- About Us
- Get Involved
- For Professionals
THE TERM kiddush ha-hayim (sanctification of life) has in recent years been used to designate the general Jewish stance in the Holocaust. As often happens, a word becomes part of our terminology without its meaning being fully understood.
Kiddush ha-hayim was coined in contrast to kiddush ha-Shem (literally, sanctification of God's name, that is, martyrdom), which was the accepted approach in the past. The former first appeared in Nathan Ek's article "The Cultural Struggle in the Warsaw Ghetto." Ek claimed that
... the topic of the speeches and discussions that infused the occupants of the ghetto at that time, was the concept of kiddush ha Shem. One sensed something about to occur and prepared to meet it vigorously. News of the slaughter of Jews in several cities reached the ghetto. At that point, the oft-repeated statement of Rabbi Yitzhak Nissenbaum reverberated in the ghetto: "This is a time for kiddush ha-hayim and not for kiddush ha-Shem through death. In the past, our enemies demanded the Jewish soul and the Jew sacrificed himself through kiddush ha-Shem. Now the enemy demands the Jewish body and the Jew must defend himself and his life!" Indeed, at that point the occupants of the ghetto were sparked with a strong desire to live; they revealed a hidden power whose like is not found in normal life. This desire for life also left its imprint in the cultural arena.1
We do not find, however, a reference to Rabbi Nissenbaum's "oft repeated statement" in the various sources of that period: The diaries of Emmanuel Ringelblum, Abraham Levin, or Peretz Opoczinsky; Adam Czermakow's journal; Chaim Kaplan's Chronicle; Yizhak Katzenelson's records of Rabbi Shimon Huberband's graphic descriptions of kiddush ha- Shem during the Holocaust; assorted essays on life in the Warsaw ghetto, preserved in Ringelblum's archives; and a rich variety of underground newspapers. It is difficult to assume that a concept that was popular enough to become a slogan did not find its way into these writings, whose very purpose was diligently to detail the ghetto's life and history.2
Following Ek, Shaul Ash used this term in his article "Kiddush ha- hayim in the Midst of Destruction-the Definition of the Period of the Holocaust." Ash asked rhetorically:
What was the general reaction of the masses of Jews and especially of those who lived in eastern Europe? The reaction was principally along the lines of what can be called kiddush ha~ayim. This was a general feeling, whether expressed or implicit, as it appears in testimonies and also from analysis of the events. This term expresses the strong desire for life itself - a form of "I shall not die for I shall live" - which, despite all limitations and setbacks, we can find in many varied manifestations. They felt that with their continued physical existence they would defeat the enemy who wanted to erase the name of the Jewish nation. At that time, they did not yet know of a final and complete destruction. Even the Germans themselves had not yet introduced or determined the Final Solution.3
Ash popularized kiddush ha-hayim as expressing the Jewish response to the Holocaust. He defined it as the revelation of a strong will to live, of a struggle for survival. These qualities were expressed especially in the countries of eastern Europe from the beginning of the occupation until the mass destruction. I believe that Ash's view is generally correct. An analysis of the testimonies and memoirs of many survivors and the search for a common denominator that typifies the collective will and behavior of the Jews, yields kiddush ha-hayim. It would be a mistake, however, to view kiddush ha-hayim as a path that was accepted because of the instructions of a spiritual leader or institution. In actuality it was a many-faceted phenomenon. Before we analyze the principal aspects of this struggle for life, we shall attempt to define the similarities and differences between* the traditional notion of kiddush ha- Shem and the new concept of kiddush ha-hayim.
KIDDUSH HA-SHEM-ITS MEANING AND FORM
H.H. Ben Sasson defined kiddush ha-Shem as the "sacrifice of a person's life or that of his closest relatives, and the acceptance of torture for the sake of pure faith in the God of Israel, in order to observe His commandments."4 Kiddush ha-Shem and its accompanying halakhic explications, the acts of martyrdom, and the tales of bravery and glory woven around it, left a strong imprint on the traditions and consciousness of the Jew of the Diaspora for generations.
Martyrdom is an obligation to die rather than transgress three cardinal prohibitions: forbidden sexual relations, the shedding of blood, and idolatry. The Talmud debates whether the obligation of martyrdom is uncategorical in the last instance. Martyrdom is mandated when a Jew is forced to deny God publicly-in front of at least ten Jews-but there are those who interpret the obligation less radically if the act is to be performed privately.
