Rabbi Freier gives Solomon the dangerous task of arranging the escape of Jewish children from Nazi Germany and bringing them to Palestine…
Solomon’s Trains, Part 11
It was winter in Berlin, the fourth day of Hanukah in the year 1932. Reb Solomon Dzubas woke to the sound of a strong winter wind rushing across the bay window of his bedroom. “Hooof, six o’clock, a half hour even earlier than the alarm clock is set for. Well apparently our beloved Creator so desires, so be it.” With his mind still running in high gear from his meeting with Rav Bentsion the previous day he got dressed and set off to the synagogue for the Shacharit (morning), prayer service.
The snow was falling and wherever the sporadic street clearing service had not done its work the snow was already seven inches deep. With one hand keeping his hat on his head and the other tightly holding onto the satchel with his Talit and Tefilin, he trudged through the snow covered streets battling against the strong wind.
As he got nearer to the synagogue he met another congregant, David Weisman the jeweler. “A good blessed morning, or should I say frozen morning, Reb Solomon. What have you to say about this little blizzard?”
“Well one good thing, a little Chanukah gift from our Lord Creator, about this uncomfortable weather, at least the Nazi patrollers prefer not to wander the streets in it to pester us.”
“Well said, I hadn’t thought of that angle. Ah here we are. I do hope the gabai started the heater early enough.”
Reb Solomon’s seat was in the front row at the east end of the prayer hall, almost directly opposite the Rabbi Freier’s seat and podium. At the end of the services Rabbi Freier called him to come speak with him.
“A blessed morning and day to you Soli. I’m most pleased that you too braved the weather to come pray in the minyan today. I have something very important to discuss with you. So that we waste no time, or strength, coming and going through this storm let’s talk over breakfast in my office. I’ve already arranged a good hot meal for the two of us.”
“As you ask Rabeinu. How could I refuse an invitation to a private meeting with you, especially with an invitation to breakfast.”
Rabbi Freier’s office was well appointed with high quality comfortable furniture and lighting, yet all in a simple, non-ostentatious style.
When they entered the Rabbi’s inner office there was already a set table awaiting. Rabbanite Recha Freier had set two places with a steaming tea pot and fruit already in place and the gabai brought in the toasted caraway-rye bread, eggs and oatmeal freshly cooked for them in the synagogue kitchen.
“My, my, what pampering you are giving me. I am honored.”
After the pre-meal blessings and the first few bites Rabbi Freier began the discussion.
“Soli it is not mere chance that you are married to the daughter of my right hand, Reb Mordekhai Suesskind. You yourself are a man of quality. It is for this that I have chosen you for a very important job. In fact ‘very important’ is likely an understatement of major proportion. I would dare say I am throwing at you one of the most important missions of the century.”
“I’m flattered at your compliments Rav Freier, yet hope that I am worthy of them. What can a little wholesale merchant like me possibly do that could be so immensely important?” Yet while he was speaking, the words of Rav Bentsion were milling through his mind.
“What I am going to ask of you will take work, a lot of work, a lot of travel and might be dangerous. If not at first then as time goes on it could get that way. You have the option to refuse. Yet I hope and feel that you will accept.”
“My dear Rabbi Freier you have peaked my curiosity. What is this so very special job? As for a dangerous job I am not exactly one fit for becoming a partisan warrior.”
“Oh no, it’s nothing like that Soli. Frankly I too could not see you as such. I want you to save the children of Germany from the upcoming death machine of the Nazis. The extent of their nefarious plans is not yet widely known. We have contacts from within their organization who have revealed what is being planned and has even started, may God have mercy on us all.
“You will need to make contact with offices in the Jewish settlement in Palestine to arrange their accepting the children, teaching, training and placing them in religious communities there. You will need to arrange safe passage out of Germany, possibly through neighboring countries, and then the voyage to Palestine, and of course any papers necessary. The funding of the enterprise and the political connections will be the responsibility of the Rebbetzin and me. What do you say?”
Solomon wondered if he should hint of any pre-knowledge or not. If accepted too quickly without saying anything it would sound odd. If he told all, it would sound even stranger. So, as he was used to do when in a quandary Solomon Dzubas made a silent personal prayer to God asking for the right words to say. “Rabbi, if I told you that I had been pondering the idea already but had no inkling as to how to start and as to how it could ever be funded what would you say?”
