The summer of 1944 saw the Russians continually moving west pushing the Nazis further and further back across Poland into Germany. The Germans, in an effort to cover their crimes forced thousands of their slave labourers on death marches across Poland. Among the many poor and starved prisoners was Rabbi Y. Y. Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe Zt’l. Before the death march began his job was to sift through the rubble of the Warsaw ghetto on his hands and knees looking for anything that might be of value to help the Nazi war effort. As the Russians moved closer the Rebbe along with thousands of other prisoners was forced to march in the scorching Polish summer twenty miles a day. The death camp of Dachau in the south of Germany was to be their final destination. On the march, the prisoners were starved of food and water, any stragglers were immediately shot.
On the day of Tisha B’Av (9th of the Jewish month of Av) Jews mourn the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem as well as many other disasters that have happened on this painful day. One of the signs of mourning of Tisha B’Av is that Jews remove their leather shoes (leather shoes being an inappropriate sign of comfort and luxury on this solemn day).
In 1944, on a death march, in the summer heat, the Rebbe took off his shoes.
Despite everything that had happened to him he refused to give up the Jewish observances that made him who he was. The Nazis saw this sign of rebellion and decided to have some fun at the Rebbe’s expense. They made him march barefoot alongside the column on broken stones and gravel. They joked and laughed as his feet became bloodied and bruised.
At one point the Nazis thought he was trying to escape. So they shot him. He tumbled down an embankment. He had been shot in the arm. In an effort to dress the wound he took bark and leaves from a tree and wrapped it around his arm. It was at that point in his life, when faced by such unimaginable pain, hatred and adversity that the Rebbe demonstrated forever that there is no depth from which the human spirit cannot rise. It was at that point that he swore to God that should he survive he would build a place based on Jewish values of love, peace, equality and tolerance. All the values that the Nazis despised. He swore that he would build a hospital in the land of Israel that would epitomise everything the Nazis tried to destroy. That hospital became Laniado Hospital in Netanya.
The hospital was built in 1975. After the maternity unit was opened the Rebbe asked the nurses and staff there to call him immediately when the first baby was born. A few days later when the first baby was born the nurses called the Rebbe to inform him of the good news. Upon hearing the news Rebbe said in a broken voice, ‘zeh ha nekama sheli’, ‘this is my revenge’. This is my revenge – life will defeat death, hope will defeat pain, compassion will overcome hatred. May this coming Tisha B’Av be the last before our mourning is turned into joy and celebration.