During the Middle Ages, kiddush ha-Shem was contrasted to hilul ha-Shem (the desecration of God's name). "Martyrdom for the faith" was as well anchored in the Jewish tradition as it was in Christianity. The preparation for self-sacrifice and the act of selfsacrifice for the sake of the faith were thought of as demonstrations of the truth of God and his Torah. Kiddush ha-Shem was impressively evident among the Jews throughout the hardships of the Crusades. The chronicles and elegies dating from those years refer to Jewish responses to persecution: Jews prayed and pleaded before their Creator for mercy; they sought sanctuary from princes and church leaders; they attempted to bribe both potential protectors and enemies; they fought for their lives and vigorously defended themselves. After they had exhausted all possibilities and the only choice was either forced conversion or death, many killed themselves and their children for the sake of kiddush ha-Shem.5
It is important to note that the commandment during the time of forced religious conversion includes readiness to be killed, but "to kill oneself was not mentioned any place or in any situation."6 Despite exceptions, such as the suicide of King Saul and the self-inflicted deaths at Masada, it is commonly accepted that he who kills himself has no portion in the world to come. How then does one explain this readiness for martyrdom? The medieval Ashkenazic Jews viewed life in this imperfect world as a test and as a preparation for the perfect world to come. There were those who saw kiddush ha-Shem as a privilege granted by the Creator to a generation which had the ability to withstand the test. Some were inclined to die for kiddush ha-Shem even if it was not absolutely necessary, thinking, "they will kill me for kiddush ha-Shem and with one transgression I will reach the Garden of Eden...,"7 even though Maimonides warned that no man was permitted to take his own life if it was not absolutely necessary. The opinion that a Jew who sanctifies God's name feels no pain was popular, as was the view that miracles occur when one has made a pure preparation for self-sacrifice.8
A. Shohet detected three elements in kiddush ha-Shem: the highest expression of love and God; a testimony to the truth of the victim's religion and an inspiration to others to accept the truth of his religion; an unwillingness by the martyr to live without the religion which he considered absolutely true.9 These beliefs, which are the underpinnings of kiddush ha-Shem, did not hold true for the Jews of Spain. A large portion of these Jews changed their religion in the face of the persecution of 1391 and the succeeding expulsions, as did Ashkenazic Jews in the generations following the Crusades. Jacob Katz, differentiating between the beliefs of the martyrs of the persecution of 1556 and those who took their own lives during the Chmielnitski persecution of 1648-49, remarks:
The choice on this [latter] occasion was not felt to be between the true faith and the false, but rather between a martyr's death and physical existence at the cost of spiritual integrity. In contrast to the Middle Ages, when the martyrs vividly envisaged the celestial reward awaiting them, the records of the seventeenth century report no such anticipations. Although instructed in the beliefs of Judaism, seventeenth- century Jews were not visionaries in the sense that they held clear conceptions of life after death. These two motivations of medieval Jewry-of the rival religion and the longing for a clearly defined heavenly reward obtainable only through martyrdom-were absent.10
Katz determines that the "generation [of Chmielnitski's massacre] no longer expected to testify to their faithfulness to Judaism with the forfeit of their lives. The pain of the Diaspora was newly incarnated in the suffering of ghetto life, the schemes of rulers for individuals and communities, actual expulsions, and the perpetual danger that hovered over the community."11
According to Katz, in these later generations the motivation to commit kiddush ha-Shem shifted from sharp interreligious competition and anticipation for reward in a future life to a psychological-spiritual drive: "In later generations, when the isolation of ghetto life increased and religious tension toward the outside world weakened, it was found that the spiritual was the main incentive for the preference of death over acceptance of Christianity."12 The readiness for sacrifice is correctly understood as a desire to cling to Jewish beliefs amidst clear disgust with the world of Gentiles and rioters.
Emancipation changed the Jews' belief system, their way of life, and their intellectual relationships and day-to-day contact with the world around them. Major factors present in the Middle Ages, namely, interreligious tension and the belief in the special quality of death in kiddush ha-Shem, religious and social isolation, and the almost absolute separation betweeniews and Gentiles, no longer prevailed or were greatly diminished.13 Only the traditional Jews of eastern Europe continued to live in a pure religious society, guarding their extensive separation from the world around them.
