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Haggadah Section: -- Exodus Story

Jewish Dignity

What makes us different from other people? When I ask people would they rather be a Nazi killing an innocent Jew or the innocent Jew taken to his death? They choose the Jew. Why? Who is really the victim?

Simon Wiesenthal in his book the Murderers among us, he notes that he watched both Nazis being arrested and Jews marching to their death. He notes the one difference that Jews didn’t do that Nazis did.

"Wiesenthal had seen many people go to their deaths Most were afraid; some were so terrified that they had to be supported by others. Some prayed; some cried. But they had never begged for their lives".

Rabbi Yosef Wallis, director of Arachim of Israel, talks to Project Witness about his father, Judah Wallis, who was born and raised in Pavenitz, Poland.

While he was in Dachau, a Jew who was being taken to his death suddenly flung a small bag at my father, Judah Wallis. He caught it, thinking it might contain a piece of bread. Upon opening it, however, he was disturbed to discover a pair of tefillin . Judah was very frightened because he knew that were he to be caught carrying tefillin , he would be put to death instantly. So he hid the tefillin under his shirt and headed for his bunkhouse.

In the morning, just before the appel [roll call], while still in his bunkhouse, he put on the tefillin . Unexpectedly, a German officer appeared. He ordered him to remove the tefillin , noted the number on Judah’s arm.

At the appel , in front of thousands of silent Jews, the officer called out Judah’s number and he had no choice but to step forward. The German officer waved the tefillin in the air and said, "Dog! I sentence you to death by public hanging for wearing these."

Judah was placed on a stool and a noose was placed around his neck. Before he was hanged, the officer said in a mocking tone, "Dog, what is your last wish?"

“To wear my tefillin one last time," Judah replied.

“The officer was dumbfounded. He handed Judah the tefillin . As Judah put them on, he recited the verse that is said while the tefillin are being wound around the fingers: "Ve’eirastich li le’olam, ve’eirastich li b’tzedek uvemishpat, ub’chessed, uv’rachamim, ve’eirastich li b’emunah, v’yodaat es Hashem – I will betroth you to me forever and I will betroth you to me with righteousness and with justice and with kindness and with mercy and I will betroth you to me with fidelity, and you shall know God."

It is hard for us to picture this Jew with a noose around his neck, wearing tefillin on his head and arm – but that was the scene that the entire camp was forced to watch, as they awaited the impending hanging of the Jew who had dared to break the rule against wearing tefillin .

Even women from the adjoining camp were lined up at the barbed wire fence that separated them from the men’s camp, forced to watch this horrible sight.

As Judah turned to watch the silent crowd, he saw tears in many people’s eyes. Even at that moment, as he was about to be hanged, he was shocked. Jews were crying! How was it possible that they still had tears left to shed? And for a stranger? Where were those tears coming from? Impulsively, in Yiddish, he called out, " Yidden, I am the victor. Don’t you understand, I am the winner!"

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