Mrs. Gisi Fleischmann, Dr. Tibor Kov`acs, Ondrej Steiner and Dr. Oskar Neumann and others.
In February 1942, a notice was issued calling on all Jews born between 1897 and 1926 to register with the police in order to establish their "work capacity". Recognizing this as a Nazi ruse, Rabbi Weissmandl advised the yeshivah students not to register since it would then be easier for them to escape if necessary. He also called on all the Jews to prepare "bunkers" and hiding places to use, should the situation deteriorate.
In March 1942, deportations started from Slovakia to the Lublin area in Poland; from there the deportees were later transferred to Auschwitz. After some 58,000 Jews had been expelled, Rabbi Weissmandl succeeded, through a man named Karol Hochberg, in bribing the S.S. officer, Dieter Wisliceny, who was in charge of the expulsion of Slovakian Jews. For $50,000, the expulsions were halted for two years and in the meanwhile negotiations were underway to save European Jewry as a whole. This program was called the "Europe Plan."
In the course of his activities in the Hatzalah Committee from 1942 to 1944, Rabbi Weissmandl continuously traveled back and forth between Nitra and Pressburg.
Most of his week was spent in Pressburg doing committee work and only towards the Sabbath did he return to his family in Nitra. When he came home, he would give Rabbi Ungar a detailed report of his weeks activities and consult with him as to his future rescue efforts.
During one of his journeys in a railway train, a copy of the Neue Zuriche Zeitung containing an account of the murder of tens of thousands of Jews in the Nazi gas chambers fell from his pocket. He was arrested and charged with propagating hostile literature against the Germans, but managed to gain his release through bribery.
Rabbi Weissmandls arrest did not deter him from devoting himself to his stressful and dangerous rescue work. One day, because of the intensive tempo of his life, he suffered severe chest pains. The physician who examined him diagnosed a heart attack and ordered immediate hospitalization. He would have to rest for a prolonged period and cease all activities. However, two days later when he heard that a Jewish old-age home in one of the towns was in danger of liquidation, he immediately left his sick-bed and traveled to the town to save them from expulsion.
GRADUALLY, HEART-BREAKING LETTERS from the Jews who had been expelled to the Lublin area in Poland began to reach their relatives in Slovakia. In their letters, the deportees described the executions, sickness, cold and hunger which they suffered in their place of exile. They informed their relatives that for jewelry, clothing, and similar articles they could buy basic foodstuffs such as bead and potatoes from the native Polish population. Rabbi Weissmandl, together with other leaders of the Hatzalah Committee, purchased various items of jewelry and transferred them by messengers often German officers and soldiers to the Lublin area. The deportees acknowledged receipt of the shipments and sent letters back to their relatives by the same messengers. This aid and the contacts they made gave the deportees the physical and psychological strength to bear at least temporarily the terrible suffering imposed on them, thereby saving them from immediate destruction.
In 1943, one of the German messengers was arrested while he was in possession of a list which Rabbi Weissmandl had sent to the Lublin camp detailing how the shipment of jewelry should be distributed. As a result, Rabbi Weissmandl too was arrested and held for a lengthy interrogation by Kukula, an official of the Ministry of Finance. During that interrogation Rabbi Weissmandl told his interrogators everything that was happening to the deportees in the Lublin area; how old men, women and children were suffering and dying of cold and hunger. Rabbi Weissmandl explained that he had only wanted to aid these helpless deportees, and he argued that he had merely broken a minor law in order to help innocent people. When Kukula heard the description of the Jews suffering, even his stony heart melted and, with tears in his eyes, he sighed, "After all, I too have children." In the meantime, Rabbi Weissmandl was still imprisoned, and he tried to find a way to let his colleagues on the Hatzalah Committee know what he had admitted and revealed to his interrogators. He was afraid lest somebody else be arrested and wanted to avoid contradictions and discrepancies which might result from other interrogations. On Hoshana Rabbah (the last of the intermediate days of the Sukkot festival) he told his guards that he would not eat unless they allowed him to go to a sukkah to recite kiddush on wine. This was a ruse, since kiddush is not recited on that day. His wish was granted, and two guards took him to the sukkah of one of Pressburgs Jews. When it became known, many people came to the sukkah and Rabbi Weissmandl, while pretending to recite the kiddush, gave his audience an account in Hebrew of what he had told his interrogators. After he was returned to prison, he had further conversations with Kukula who later permitted the Jews to send parcels to their coreligionists who had been deported to the Lublin area. Unfortunately, the arrangement did not last long, because the deportees were soon transferred to the death camps.
