September 17th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

My Faith: Yom Kippur 1945, in a camp for Holocaust survivors

Stanley Abramovitch (seated, second from right) with American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee staff at a German displaced persons camp circa 1945.

Editor's Note: Stanley Abramovitch was born in Poland and lost his mother and two brothers in the Holocaust. He worked for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for 63 years before retiring in 2008 and continues to consult for the group.

By Stanley Abramovitch, Special to CNN

In October 1945, I spent Yom Kippur in the displaced persons camp in Landsberg in Bavaria, Germany, as the representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), working with displaced persons.

The liberated Jews who had been imprisoned in the nearby Dachau concentration camp, as well as those who had been forced to work in ammunition and other factories in Bavaria, were gathered into Landsberg and nearby Feldafing camps. Many Jews from other concentration camps had been forced-marched to this part of Germany, where the U.S. Army liberated them.

In Landsberg there was a spacious German Army barracks confiscated by the U.S. Army, in which some of the liberated Jews were housed. Basic food and medical care were provided by the Army, supplemented by assistance from JDC.

The Jews elected a committee which assumed responsibility for the internal administration of the camp. Synagogues were organized for the high holidays by different groups, often on the basis of the origin of the participants. There was a synagogue for Jews from Poland, another for Hungarian and Lithuanian Jews.

Smaller groups - Hasidic Jews or those from Marmarosh, an area on the border of Rumania spilling into Hungary and Slovakia - had their own places of prayer.

I attended morning services in the synagogue for Polish Jews. The prayers were charged with emotion, very moving, very painful. The tears shed came from the depths of their hearts, mourning those who were lost, murdered in the camps. It was rare to find among those present individuals whose siblings or more distant family members had survived.

The older generation was almost not there. They were the first victims, since they lacked the physical strength to withstand the horrors of the camps. Few children survived. They, too, succumbed quickly. The survivors prayed, remembered, wept and found a little comfort in those tears.

After morning prayers, I decided to visit other synagogues and spend some time with other groups. I left the synagogue and walked across the half empty streets. There were many people who remained in the street and refused to attend services. They were angry at G-d.

Among them were formerly religious Jews who could not accept the apparent indifference of G-d to the suffering; the torture, and the tragedy they had both witnessed and experienced in their homes and in the camps.

They could not reconcile their former beliefs and convictions of an All-Merciful, Almighty Divine Being, with the catastrophe that had struck their communities. They would not pray. When they heard the recitation of the Kaddish, the special prayer of mourners expressing praise of the Lord, they reacted angrily that G-d did not deserve the Kaddish.

They were broken in spirit. They could not reconcile recent events to which they were witnesses with the contents of the Hebrew prayers.

These Jews roamed the streets. They wanted to express their anger, to show G-d that they defied Him, as he seemed to have abandoned them. Some ate their food on the fast day publicly in the streets, as a gesture of defiance – of revolt.

In one of the streets, I saw a large group of people standing in a circle. I approached nearer to find out what was going on.

In the middle of the circle stood a seven-year-old girl, embarrassed, perplexed. She could not understand why all these people stood around her.

She, of course, could not know that they were surprised to find a Jewish child. So they stood, silently, and just looked at this miracle of a Jewish child in their midst. They could not tear themselves away from this one child who said nothing and to whom nothing was said. They just stood and gaped.

A special prayer is normally recited on Yom Kippur for the departed members of one's family. It's called Yizkor, the memorial prayer.

As those people looked at the little girl, they remembered their own children, or their younger brothers and sisters, the nephews and nieces who at one time were their pride and joy, and who were no more. Each one of them looked and remembered, recalled the beloved children who were cruelly exterminated.

As they remembered, they recited without any words the Yizkor for all those who once were part of their lives and now were gone forever. This was a silent, most moving Yizkor, without words, without prayer books, recited in that street in Landsberg, by a group of Jewish survivors, watching a bewildered little Jewish girl.

It was the most moving, most eloquent, most heartfelt, most silent Yizkor I have ever heard.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stanley Abramovitch.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Holidays • Holocaust • Judaism • Opinion

soundoff (105 Responses)
  1. JM

    Very moving. Still unbelievable that such a horrible event could occur in the 20th century. Sometimes I think we have learned nothing as we continue to harbor hate and prejudice for those who we think are unlike us.

    September 18, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  2. Mendy

    I met Stanley Abramovitch and his co worker Israel Schiff in Uzbekistan in 1997 while I was working with Chabad Lubavitch, very good people.

