Ten years ago, my wife and I went on a “roots” tour to Prague, Czech Republic.
My father-in-law, Harry Bush, z”l, grew up there, until he was arrested and sent to Tereizestadt early in the war. Thanks to a cousin who lived there in the aftermath, we were able to locate his childhood home.
It was a powerful and meaningful trip, including a trip to Tereizen, which was guided by a Holocaust survivor who had been forced to that ghetto himself. In the course of comparing historical dates, we were shocked to discover that he and my father-in-law had actually been deported on the very same date, from the same station, on the same train. Later, both were sent to Auschwitz, and were fortunate to be among the remnants who survived.
The most powerful moment of the trip for me was when we entered a small, covert Shul in Tereizen. On the walls were painted murals, with various quotes. When I read this one, taken from the Tachanun prayer from the morning service, it was like a punch in the gut. I still get emotional thinking about it.
ובכל זאת שמך לא שכחנו, נא אל תשכחנו.
Loosely translated: “Despite all of this, we have not forgotten Your name. Likewise, please don’t forget us.”
From the depths of living hell, from a place where G-d’s presence seemed to be nowhere to be found, the people proclaimed that they had not forgotten G-d. The pure faith of a decimated, seemingly-hopeless people, who knew that there was indeed hope and a future with their Creator.
I’m sure I am not alone in wondering about the final moments of our brothers in the South on Simchat Torah. I have no doubt that many fought to their last breath, and saved others in the process. I have no doubt that many, as they lay there shot or burning or awaiting the terrorist’s blade, called out the ultimate declaration of our faith: “Shema Yisrael — Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One!”
For a few hours on that awful, awful day, G-d, You hid your face. But we know we have not been forgotten.
Not in Tereizen.
Not in Southern Israel.