Hatred of the Jews also underwent a major change in the modern period. Shmuel Ettinger described modern racial antsemitism as characterized by continuity and accumulation.14 Racial antisernitism strengthened both the negative Jewish image, created in the course of history by religious accusations, and hatred based on economic and political tensions. Antisemitism did not disappear with changes in the socio-political system, in reigning ideas, in modes of living, or along with scientific progress. In fact, the reverse is closer to the truth. Old accusations and verdicts survived into the modern age, where new libels found fertile breeding ground.
Despite this continuity, one can perceive Nazi racial antisemitism as a new phenomenon. For the first time the enemies of the Jews did not seek justification in the cross of Christianity. They did not try to improve the Jew, but to destroy him. There was no escape, either through conversion or through disavowal of any political belief. The Nazis decreed destruction, of body and of soul.
We can only speculate how the Jews would have behaved under Nazi rule if conversion could have saved them. It is not pure conjecture, however, if we assume that in such a situation things would have been very different, for in those few instances where there appeared to be such an opportunity, manyiews seized it. In the period between the first and second anti-Jewish laws in Hungary in 1938-1939, Jews who had converted remained safe. At this time, 14,654 Jews rushed to convert in order to escape the restrictions.15 A parallel phenomenon was the integration and secularization ofJews in the 1910s and especially the 1930s in the Soviet Union when, according to Ettinger, "a period of extreme and quick transformation passed through the Jewish group who numbered approximately three million. . . . The Jewish community in Russia quickly changed its traditional characteristics."16
THE SIGNIFICA NCE OF KIDD USH HA - HA YIM IN THE NAZI PERIOD
Kiddush ha-Hayim was manifested in the struggle of Jews to exist under Nazi domination. We shall concentrate on trends and phenomena revealed in the compact Jewish concentrations of Eastern Europe: Poland, and Lithuanian and Polish areas annexed to the Soviet Union. Isolated in ghettos, these Jews lived under severe conditions of material deprivation.
The characteristic phenomenon ofJewish community was the belief that the war, no matter how long it lasted, would end in the defeat of Nazi Germany. This belief was not universally accepted at that time by the rest of the world. Not only Fascists and sympathizers believed in the Nazis' total and final victory, but other large groups-like many and perhaps most of France's population 'under Vichy rule-perceived the total victory of the Third Reich as an approaching reality.
A change of opinion in Europe and in the rest of the world began only at the end of 1942, with the German defeat at Stalingrad and the Allied thrust in the Middle East. Yet Jews on the whole did not doubt the eventual downfall of the Nazis even during the Third Reich's victories in the summer of 1941. This unshakable faith was evident in Jewish underground newspapers, diaries, and writings in the occupied countries. In one case, a Jjew acting as a Nazi agent in Warsaw spoke publicly about the need to resign oneself to the possibility that the Third Reich would be master of Europe. He wanted to find a modus vivendi with this government. This matter evoked dismay and arguments from his fellow Jews.17 What was the source of this faith? It would be simplistic to assume that the Jews, persecuted and degraded by the Nazis, denied disaster, when only the victory of anti-Nazi forces could bring them liberation and life. More important was the wholehearted belief that the powers of evil and falsehood in this, their absolute embodiment, could not emerge victorious. This state of mind is reflected in the diary of the teacher C.A. Kaplan. On February 13, 1940, he wrote:
The political victories of nazism shocked the world and its influence was not to our benefit. The uncleanliness of nazism began bit by bit to poison the minds of nations, who said to themselves, "Let us learn from their example." Once the war broke out, we gained allies in battle: the enemy of Judaism is the enemy of all the cultured nations who drew their swords. It is our pride that matters developed in this fashion until unclean nazism was forced to fight for its life. There is no doubt that its downfall will surely come. Its real or imagined strength is sick or pathological. It appears on the world stage stormily and with great power.
