Jonathan Muskat

Unity Amidst Tragedy: The Legacy of Stanley Leeper and the Bonds of the Jewish Community

This past week, our Oceanside community honored Yom Hashoah with a poignant program. The centerpiece of such events, including ours, is typically the speaker, often a survivor or the descendant of one, sharing their story of survival or their parent’s journey through the camps.

However, this year, we heard from a different type of speaker and a different type of story. We were privileged to hear from Monte Leeper, a resident of Oceanside. Monte’s father, Stanley Leeper, was an American soldier who played a significant role in liberating the Gunskirchen camp in Austria. During this operation, he encountered two Jewish teenagers, Wolfgang “Sinai” Adler, aged 16, and Yehuda Bacon, aged 15. These boys had endured the horrors of Auschwitz and were part of a death march to the Mauthausen camp in Austria, and later to Gunskirchen, where they were eventually liberated on May 5th. The guards, in a final act of cruelty, had poisoned the food supplies, leading to further loss of life among the prisoners.

Adler and Bacon, determined to seek help, set out towards Switzerland, where they hoped to find assistance from the Red Cross. Weak and ill with typhoid fever, they encountered American soldiers, one of whom was Stanley Leeper. Despite orders not to transport camp prisoners due to the risk of disease, Stanley, moved by compassion and his Jewish heritage, conversed with them in Yiddish and decided to defy orders. Risking his own consequences, he escorted them to a Red Cross hospital in Switzerland. There, despite initial reluctance from the medical staff, Stanley’s insistence ensured that Adler and Bacon received the care they desperately needed, ultimately saving their lives.

While I hadn’t known Yehuda Bacon, I was familiar with Rabbi Sinai Adler. Rabbi Adler was a rebbe in the Meretz Kollel in Yeshivat Mevaseret Tzion. I shared with Monte Leeper how Stanley Leeper’s actions had indirectly impacted many American Jews, as Rabbi Adler had been a source of Torah learning for numerous students who spent time at Yeshivat Mevaseret Tzion during their gap year. It was a poignant reminder of how one act of heroism rippled out to touch countless lives.

Monte Leeper and his father may not have been orthodox Jews, but their pride in their Jewish heritage resonated deeply. It made me reflect on the sometimes-fragmented nature of the Jewish community, particularly between those adhering strictly to halacha and those with a less stringent observance. Yet, moments like these underscored the shared cultural ties that bind us, regardless of religious practice.

We just celebrated Pesach, and we remember a time in Jewish history when our ancestors may have worshipped idolatry, but according to a version of the midrash they did not change their names, dress of language. What this means is that they shared cultural but not halachic values. And they were worthy of being redeemed. Additionally, every year during the night of the seder, every type of son who identifies as a Jew is sitting at the seder table, even those who may reject halachic practice. Who is not at the seder table? Sixty-five years ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke about a fifth son, someone who is completely assimilated, who is absent from the seder. But every Jew who identifies as a Jew is sitting at our seder table and is part of our community. Pesach, with its narrative of redemption and inclusion, serves as a reminder that despite differing levels of observance, all Jews are part of the larger Jewish family.

Yom Hashoah holds a dual significance for us. It’s a day to honor the memory of the Holocaust victims and acknowledge the heroic deeds of individuals like Stanley Leeper, who, though perhaps unaware of specific religious laws, exemplified the essence of Jewish values through their actions. Hitler’s indiscriminate targeting of Jews based on their heritage, rather than their religious practice, highlights the importance of unity within the Jewish community, transcending religious divides.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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