IN THE FALL OF 1944 the Partisans Revolt erupted in Slovakia; as a result, the Germans decided to put an end to Slovakias Jews and the deportations were resumed. On Elul 19, 5704 (September 7, 1944), a few days before the recitation of selichot (penitential prayers) in preparation for the High Holy Days, Rabbi Weissmandl, his wife and five children (4 daughters and a son) were arrested in Nitra. Together with the rest of the Jews, the Weissmandl family was taken to a camp in Sered, Slovakia. From this camp, transports were sent to Auschwitz. In command of the expulsion of Slovakian Jewry was a cruel SS officer named Alois Brunner. Eichmann had prevented Dieter Wisliceny, who had previously been in command, from returning to Slovakia.
The Hatzalah Committee people were trying to find a way to return Rabbi Weissmandl to Pressburg, since they urgently needed his aid and advice in their work. The leaders of the Committee therefore informed the authorities at the Sered camp that they were required by the security services in Bratislava to prepare a special list of Jews and that without Weissmandl they could not do it. They requested that he be allowed to visit the capital if only for a short time and Rabbi Weissmandl received "a holiday" to go to Pressburg for one day. He did not return on time, so Brunner called in his brother-in-law, Rabbi Benzion Ungar, the rabbi of Piestany. He was interrogated about Rabbi Weissmandls activities and how he had disappeared. Later he was taken out and executed while wrapped in his tallit and reciting Shema Yisrael
At the end of September, Brunner demanded that a number of Jewish leaders from Pressburg be brought to Sered "in order to organize social work there." For this purpose, he also demanded the immediate return of Rabbi Weissmandl. Actually Brunner wanted to get Rabbi Weissmandl out of Pressburg so that he would not be able to warn Pressburg Jewry that Brunner was planning their imminent expulsion and mass arrests. After Rabbi Weissmandl and several other leaders were transferred to Sered, some 1,800 Jews in Pressburg were arrested and sent to Sered.
ON HIS RETURN TO SERED, Rabbi Weissmandl took his life in his hands and opened negotiations with Brunner. He tried to persuade him that the war was nearly over and that Germanys defeat was a foregone conclusion; he suggested that Brunner should start preparing his alibi by preventing the expulsion of Slovakias Jews. He also promised him that a great deal of money would be deposited in his name in a Swiss bank. The discussion often became heated and in his excitement Rabbi Weissmandl even pounded on the table. Finally, Brunner decided to send Rabbi Weissmandl and his family to Auschwitz. Before Rabbi Weissmandl was put on the train Brunner had him photographed in twenty-two (!) different poses to ensure that should he escape he could be easily identified and recaptured. Brunner also sent special instructions how to treat him in Auschwitz.
Before he got on the train to Auschwitz, Rabbi Weissmandl advised a number of people to saw through the doors of the carriages and jump out; he even distributed small hand-saws for this purpose. He himself took a saw with him, concealed in a loaf of bread. He was convinced that if he could only reach Pressburg, he would be able to alert world Jewry to the renewed danger in which Slovakian Jewry was now placed. His heart was torn between his love for his family and his responsibility to the Jewish people.
After the train started its journey, Rabbi Weissmandl sawed through the lock of the carriage door in the middle of the night and jumped from the train with a troubled conscience. With great efforts, he succeeded in reaching a bunker in Pressburg where a number of Jews were hiding. When Brunner found out that Rabbi Weissmandl had not reached Auschwitz, he put a price on his head and began an intensive search for him. It did not take long for the news of his escape to reach the Jews in Sered and they were revitalized by the hope that he would do something for them. It was said that Rabbi Weissmandl wept day and night because he had not succeeded in saving the Jews and because his wife and children had stayed on the train to Auschwitz.