However, destruction is concealed in it. Nazism is stricken with a patriotic and social fever whose essence is nothing more than a sick phenomenon.18
Contemporary essays often showed clearly deterministic foundations: Providence will not forsake the Jewish people; or alternatively, anchored in man's essence and existence is the desire for good and justice. They believed that society might stumble but could not completely fail.
A second phenomenon is an overt resignation to degradations and insults, accompanied by rapid adaptation to the changing situation through quick, well-planned circumvention of Nazi decrees. The Jews of Poland were faced with severe persecution: the yellow badge; forced labor; the prohibition of public assembly, schools, use of public transportation; and so on. These prohibitions were meant to remove Jews from the framework of society, to lower them to a sub-human status. One could anticipate people would be broken by these harsh and constant conditions. Yet these degradations did not have as severe an influence on the public and on individuals as was anticipated. It has often been noted that one cannot point to a widespread or even discernible increase in suicides among Polish Jews until the period of the death transports. This contrasts with the waves of suicides in similar yet less difficult situations in Germany and Austria after the Anschluss. Polish Jews were never completely emancipated nor fully assimilated into Polish society. Consequently they never experienced full equality. Accustomed to suffering insult and assault, Polish Jews created a protective shell in response. They saw the oppressor as a powerful but lowly creature unable truly to understand the Jew or to harm his rich inner world. The Jews, forced to bow their heads, found refuge and consolation in the feeling of true or imagined superiority received from their forebears and fostered within them. This sense of the unique significance of belonging to Jewish society did not disappear even during the Holocaust. Justine Davidson relates in her diary, written shortly before her death in a Cracow prison, how young Jewish members of the underground were forced to conceal their identity: "The more the forced humiliation grew externally, the more Jewish pride grew internally."19 Kaplan remarked, in his pungent manner: "To what can the matter be compared? To a bad dog that does not behave respectfully toward you; does he run away and hide? After all, isn't he a dog?"20
We must also consider the Jews' legal and economic situation. It is natural that westernJews, to whom equal rights, legal protection and freedom had been granted in the past, felt that they could rely upon the law. They therefore felt impelled to obey the laws. This was not the case in eastern Europe. In countries like Poland or Romania, the law was given lip service. The Jews, suffering from a lack of full citizenship, were subject to an economic ban conducted with the agreement and even the support of the government. Given such conditions, it is understandable that the Jews did not worry about respecting the law when their major concern was making at least a marginal livelihood, which could only be done by circumventing the law.
This state of affairs understandably influenced the Jews in the Holocaust. Although we can never overstate the harshness of life in the ghettos, nevertheless, the ability to devise ruses for survival by ignoring or circumventing the law was not a completely new phenomenon for a Jew. Thus, the illegal smuggling of food over ghetto walls, secret manufacture of weapons and utensils, and underground schools were common phenomena.
Kaplan wrote in his Warsaw journal in April 1940:
O, God! From where will they receive their sustenance? Every business, every vocation is forbidden to them. All businesses have been liquidated. All positions which provided profit and sustenance have been eliminated. Thousands of functionaries mill about the streets with nothing to do. There is no type of support, except for grocery stores, which supply the necessities of life. Everything is shut down; all resources have been sealed off. To this there is added a life of shame and reproach, for there are roads on which the right and left walkways are forbidden for the tread of ajew; a sign with large letters testifies to this fact. Nevertheless, the masses live on, the masses are awake. They nullify the decrees as dust of the earth. They do all that is in their power to cheat them; to pull the wool over their [German] eyes; to do it all privately and through circumvention. God should provide them with their sustenance!
[The conquerer] at that time issued a prohibition which prohibited the Jew to keep within his household, and all who fell under his responsibility more than two thousand zlotys. The Jew was obligated to deposit the excess in the bank. If you had need for the money, they would not give you more than two hundred fifty zlotys per week. The naive Jews of Germany most certainly stood in line en massc the next day in order to fulfill the command of the leader while the Jews of Poland said, 'No! . . .' They did not deposit even one coin. You could not find at that time even one Jew who had more than two thousand zlotys! All these foolish orders which testify to a base culture and an inordinate sadistic wickedness, evoked laughter from the Polish Jews.21 Even though within Kaplan we hear the echoes of despair and breakdown, his description is, for the most part, correct. In contrast to the faith in the legal system that typified the Jew of the West, the Jew of eastern Europe was generally an experienced skeptic, with no hesitation in trying to mitigate the severity of decrees through bribery or by simply ignoring them.