    September 18, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
  3. Israeli_dude

    this is a picture of the israeli air force flying over Auschwitz http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_Dm4Xx59f6NM/SewCyJ0MWTI/AAAAAAAACSU/WmepolB32LY/s400/IDFoverAuschwitz.jpg
    unfortunately we were too late to save our brothers and sisters who were exterminated by the nazis
    but we will never let any evil force/dictator/ideology lift a hand to wipe us out us again
    we learned our lesson. never again

    September 18, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  4. Alan

    Stanley, Stanley, Stanley...where to begin. One reason it can be said that no other group except the Jews have been so universally hated is that, through time, all the other distinct groups that have suffered historical abuse are gone (I'm speaking here of over thousands of years). Through all that time, as a distinct and separate, identifiable, unique group, the Jews have survived as that separate and unique group. And they are still hated. (Disclosure: I am Jewish.) As to the horrors endured at the hands of the Nazis and their enablers, I suggest that you read some actual accounts of the systematic, organized and disorganized, passionate and dispassionate, ways the Jews were dispatched, especially in Poland and the Soviet Union. Put yourself in a group of 3,500 men and boys being marched out of your hometown into the outlying country to a nearby ditch or ravine or pit recently dug out of the ground by heavy equipment. Then you are told to take off all your clothes and it is winter. And you stand there, sometimes for hours, as those before you are marched to the edge of the pit and shot and tumble down. You wait there, hearing it all. For hours. In the cold. Then its your turn.

    Have a little compassion. Read a little history. Don't be so quickly dismissive.

    September 18, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
  5. renny

    Happy holiday to all my Jew friends

    September 18, 2010 at 7:19 pm |

    I beleive that all wrong that happen to human is from their own bad deads, cursed by David and Jesus the jews will be miserable until the end of time. The Holaucust have sympathie for the jews joke does no longer work it is really outdated, the Jews need a new horse to ride . I always wonder who was behind world war II and who killed all these Jews, christian may be ? why the Jews are practicing what the Nazi tought them to Muslim? does it make them feel good to have a Gaza camp embargo? How can they be loved by their neighbor who really are the owner of the house they stole from them? can you take someone out of his house and tell him I will be your good neighbor? Misplacing palestinian, killing them, and terrorise them will one day back fire at Israeli and it is already making their life miserable. Can any Israeli leave in peace in Palestine? No matter what garbage jews throught to the media they can not block the sun lite from reaching people.
    There will be one day when Muslim will gather and take all the jews out of Palestine in a day where Rocks and trees will turn on the jew hiding behind them except for Gardak trees so better grow a lot of those.

    September 18, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
  7. Kung Fu

    The Jews in Germany were blamed for the hyperinflation following WWI. At the height of the inflation in Germany after WWI, one U.S. dollar was worth 4 trillion German marks. This is what helped Hitler come to power.

    September 18, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  8. Iqbal khan

    Want to know more about Islam check

    September 17, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  9. Charlie G.

    For all those anti semites, i will not utter flamatory comments today, beacause I need to repent for the high holiday and dont to pile on.
    And to those who want Jews destroyed, ,Remember ..IT WILL NOT HAPPEN...Know your history. There's a reason why Jewish people are here.
    Educate yourself !!!

    September 17, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
  10. stanley


    "Stanley, the Jews were not on one side or another. They were not collateral damage. They were set apart , rounded up and systematically murdered because they were Jews...nothing more, nothing less. Zionism is an attempt to save Judaism, to make sure this kind of thing does not happen again. There are many Arab countries but there is only one Israel and it is sitting in the midst of people who hate them."

    So the Blacks were not on one side of the other during the slave trade they were just rounded up and enslaved simple because they were Black...every race of people have a claim to fame on the horrors they have or their ancestors have gone thru..why do the Jews think they have a monopoly on pain..many more than 6 million Blacks were enslaved and/or died in the middle passage...and about the Arabs all against thet Jews no one forced them to move to the Middle East simply an archaic book and and invisible god told them thousands of years ago that it was their property even though others were already living there and the same thing has happened in 1948..people were already living there...stop with the play for sympathy life sucks for every1 not just the Jews

    September 17, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
    • Bowerbird

      Ironically, life does not suck for the Jews. They have taken a horrendous situation and have risen above it. That's not hard for anyone to see. But you want them and the rest of us to forget what happened to them in the 1940s...never. The Jews were driven from the land they called home ...hence the name "wandering Jew"...and many were the atrocities done to them over millenia, not just in WW2. No one suggests that other peoples on this earth have not had their troubles but I think it is fair to say that no other people has been hated as much as the Jews...and for what?

      September 17, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
    • stanley

      I for one do not hate thr Jews...I look at them with awe but to say that they have been hated more than any other group of people is just absurd, at best.