Within a short time, Rabbi Weissmandl made contact with Jews in other bunkers in Bratislava, who were suffering from a chronic lack of money. Rabbi Jacob Ungar, Rabbi Weissmandls brother-in-law, was hiding in a bunker in Nitra together with other Jews and was making great efforts to contact Rabbi Weissmandl. They published a classified ad in a Slovakian newspaper in Pressburg that "the Rabinger family was seeking Michael Medved (Rabinger "the rabbis" and Medved means a bear Dov in Slovakian); a post office box number was given. The response was not long in coming. Rabbi Weissmandl made contact with the group, and by a special messenger, he sent them money, wine, matzot and raisins for Passover.
A Jew named Funk, who had been an officer in World War I, came to Rabbi Weissmandls aid while he was in the bunker. Funk disguised himself a non-Jew and, with forged identity papers, roamed the streets of Pressburg freely. He dealt in foreign currency and had good contacts with various Germans and foreign diplomats. Funk used to visit the bunker and served as its contact with the outside world. As a result of Dr. Rudolph Kastners negotiations with the Germans, they agreed that the occupants of the bunker be transferred to Switzerland in a truck. The vehicle traveled from Slovakia to Austria and collected a number of Jews from various camps and also the wife and family of Rabbi Isaac Zeev Meir from a camp near Vienna. Four days before Pressburg was liberated by the Russians, the truck left for Switzerland and arrived safely.
AFTER HIS ARRIVAL IN SWITZERLAND, Rabbi Weissmandl suffered a massive heart attack and spent considerable time in the hospital. The terrors of the war and his deep despondency sapped both his physical and spiritual strength.
In the meantime, a few members of his family and some friends and students had returned to Nitra. They included his brother-in-law, Rabbi Shalom Moshe Ungar, Rabbi Isaac Zeev Meir and Rabbi Jonah Forst. These three made contact with Rabbi Weissmandl and asked his advice regarding their own future and that of the yeshivah. His advice was to renew studies in the yeshivah and he promised to find the funds for its maintenance.
Among the many friends who visited Rabbi Weissmandl in Switzerland was a former Nitra yeshivah student, Rabbi Reuven Monheit, who was an officer in the French army. Rabbi Weissmandl asked him to use his position and its authority to seek out Nitra students who had survived and to help as many Jewish survivors as he could. Monheit applied to the French War Ministry for permission to undertake this mission and was granted his request. He then devoted his energies to the rehabilitation of the survivors.
In 1946, Rabbi Weissmandl left Switzerland for the U.S.A. With the help of his friends and former students, he succeeded in renting a building in the vacation town of Somerville (N.J.) with the intention of starting a yeshivah there. After completing the transaction, he returned to Carlsbad in Slovakia to meet the yeshivah students. He stayed with them during the selichot period and Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Weissmandl had been accustomed to fast during the selichot period and the Ten Days of Penitence between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur but, because of his weakened physical condition as a result of his heart attack, he had to forego that act of piety and ask that the vow implied in his fasting in previous years be absolved.
After Rosh Hashanah the yeshivah, led by Rabbi Weissmandl, left for Paris by way of Germany. As they passed through Nuremberg, the news that several Nazi war criminals had been hanged reached the travelers and for the rest of the journey, which took seven or eight hours, Rabbi Weissmandl talked about the war to his traveling companions. Just before Yom Kippur, the party reached Versailles, on the outskirts of Paris, and lodged in one of the local hotels. Immediately after that Holy Day, Rabbi Weissmandl returned to the U.S.A. to continue preparations for the reception of the yeshivah students. In December 1946 the students left Cherbourg by sea; when they landed in the U.S.A. they went to Somerville immediately.
