The Mezuzah Maker of Majdanek

The August sun baked down on the mailman.

Droplets of sweat poured into his eyes.

These salty beads burned and blurred his vision.

The mailman stopped walking and pulled his blue and white handkerchief from the pocket of his khaki shorts.

He wiped away the sweat and the tears.

The postman stuck the hanky back in his pocket.

And as he did five days a week, he continued huffing and puffing as he climbed the western slope of Mount Herzl.

He loved the other name for this slope—the Mount of Remembrance.

Having lost family in the Shoah, his walk toward Yad Vashem was emotional, meaningful and sad.

The postal worker carried his heavy brown leather mail pouch with pride.

A pouch filled with packages and letters concerning the six million.

On this sun-baked day, one of the packages had caught his eye.

The contrast between the brightly colored postage stamps and the Manila buff-colored envelope pulled him in.

It was addressed to:

Director of Archives

The World Holocaust Remembrance Center

Yad va-Shem Street

Jerusalem, Israel.

The postal worker walked into the director of the archives air-conditioned office.

As the cool air fanned his face, he pulled out the package; studied the Polish postage stamps affixed to it.

He recognized the coat of arms of Poland—the gold crowned white eagle with its gold beak, flared wings and grasping talons housed in a red field.

He recognized the word, “Polska.

His grandfather, a survivor of Majdanek, received similar stamps on letters sent from Poland.

The mailman greeted the director’s secretary with a wink.

Shalom Rosa, meyn shayna punim, how are you doing this hot August morning?”

Aliz gut,” Rosa replied with a smile.

“You look so beautiful in that red dress and that beaded string of white pearls.”

Rosa smiled and studied the mailman, “G-d Mordechai, your covered in shvitz.

Are you okay? It gotta be 100 degrees Fahrenheit out there.

Do you want a glaz fun kalte vaser?”

“I’m fine. I’m use to Jerusalem’s hot weather.

“I climb your hill five times a week.”

As they kibitzed, his eyes admired her shapely body.

Rosa felt his roaming eyes and looked into his face.

“Look how you’re shvitzing. Take these paper towels and dry off your face,” she ordered.

As he patted down his face, he said, “You got an interesting package from Poland.

It’s from a suburb of Lublin, Poland—Majdan Tatarski”

I’m really curious as to what’s inside it.

If you’re allowed to tell me what’s in it, I’d greatly appreciate it.”

“Why wait? What do they say about that curious cat?” she asked as she ripped open the package.

Out of the envelope poured three wooden mezuzahs, wrapped in yellow tissue paper, a beat-up pocket knife wrapped in purple paper and a typed letter.

As Mordechai examined the mezuzahs and the knife, Rosa held the letter to the light and read aloud.

“Dear Director:

My name is Pawel.

I am humbly donating these three mezuzahs—which I have personally carved—and my pocket knife to Yad Vashem.

I thought you would be interested as to why I made this donation.

So here’s my confession, my story of the mezuzahs, the knife and a portion of my life.

As a boy growing up in outskirts of Lublin, Poland, I started whittling.

My dad bought me the Boy Scout uniform, the green cap, the neckerchief and the bone-handled pocket knife.

As he handed me the knife, he looked into my eyes and whispered,

“Son, learn to love this knife. Keep it sharp and clean. Some day this knife may save your life.”

“Thanks Dad, for buying me the knife. I promise you, I’ll take good care of it.”

In our church, my dad proudly watched as my scoutmaster awarded me the wood-working merit badge.

Whittling turned out to be my G-d given talent.

Whittling became my obsession.

I loved scouting, whittling and the church.

As gifts for my friends, I carved neckerchief slides in the shape of: the Scouting Cross, the fleur-de-lis, eagles, canoes and arrowheads.

And with my dad’s admonition carved into my brain,  I never went anywhere without his three-blade pocket knife.

While holding the knife in my left hand and the scout manual in my right, I memorized the Boy Scout Promise:

“It is my sincere wish to serve G-d and Poland with the whole of my life, to give my willing help to other people, and to obey the Guide and the Scout Law.”

Here is where I failed—my scout oath, my church and my humanity.

Instead of helping other people, I hurt them.

I ignored the teachings of my church.

Before the Nazis invaded Poland, I feared my so-called friends calling me a ‘Jew lover.’

So I threw snowballs filled with chips of ice at the heads of Jewish children.

Not only did I throw snowballs but I threw punches, stones, firecrackers as well as apples attached to the tip of sticks.

I hurled vile curses and anti-Semitic remarks at the old and the young.

During the War, when the Jews were rounded up and moved into the Ghetto, I never tosses a potato or slice of bread in their direction.

I feared the Schutzstaffel guards.

When the Jews were marched from Ghetto toward the Majdanek Concentration Camp, I did not try to sneak my pocket knife into their hands.

I feared capture, torture and death.

I ignored the terrified eyes of children clinging on to their mothers.

I ignored their starving eyes and their bloated bellies.

I did not lift a finger nor raise a voice.

For all of my inactions, I have lived in shame.

I had intentionally sinned.

I had lead a wicked life.

I had transgressed against divine law.

I regretted it.

I’m ashamed of it.

I’m tarnished among the nations.

Jewish children’s faces filled my nightmares.

I prayed for absolution.

I prayed for redemption.

I prayed for my day of atonement.

I drank to wash away my memories and my sins.

I cried tears of guilt.

After Majdanek liberation by the Soviet army, I snuck into the camp and pilfered a small piece of lumber.

For years I polished and oiled that piece of wood wondering what to carve it into.

This inanimate witness the murder of thousands.

Then one August day, as the sun baked down on my head, I had an epiphany.

Carve mezuzahs.

Study the Old Testament.

Immerse myself in Judaism.

Read everything about mezuzahs.

Learn how to carve the letters of Hebrew alphabet.

Decide on the words to carve on the mezuzahs.

Carve Hebrew words about the Jews return to the land of Zion;

Donate the mezuzahs and my pocket knife to Yad Vashem.

After I started my repentance, my burden lightened.

The haunting faces of the children and the nightmares vanished.

I put down the vodka bottle and returned to my church.

Now that the mezuzahs are in your possession:

Please insert klaf —parchment scrolls— into them;

Please nail them on the lesser portals of your great institution;

If for any reason, you feel that the mezuzahs are inappropriate for your doorposts, please place them in a small glass case with my knife and this note so others may learn the lessons of my story.”

With tears in her eyes and a crack in her voice, Rosa said, “Mordechai, he signed the letter, the Mezuzah Maker of Majdanek.”

About the Author
Florida's Jewish short-story writer, speaker, film producer and retired attorney. He has authored, "A Hebraic Obsession", "The Hanukkah Bunny" and "The Greatest Gift." He produced an award-winning short film entitled, "The Stairs". Movie can be viewed on my TOI blog. ChatGPT says, Mort is known for his works that often explore themes of love, loss, and the human connection. Laitner has published several books , including “A Hebraic Obsession.” His writing style is characterized by its emotional depth and introspection. Laitner’s works have garnered praise for their heartfelt expression and keen insight into the human experience.