      September 18, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
    • Ruhlmann

      Stanley, from pharoah to the Romans to the pograms of all of Europe the Jews have suffered at the hands of everyone throughout their history. Everyone has suffered abuse at some time in their history but the Jews have suffered throughout theirs with only marginal periods of peace. It is a testament to their charachter that with both social and official abuse for millenia, they continue to be one of Humankinds most caring, creative and contributory cultures. With so much death in their shadows they know so much about how to live.

      September 18, 2010 at 7:11 pm |
  11. Len in LA

    While this article was very moving and made you think, I can sum up ALL Jewish holidays in a three sentence haiku:
    WE WON.
    LET'S EAT!
    Sorry for the humor on such a horrible event in history (my wife's family was almost wiped out) but life goes on and we MUST laugh to survive. I hope that this Yom Kippur brings peace to all people of the world.

    September 17, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
  12. FrdmOThght

    the religion is not evil.
    it is the tool, warped and disfigured, to justify evil actions.
    As Stanley tries to remind us, it is the resilience of the human spirit that the evil cannot destroy

    September 17, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  13. Islam_religion_of_terror

    Native American don't blew up tjemse;fve to kill children like your pig brother

    September 17, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  14. Islam_religion_of_terror

    Israel is only nation in the word who understand the danger of Islam.. IDF know how to take care of them.

    September 17, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
    • FrdmOThght

      wouldn't your 'solution' entail killing children also?
      fill in the blank : violence begets _____

      September 17, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  15. Longhorn

    Have some respect people. This article is about the remembering of the atrocities the Jewish race endured, not which religon is the best. Have some respect and honor for these people, this article and this author on their holiday.

    September 17, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
    • stanley

      Why should we remember the "ATROCITIES" because they are CHOSEN..PLEEEEASE atrocities have happened to all of the people on Earth...isn't god about forgiving which means forgetting or is that different if you are chosen.

      September 17, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
  16. David

    What a touching note. Thank you sharing this inspiring piece. May we all seek the message of peace found in this message. Happy Yom Kippur - may Jews all over the world find peace this holiday.

    September 17, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  17. Kung Fu

    Mao Ze-Dong (China) killed 78,000,000 people

    Joseph Stalin (USSR) killed 23,000,000 people

    Adolf Hitler (Germany) killed 12,000,000 people

    Hideki Tojo killed 5,000,000 people


    September 17, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Kung Fu

      Just out of curiosity are you a martial artiist....or did you just pick that moniker for...?

      I have a 'black belt' in shaolin kenpo with a sub-discipline in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu...

      Again....just curious.... thought it might strike up a conversation......


      September 18, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  18. Weston

    The tragedy beyond the tragedy is the forgetting. Thank you for this touching remembrance.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
    • Bowerbird

      Right on, Weston. This tragedy is just barely over 65 years old and already we want to erase it from our collective minds. We must never forget. May the Jewish people of the world ultimately find peace and may they also find comfort in the thought that many non-Jews will stand by them as they endure yet another seige of anti-Semitism.

      September 17, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  19. Paul

    First: I think the above article is beautiful. Second: I can't think of a more foolish reason to express hatred than a supposed belief in God. If a person truly believes that all that comes from God is love and mercy, is there any reason to hate another person, who is also a creation of that same God, a God in which the hating person claims to have faith? With real faith comes real love, kindness, tolerance and benevolence. Anyone who claims to have faith but does not strive to embody these virtues is lying to him/herself. It is very difficult to search within ourselves for those places that do not love and ask for healing and forgiveness, and yet, I believe that this is what all religions have asked us to do...

    September 17, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  20. NachamameansHope

    To say that one religion is better than another in itself is arrogant. there is no "better". there is just want you believe, what i believe and what s/he believes. why must i follow your ways? i am not forcing you to follow mine. I am not asking for your tolerance, i am asking for your respect as i my self give you respect. i can say perhaps it is the fear of the unknown but then, we are both human are we not? but to say that MY GD told his people to loot and murder is up surd. lest you forget Jesus was Hebrew. Did his ancestors not believe in the same GD you have deemed cruel? We were not chosen simply to be better, we were chosen to lead by example. To be good and encourage others to do the same. What are wars really fought over? Land? no. GD. GD and the belief in GD has been the reason for most of the wars since the beginning of time. isnt it time to take a step back and realize that it is ok that we are different? Children are taught to hate. You are not born with the knowledge that you are better than anyone else, that is something taught to you. Maybe we need to start teaching our children respect instead of hate. Just a thought.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.