Let us now turn to the relationships among fellow Jews within Jewish society. The proper question is: Did Jews uphold the identifying characteristics and way of life of traditional Jewish society-family, unity, help for the needy, mutual responsibility and so on-in the midst of distress, isolation from the world, and overwhelming physical and emotional pressure? It is difficult unequivocally to frame an answer to this question. Looking at the many sources from the Warsaw ghetto, one is impressed with the number of accusations and denunciations hurled at Jews who managed to retain their possessions or who made money through tricky business deals offered by the war and at the same time refused to extend any meaningful help to others. The underground newspapers describe with disgust the booming restaurants and lounges of the ghetto, serving the gluttony and licentiousness of a small minority. Jews, and antisemitic Poles, bitterly stressed that ghetto residents "danced among the dead" when, in 1941 alone, 43,000 Jews died of hunger and disease in the Warsaw ghetto. One out of every ten Jews perished. During the war years, until the final stage of destruction in July 1942, the harvest of death grew to 100,000 people. In Vilna, "theJerusalern of Lithuania," two-thirds of the Jewish community were murdered within only a few months after the occupation began at the end ofJune 1941. This was followed by a period of relative rest. At this time various activities took place, including both an orchestra and concerts. Many residents were outraged. In the diaries of the Warsaw ghetto, we find stories ofJews, fathers of families, who lost their dear ones and on the following day behaved as if every emotion had been erased from their hearts.22
How can we understand and define these phenomena? Shall we simply conclude that the perverse rule of the Nazis shattered the network of community life and the family unit, at the same time as it strangled most feelings of mercy and solidarity?
A conclusion of this type would distort the real overall picture. It is true that both institutions (e.g., the Jewish police and judenrate) and individuals in Jewish society (in the ghettos and camps) were thrust into the process of dehumanization. There were also days of crisis when the vast majority of the public failed to meet the challenge. If, however, we do not focus on the frenetic climate during the Aktions, and we look instead at the entire picture, we see that concern for the weak and mutual aid remained conspicuous characteristics of Jewish society.
The salvaged protocols of the judenrate of Lublin and Bialystok testify frequently to the effort to help the refugees and the impoverished members of the community.23 A man like Czerniakow, in charge of the assimilated faction in the Warsaw Jewish community, was active in aid projects and expressed his satisfaction when it seemed that he had succeeded in redeeming Jewish prisoners from the ghetto jail.24 The Jewish community in the ghetto, slow to volunteer and to show an interest in communal matters, nevertheless mobilized and acted when it was able to help those who were collapsing and to save those who were endangered. It is necessary to mention general and local organizations that were involved in mutual aid projects, such as a network of house councils (organizations of house occupants). The network, which blossomed spontaneously, served as a watchdog for the public interest by ordinary citizens. These house councils provided aid to needy families among their membership (and also to some extent for other houses in deep distress), as well as to refugees. Ringelblum, who was involved in the general organization of the councils, wrote in September 1940 that "the house councils work together in a harmonious manner."25 Kaplan commented, "When the historian will come to write the history of these courtyard councils during the Nazi war against Israel, he will complete its chapter with the blessing of Nehemiah, 'May my Lord remember them for good.' "26 The activities of the house councils, however, could not continue for a significant length of time, since the number of needy grew steadily while the number of people of means constantly decreased. A fascinating and affecting phenomenon was the role of children, including the very young, in the collective effort for survival. Memoirs frequently tell of children slipping through the fences and walls of the ghetto to obtain some kind of food, in ways known only to them; they contributed substantially and sometimes decisively to their family's survival. Leon Bereson, the wellknown Polish Jewish communal worker and attorney, is thought to have said that it would be fitting to erect in the ghetto area a statue of an anonymous child-a little smuggler-to commemorate the children's sacrifice in the struggle for survival of the ghetto.27 Josef Kirman, a poet who wrote in the ghetto and died in a camp, described a common scene:
On Krochmalna Street, there is a little room without glass windows or a door, and in the room are three children. Ten-year-old Marsha has cared for her four-year-old sister and fifteen- year-old paralyzed brother for almost a full year. She begs on both sides of the ghetto wall. Beaten, kicked, more than once miraculously slipping through the legs of an angry gendarme, more than once falling off the wall-but she never returns home empty-handed.28
It is revealing that the only public organization outside the judenrat was the Self-Help Society. In Warsaw it was considered the alternative to the Judenrat. This organization was the only Jewish institution recognized by the Germans that was active throughout the General Government.