THE YOUNG MEN started their studies at once. Rabbi Weissmandl was in very low spirits; he used to roam through the rooms of the yeshivah as though in mourning with tears in his eyes. Fearful sighs would frequently escape him. In a letter he wrote to a student in 1950 he related: "There were days and years when in the suffering of my soul I prayed to the Almighty, as Jonah the prophet had done in Nineveh, saying, And now, O L-rd, take my soul, for it is better for me to die than to live." At the end of every Talmudic lecture Rabbi Weissmandl spoke to his students about ethics and piety and made reference to the terrible calamity which had befallen the Jewish people. Rabbi Weissmandl relived the Holocaust in his heart continuously, wherever he was.
On Purim 1947, he tried to overcome his depression and fulfill the rabbinic dictum that a man must drink (wine in order to be happy) on Purim," but he imbibed a little more than he should have. He stayed with the students six hours. At first he talked to them about the laws and significance of Purim and then turned to each one of them individually and reminded him of his parents and family who had not survived. He made personal references to each of the young men and begged them to continue the traditions of their fathers and thus perpetuate their memory.
Rabbi Weissmandl spent the Seder night of Passover alone; he was too troubled and pained to be able to sit with the rest of the yeshivah. He sat alone in an upper room while the yeshivah students celebrated the Passover Seder below. Occasionally, they could hear him weeping.
After Passover, the Rebbe of Satmar was invited to the yeshivah to give regular classes for seven weeks until after the Shavuot festival. Rabbi Weissmandl spent a great deal of time with the Rebbe, discussing scholarly subjects and talking about the war and its terrible suffering. These conversations had a calming effect on Rabbi Weissmandl; his pain became more internalized and he showed it less outwardly.
In the course of time, Rabbi Weissmandl remarried. His second wife was Leah Teitelbaum of Beregszasz (Berehovo) who was the sister-in-law of Rabbi Shalom Ungar. Only some ten persons, of whom most were rebbes or rabbis, were invited to the wedding.
Rabbi Weissmandl realized that in Somerville the yeshivah had little opportunity to expand so he began to look for a new location. A suitable site was found in Mt. Kisco, but the huge sum of money needed for the purchase was not available. After great efforts, Rabbi Weissmandl succeeded in raising the necessary funds, and the new campus was acquired. A new rural Jewish township was created around the yeshivah and then, after all the intensive activity invested in the project, the local authorities wanted to confiscate the entire property because the taxes on it had not been paid on time. It was only after a prolonged legal struggle that this threat was removed.
In addition to managing the yeshivah which he did for the rest of his life, Rabbi Weissmandl worked tirelessly at gathering documentation on the Holocaust. He accused the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee and the World Jewish Congress of ignoring the appeals he had made during the Holocaust for the financial help with which he could have saved a great number of Jews.
When the State of Israel was established in 1948, he traveled to Washington frequently to express his opposition to it. He even published a pamphlet setting out his views on the subject.
For the latter part of his life, Rabbi Weissmandl suffered from chronic heart disease and spent long periods in the hospital. As soon as he recovered from a bout of illness, he returned to work immediately. He was incapable of resting.
In the winter of 1957 he was stricken by an extremely severe heart attack and was hospitalized for several weeks. After his release, he found it very difficult to travel to the yeshivahs New York office because of his physical weakness; nevertheless, he did attend the Melaveh Malkah Banquet held to raise funds for the yeshivah. The first sentence of his speech on that occasion electrified the assembled guests, for he opened his remarks with a citation, "The Rock whose work is perfect the first verse of the funeral service!
A few days after the banquet, he was back in the hospital and his condition deteriorated steadily. Even in the hospital he did not desert his responsibilities to the yeshivah and on the very day he died he sent a congratulatory telegram to one of his students who was marrying that day. In that telegram he wrote "From the straits I call out Mazel Tov!" On Friday, Kislev 6, 5717 (1957), he asked his visitors to leave his hospital room because he felt weak. One of his pupils noticed that he had reached out and taken hold of a book, Rabbenu Bachyas Commentary on the Torah. He spent his last moments on earth reading the book he had bought with the money his grandfather had given him for his bar-mitzvah. Holding the book he loved so much, he returned his soul to his Maker.
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The following is the full text of the first chapter of "The Unheeded Cry" by Dr. Abraham Fuchs and is reproduced here with permission.