A number of years ago, Rabbi Ezriel Tauber, shlita, gave a lecture on the Holocaust in New York City to a secular audience. At the end of his talk, a young lady walked over and told him that she came from an assimilated family in Austria. She explained that her father had been religious before the war, but as the sole survivor of his family, he became so bitter against G-d that he went back to Vienna to raise an assimilated family. The woman had been fascinated to hear a positive interpretation of the Holocaust and eventually she became a complete ba’alas teshuvah. Her father was devastated. “I ran away from all that. Are you crazy to go back?” But she did go back and even made aliyah, settling in Jerusalem.
Some time later, Rabbi Tauber was invited to deliver a lecture in a hotel in Tiberias over Shabbos Chanukah. The very same woman was there and she told him that her father was visiting from Vienna and she was spending some time with him in Tiberias. Rabbi Tauber suggested that maybe if she brought her father that evening to his lecture it might soften him up a bit toward Judaism. She brought him to the packed lecture hall where Rabbi Tauber spoke eloquently. He drove home the message that each and every Jew is an ambassador of Hashem, and as a result every Jew has the chance to sanctify G-d’s name. Hashem gave every Jew a pure neshamah, a candle to light up the dark, and no one can replace the light he will spread. The light that is not spread leaves a dark area in the world, which prevents Mashiach from coming.
Rabbi Tauber explained that there are two types of Kiddush Hashem. One is to die for Him and one is to live for Him. The second is more difficult. He illustrated this idea with a true story. In Treblinka, one of the worst concentration camps, the Germans eliminated more than 800,000 Jews in less than one year. But they were not satisfied in killing them alone. They hung a paroches, the covering from an aron kodesh, at the entrance to the gas chambers inscribed with the words “This is G-d’s gate; the righteous shall pass through it.” These cynical Germans thought they could humiliate the Jews in the last moments of their lives, hoping they would curse G-d before they died. The exact opposite happened. Even the assimilated Jew, without understanding why, would sing, “Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu, How fortunate are we that we are being killed as Jews.” This drove the Germans crazy. Instead of humiliating the Jews, they lifted them up.
“This,” said Rabbi Tauber, “is called dying al Kiddush Hashem. And if you are going to die, you might as well die sanctifying His Name. The challenge is for those who survived Treblinka. Finding themselves alone in this world without their family, those who walked with Hashem without complaints, who raised a family, made a new paroches that says ‘This is the gate of Hashem.’ In this generation, we are all Holocaust survivors. Every one of us is a victim of the gas chambers. We are victims of the Western gas chambers. Spiritually, we are being poisoned. Our brains do not function. We are addicted to the stupidity of Western society. Those who live in the warmth of Yiddishkeit are like those liberated from the camps. This is the time to rebuild ourselves by becoming proud Jews. This is the reason Hashem made miracles for us, enabling us to survive!”
When the lecture was over, this young lady ran over to Rabbi Tauber. She said that her father was in the audience and he wanted to talk to him. A few moments later she escorted her father to the front. He walked with his head down, and when he lifted his face up, Rabbi Tauber could see that his eyes were swollen with tears. He said in a Polish Yiddish, “I was in Treblinka working at that gas chamber. I saw my family killed in front of my eyes. I saw the paroches you spoke about, and that made me an apikores. I couldn’t forgive G-d for keeping me alive with all these horrific memories.”
Rabbi Tauber asked him whether he had found his answer tonight. Hadn’t he thought that he could get away with raising an assimilated family? And look, one daughter was married to a gentile and the other, who had been non-religious, had come back to Hashem. “Your daughter is the one who is making that new paroches with her own hands,” he told him. “This is the gate of Hashem. Can you run away from that?” Slowly but surely, the Yid from Vienna became a ba’al teshuvah.