Initially, money from the American Jewish joint Distribution Committee that reached the occupied countries was used for self help. As time passed, however, joint's money was exhausted, and aid dwindled. Kaplan wrote in March 1941:
As long as the joint still had means, we continued to lay our burden on our rich uncle that he should support us, gird up his loins, and pay increasing heed to the greatness of the catastrophe. ... It was our luck that the joint was reduced to ruins and ended its assistance. When we saw that our problems grew, we had to say, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" and the Jewish Self- Help Society was created. In a short period of time, it became an organization with many branches and affiliates. It had a budget of a quarter of a million-besides sums which flowed in through other channels, especially through the "courtyard committees." The ScIf-Help Society offered equitable support for those in need. It can be said at this time that in you, the Jews in Poland, has been fulfilled their mission to the greatest heights. ...A half million zlotys in assistance to the needy within one month-who had dared even to imagine that the Jews of Warsaw were capable of such giving? Self-Help will certainly find an historian of documents and statistics who will tell the generations to come of its encompassing nature, greatness, and educational worth. It is not my intention to investigate the documents and statistics. What I write only follows my impressions and my estimations; as a man close to the matter, who, from the inside, can only see his corner and not the entire picture. Therefore, I have attempted to give only a general sketch and this will have to suffice. Starting from January 1941, Self-Help ceased to request contributions by appealing to the community's pity, and it became an institution which levied a tax which had legal force.29
The legal force of the tax was intended for creating communal organization and a feeling of public responsibility.
For most of its existence, the Warsaw ghetto-which at its peak held approximately 450,000 people-reported no incident of murder. The single incident occurred close to its liquidation. While on the one hand it evoked dismay, on the other hand the chroniclers of the ghetto's history remind us of the significant fact that during the two years of severe isolation and distress, no Jew had murdered a fellow Jew.30
This review has only been an attempt at sketching the conspicuous manifestations of the struggle for life. Avraham Levin wrote in his diary in June 1942, near the end of the ghetto's liquidation:
One of the most surprising, albeit tangential, manifestations of this war was the attachment to life: the almost complete absence of suicides. The opposite was the case. They are bound to life with all their senses, they want to live at any price and to survive the war. The tension of this historical world conflict is so great that everyone, from young to old, wants to see the end of the struggle of giants and the establishment of a new regime in the world. The one wish of the elders was to see the end and to survive Hitler.31
Kaplan wrote on March 1940:
... Not so with the beaten-down, shamed, broken Jews of Poland. They love life, and they do not wish to disappear from the earth before their time.
The absence of suicides is worthy of a special emphasis. Say what you wish. This will of ours to live in the midst of terrible calamity is the outward manifestation of a certain hidden power whose quality has not yet been examined. It is a wondrous, superlative power with which only the most established communities among our people have been blessed.32
At the celebration marking the first year of the existence of the Bialystok ghetto, H. Subatnik, a member of the Judenrat, said: "Of all the blessings of life in our prayers [for the blessing of the new month], for example . . . 'a life of goodness, a life of sustenance, a life free from shame or reproach' we would be satisfied today just with 'life'..."33
The desire for life was dominant during the Holocaust. It would be incorrect, however, to assume that kiddush ha-Shem disappeared. Zelik Kalmanovitz, a man of culture and creativity from the Vilna ghetto, wrote in his journal in October 1941:
