The Last Yom Kippur
The Last Yom Kippur
was the last Yom Kippur. War had come to Europe as the Nazi hordes had invaded
Poland and the British had bombed Hamburg several times. Before 1933 there had
been 25,000 Jews in Hamburg but now all who could had fled if they had not been
murdered. Whoever had relatives or friends in America or elsewhere had gotten
out. But those who had no such contacts were not allowed into any country in the
world. For surely, no one wanted additional Jews within their borders and few
wanted any financial burdens. In fact, even the American Jewish community
rejected the frantic cries for help from their German Jewish brethren. Was it
not well known that all German Jews were arrogant and ungrateful? Had not the
German Jews insulted the Russian Jews of the nineteenth century? American Jews
wanted no part of these bossy, overbearing and pushy German Jews who probably
exaggerated the persecutions they had to endure.
now war had come and the Nazi bosses and the German people blamed the Jews. The
Jews started the war, said Hitler, and the Jews will find that "this time
it will be the end of the Jewish race in Europe."
thousand Jews remained in Hamburg when the war started.
so, on this Yom Kippur there was only one "shul", one synagogue left
in Hamburg. Before the Kristallnacht, the
night of the shattered glass, there had been twelve synagogues there. Of these,
one had been seized and converted to a radio station, ten had been burned to the
ground and one remained. The remaining "shul" was old and large. It
had been built one hundred years earlier in the rear of a row of high apartment
houses so that it would not be visible from the street. A narrow alley led from
the street to the entrance of the "shul." Burning it would have
endangered the apartment houses and so it was left intact.
the "shul" was packed. Whoever could come in did so. In Europe there
were no tickets to enter a "shul" even on Yom Kippur. All were
welcome. It was a terrible time. Many Jews had already been murdered in camps,
on the street, in their homes. Everywhere signs proclaimed that "The Jews
are our Misfortune." Jews were not allowed to work, to use public
transportation or to enter a public building such as a library or a government
office, to go to school or to sit
on a park bench other than those painted yellow and marked "for Jews
only." Labor battalions had been organized for Jewish men many of whom had been murdered. Day and night, radio broadcasts told
the German people that the Jews were traitors in their midst and were spying for
Germany's enemies. An atmosphere of doom hung over the congregation as Rabbi
Joseph Carlebach began his last sermon to his people.
it happened. Suddenly, without warning the rabbi stopped speaking. Two uniformed
Nazi troopers appeared at the front of the "shul" and in stentorian
voices announced that all Jews were to go home, get their radios and their
silverware and deliver them promptly at the nearest police precinct. Jews, said
the Nazi terrorists, were using their radios to contact the English air force
and were directing the bombing of Hamburg. Furthermore Jews had stolen so much
money from true Germans that they all had silverware illegitimately.
went home, picked up our radio and our silverware and the whole family walked to
the nearest precinct house as we had been ordered. A large crowd of Jews was
already there. As each Jew lined up to enter the police station his name was
checked off on a list prepared there. "It stinks from garlic here,"
shouted a policeman while others enjoyed a number of offensive "jokes"
at the expense of the Jews.
was the last Yom Kippur for the Jews of Hamburg. Deported, murdered and
scattered to "the four corners of the earth," only a few survived.
survived and now Yom Kippur had come again and this time I was in America. Here
was a large, open, publicly visible Jewish community. Hebrew signs appeared in
butcher shops announcing kosher meat. Synagogues were built in visible, public
places and on the High Holy Days politicians congratulated the Jewish voters.
Yom Kippur had come again and my wife and I got up early. We had taken the day
off and headed for the nearest "shul." It was a great day for us. We
were alive, we were free and we were grateful to God that we were still here. It
was 8:30 a.m. We walked quickly into the street to the West Side
Synagogue. We saw the stairs of the building from a distance as other Jews were
entering already. We came with joy and great anticipation. We knew that no one
could stop us here. No one wanted to prevent us from praying here. In this land
of freedom a Jew had the right to be a Jew and to go to "shul" on Yom
Kippur and to even read about it in the daily newspaper.
We approached the "shul" and walked up the stairs to the door. We entered, or we tried to enter, but we couldn't get past a large table placed squarely across the entrance. Behind it sat a large and ominous woman. "You need a ticket to come in here!" she announced. We didn't understand her, not because we knew no English but because we had never heard of an admission ticket to a synagogue. I said in accented English: "Ticket, what ticket?" "If you want to go to a theater," said the lady, "you need a ticket and you need one here. If you don't have one, get out !"
spent Yom Kippur on a park bench. The bench was not painted yellow nor did it
say "For Jews only."