SAN DIEGO—Rav Tzvi Hersh Meisels was a Baal Tokea - he was a skilled shofar blower. Before being sent to Auschwitz, Rav Meisels was a Rav in Hungary - the Veitzner Rav. Somehow, he smuggled a Shofar into Aushwitz. On one Rosh Hashana, he managed to blow Shofar for men who were going to a labor transport. He describes how he had managed to blow Shofar more than 20 times, reaching some 1,000 men; and he was exhausted.
But then his son Zalman Leib who was there with him told him about another transport. There were some 1,400 boys who had been locked up in one of the blocs and they had been condemned not to a labor camp, but to the crematorium. These boys had found out that somewhere in Aushwitz there was a man who had a Shofar. Through a variety of messengers they pleaded for Rav Maisels to come into the bloc where they were waiting to be murdered, and to blow the Shofar for them before they died. He did not know what to do. It was clear to him that, if he went into the bloc, he might never get out. It was definitely a question of Pikuach Nefesh, of life and death, and those whom he consulted told him that he was not obligated to go in and blow the Shofar. His son Zalman Leib begged him not to go into the bloc.
Rabbi Meisels began trying to find out what it would entail to fulfill this last request. First he had to get permission to go into the bloc. He did this by bribing the Capos - the Jewish
overseers who stayed alive by serving as guards for the Nazis. The Capos made it clear that if the SS men should arrive and find Rav Meisels among the boys he would inevitably be added to their numbers - 1,401 to the crematorium. Notwithstanding the nature of the danger, R'Meisels decided to go into the bloc to blow Shofar for these doomed
These are his words to describe the scene that unfolded: "Where is the pen and who is the writer who can transcribe the
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emotions of my heart as I entered the bloc. I met the sea
of eyes of the youngsters who pressed forward to kiss my hand and my clothes. They cried with bitter tears and wailing voices to the heart of heaven.
"When I began to recite the verse, 'Min Hametzar,' they stopped me and begged me to say a few words before the Shofar service. In my emotional state I could not speak, my
tongue cleaved to its palette. I could not open my mouth or my lips. But the boys would not let me continue. I spoke words of Drash focusing on the verse 'Bakessah liyom
Chageinu,' explaining that although Hashem's design and purpose for this Holocaust was at this moment, on Rosh Hashana, hidden and concealed from us, nonetheless we were
not to despair for even if a sharp sword is placed on one's throat he should not desist from seeking mercy."
And then he describes that he blew the shofar and as he was about to leave, one boy stood up and cried out, "Dear friends, the Rabbi has strengthened us by telling us that even when a sharp sword is on our throats, we should not despair of mercy. I say to you however, that while we can hope for the best we must be prepared for the worst. For the sake of
Hashem my brothers, let us not forget in our last moments to cry out 'Shema Yisrael' with fervent devotion. And then with heart rendering voices and with great enthusiasm they all
cried out 'Shema Yisrael, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem Echad!.'"
Rav Meisels survived the Holocaust and eventually made his way to Chicago. In 1955, he published a sefer, Makdishei HaShem containing Halachic responsa from the Holocaust,
as well as his own reflections and this poignant episode.
What those 1,400 boys understood in the Holocaust was even though their lives were going to be snuffed out in but a few moments, they knew that they were going to eternal life in
the world to come. That's the hope the Shofar can instill in each and every one of us. May we merit hearing the Shofar of Moshiach
Dedicated by Baruch & Miriam Stehley in honor of their children Aaron, Elie, and Talya.