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

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    July 23, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  3. DenverGrl

    What a heartbreaking story. The pain of Yizkor can be so strong. I can only imagine the gut wrenching pain they must have felt. This story is not about Israel or Palestinians. It's about this man's experience in Yom Kippur 1945. It is a shame that you all are politicizing it. Can you not experience the moment this man paints with this story? Just experience the heartache and pain with him. You don't need to discuss Israel or Palestine or anything more.

    September 29, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  4. Iqbal khan


    September 23, 2010 at 10:09 pm |
  5. Iqbal Khan


    September 21, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
  6. Iqbal khan


    September 19, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
  7. Kung Fu

    Evidently it’s not the first inhabitants. It’s those who claim their ancestors lived on the land around 2,000 years ago. Now who else can make a similar claim?

    September 19, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  8. Kung Fu

    Harry Truman laid the groundwork for the state of Israel and a predicted perpetual conflict in the Middle East, when he ignored 1948 Republican presidential candidate Tom Dewey's advice, and ignored his own advisors to "keep Palestine out of politics."

    Secretary of State George C. Marshall and Secretary of Defense James Forrestal were joined by presidential advisor James Byrnes in providing Truman with the same advice to "keep Palestine out of politics."

    In "The Forrestal Diaries", Forrestal recorded a meeting with Truman on September 4, 1947... "He [Hannegan, Chairman of the DNC] said very large sums were obtained a year ago from Zionist contributors and that they would be influenced in either giving or withholding by what the President did on Palestine....".

    On May 21, 1948, Forrestal wrote... "U.S. prestige in the Middle East has suffered what may be irreparable damage... Problem transcends the age-old conflict between Jews and Arabs, and is worldwide in its repercussions... “

    On November 7, 1948, in a discussion with Allen Dulles and Ambassador Lewis Douglas, Forrestal wrote... "He [Douglas] is very deeply concerned about the Middle East, and believes the consequences of the creation of the Israeli state will flow for a long time...".

    A long time, indeed.

    September 19, 2010 at 3:00 pm |

    there is no secure place for Jews, they are getting little from this life before getting hell in the hereafter. If the jews want to go back to their historic land they should go back to egypt where they were slaves, Muslim are really a threat to jews because they know the truth about their evilness and real history not what they are writing.

    September 18, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
  10. John

    Here we go again, the Jews telling their story about the holocaust. They are not the only people that suffered in WW2
    I don't see the Jews showing any concern for the other victims of the war.

    September 18, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
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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.