By Yosef Ben-Shlomo HaKohein

A couple of years ago, Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi-hunter, spoke at a conference of European Rabbis in Bratislava, Slovakia. The Rabbis presented the 91 year old Simon Wiesenthal with an award, and Mr. Wiesenthal, visibly moved, told the rabbis the following story:

...he invited Wiesenthal to join the other survivors in praying.

He related how he was in Mauthausen after liberation and was visited there by Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the head of the Agudat Harabanim in the United States, who had come to help and comfort the survivors. Rabbi Silver also organized a special service, and he invited Wiesenthal to join the other survivors in praying. Mr. Wiesenthal declined, and explained why.

"When I was in camp, I saw many different types of people do things. There was one religious man of whom I was in awe when I saw that he smuggled a siddur (prayer book) into the camp. I was amazed that he took the risk of his life in order to bring the siddur in. But then, the next day, to my horror, I realized that he was taking this siddur and renting it out to people in exchange for giving him their last piece of bread. This man was so thin, that when he started eating so much from the people renting out his siddur, he died before everyone."

Mr. Wiesenthal continued: "I was so angry with this Jew — how could he take a holy siddur and use it to take a person's last piece of bread away? So I am not going to pray, if this is how Jews behave, if this is what they do with something that is supposed to be a prayer book."

"...That's faith. That's the true power of the siddur."

As Wiesenthal turned to walk away, Rabbi Silver tapped him on the shoulder and gently said in Yiddish, "Oy na'ar, na'ar (silly boy). Why do you look at the Jew who rented out his siddur to take away people's last meals? Why do you look at that bad Jew? Why don't you look at the dozens of Jews who gave up their last piece of bread in order to be able to use a siddur? That's faith. That's the true power of the siddur."

Rabbi Silver then embraced him.

"When he said that," said Wiesenthal, "I walked together with him to pray."

May we learn how to see the good in our family, community, and people. May we learn how to see the good in all of God's creation.


[Connection to this week: The fast day of the Tenth of Tevet, about a week after Chanukah, is the traditional day for the saying of Kaddish for all those martyrs of the Holocaust whose exact date of death is unknown. For this reason, we try to feature a story from that era of horrors at this time each year.

Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from, the website of the writer of this week’s piece, may he rest in peace.

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