On the eve of Simhat Torah [festival of Rejoicing for the Law], I was invited by the rabbi to attend the Torah celebration which had previously been held in the synagogue and was now held in the music school. The remaining yeshivah students and Torah scholars gathered, as well as a number of children. They sang and danced.... Here, near the diminished congregation in the poor and desolate synagogue, we joined together with the Jewish community. This included not only those who were with us today partaking in the celebration, and tens of thousands of us who had passed on to the Holy and Pure Congregation of the World to Come, but also those of all the past generations. On this joyous occasion that we celebrate, we thank the generations of the past, those beautiful generations. We feel that by our songs today we sanctify the Name of Heaven as our forefathers did. I, a wandering Jewish soul, feel my roots here. All of you, in your celebration here, hide the sins of a lost generation. I know that the Jewish Nation shall always live. . . . If we were, however, the last generation, we would be able to be thankful and say 'dayenu' (it would have sufficed for us). " Dayenu " that we were able to be the children's children of these past generations. Every day that the Holy One Blessed be He gives us in His kindness is a perfect gift, and we will accept it in happiness and will praise His Name.34
Rabbi Shimon Huberband of the Warsaw ghetto anthologized data on acts of kiddush ha-Shem. Huberband writes of the town of Alexander, where a long line of Hasidic Masters had lived:
Immediately after the Nazis entered the town, they initiated acts of debauchery, burning and dcsecrating Scrolls of the Law, prayer shawls, phylacteries, holy books, and other holy articles. At the end of September 1939, they burned the synagogue and the house of study.... In the midst of the debauchery of the book burning, a resident of Alexander, Mottle Hochman, happened by. A German officer called to him and ordered him to tear up a Scroll of Law. The angry officer began to curse him, saying if he did not immediately tear up the Scroll, he would be shot. Mottle Hochman refused. The officer gave the order to shoot the Jew. Two soldiers brought him over and stood him against the wall and prepared to shoot him. Hochman raised his voice and cried, "Shema Yisrael" [Hear 0 Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One].
In the small town of Shirpetz:
When they ignited the synagogue at the end of September 1939, they ordered all the Jewish citizens to surround the synagogue and watch it burn. While it was burning, a young man, a scholar named Moshe, broke out of the crowd, pushed his way into the synagogue burning in the flames of hell, approached the Holy Ark and removed the two Scrolls of Law. When he began his return, he was hit with a volley of bullets from the wicked ones. He fell clutching the two Scrolls in his hands and was burned in the synagogue, together with the Scrolls. May God avenge his death.35 Rabbi Dr. Kahane, a rabbi of Lvov, tells in his memoirs of Anshel Schreiber, the dayan (religious judge) of Zhulkiv. He possessed a gentle soul, was great in Torah, modest and a mystic who quietly passed through a stormy life, unnoticed.... Anshel was captured by the Germans in the streets of Lvov and was sent on a transport despite the document he possessed testifying that he was a communal worker. The Germans refused to answer the requests of the people of the community, to free "a Jew with a beard and sidelocks, in a belted robe of silk." When Anshel learned that his liberation was delayed not because of the certificate, but because of his beard and sidelocks-that is, his Jewish appearance and dress-he called out in joy: "If so, blessed be His name! At least I know why I am giving up my life. All this time I thought it was because of the foolish document." He then repeated the verse "You shall love the Lord your God with ... all your soul," meaning even when He takes the soul away. "I said, when I shall have the opportunity I will fulfill the mitzvah [commandment]. Now that the opportunity is here, how can I not fulfill it?" His eyes began to flash, and his face registered happiness and excitement. Is there a more beautiful moment in the life of a Jew than when he is told that he is sanctifying God's name?36
Professor Ben-Sasson expressed this opinion on the value of kiddush ha- Shem. "The acts and trends of Jewish self-defense: and, needless to say, the struggle and deaths of the fighters in the ghettos, is only properly understood as having sprung from this ancient Jewish tradition (of kiddush ha-Shem)."37
2. See Emmanuel Ringelblum, Ketavim fun Geto (2 vols.; Warsaw, 1961); Abraham Levin, Pinkaso shel Hamoreh (Tel Aviv, 1970); Adam Czerniakow, Yoman Geto Warsaw (Jerusalem, 1969); Chaim Aharon Kaplan, Megilat Yisurin: Yoman Geto Varsha (Tel-Aviv-jerusalem, 1966) [English edition Chaim A. Kaplan, Scroll of Agony: The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan, Abraham 1. Katsch, ed. (London, 1966)]; Yizhak Katzenelson, Kitavim Aharonim (Tel Aviv, 1956); and Shimon Huberband, Kiddush ha-Shem (Tel Aviv, 1969).