“I would say that it verifies my high opinion of you and the wisdom of my choice. I therefore presume that you accept.”
“It appears quite obvious that the Lord Heavenly Father so desires of me. How could I refuse?”
“Very good, Soli. Now let’s continue our meal with some Torah talk and finish the basic details of the job after the meal.”
Appropriately the week’s Torah portion was Miketz (At the end of), telling of Josef’s being freed from the dungeon in Egypt, which led up to the reunion with his brothers and saving them, his father and all the family from starving to death in the heavy draught and famine that had hit “the fertile crescent” region.
After the meal they sat by the Rabbi’s desk and worked out procedures needed to start the enterprise.
“The World Zionist Organization has already agreed to support the project. You already have a passport, and are familiar with Switzerland and somewhat with France and Belgium. You will have to travel to Palestine to speak with an American woman named Henrietta Szold. In my Rebbetzin’s communications with her she has replied with great skepticism and has so far refused to help. So you will have to either convince her or work around her. If you start to succeed without her she may agree after a while. But in any case the project must succeed with her or without her.
We have found some contact people for you to help arrange both legal official papers for getting the children out, also if and when necessary, how to arrange good forgeries.
We will open accounts for you in banks in various countries that you will need to work in, and provide you with letters of credit. Go to Shmuel’s clothiers and have him fit you with a suit and coat. I have already told him to have them tailored in a way to enable hiding small packets of papers and money. I and your father in law, Reb Mordekhai, will see to all the needs of your family while you are away.
When you are in Palestine beware of the British. They are fighting the Nazis in Europe and Africa, but as you probably know from history, aside from a few exceptions they are not famous for loving Jews, to put it mildly.
Your first step will be the trip to Palestine to arrange the receiving of the children, ages 14 to 18. I will, God willing, give you the names and locations of some possible alternatives, in case Mrs. Szold continues to refuse. I want to send seventy youngsters within two months. So get yourself ready and we will speak again in two days.”
“Yes sir my dear Rabbi Freier. Thank you for regarding me worthy of this mission. Good day.”
Back out into the snow storm with uncleared parts of the streets covered with more than twelve inches of snow, Reb Solomon was pondering the events of the past two days. Yesterday’s mind spinning half clouded discussion with the mystic Rav Bentsion, and now this morning’s meeting with Rabbi Freier, which the elderly Bentsion had predicted. “Save the children, death machine, Palestine, papers – legitimate or otherwise, a coat with hidden pockets…”
“Death machine, death machine” The words kept resounding in his mind like the chugging of steam locomotive. “When will it end? Millenia of being hunted, slaughtered, and for what? We built for the benefit of all where ever we went, be it our own ancient homeland, or be it the lands of exile, only to be hunted down like criminals and slaughtered by the very ones who benefited from our endeavors.”
His mind defocused and made a leap back in time. He was on a hillock watching a train of big powerful oxen pulling huge wagons. Many wagons carrying long heavy straight boles of cedar trees from Lebanon. Behind them were a hundred wagons carrying immense rectangular carved stones. He heard two men talking, one asked the other. “What is all that?”
“Don’t you know? Where have you been?”
“What are you talking about?
“They are trains of materials for the Holy Temple that King Solomon is building in Jerusalem.”
“Trains of logs and blocks for Solomon’s Temple?”
“Yes, they are Solomon’s trains on the way to the Holy Land.”
“Solomon’s trains, Solomon’s trains, Solomon’s trains…” The words run through his mind. Then his mind jumped forward several hundred years.
This time the second Holy Temple appeared before him as if it were really there. He was seeing the preparation of the sacrifices. Not only Jews were bringing offerings. There were men from various other nations, princes and wealthy businessmen from Egypt, Africa, Greece, what is today known as Turkey, Persia, Babylon, even from as far as India.
“They are bringing offerings to our Holy Temple for the Creator of the world. Yes, we know that as long as these offerings were brought there the world enjoyed more beneficial weather, crops, health and peace between nations than after the destruction. What was it that drove the Romans to destroy this gift to the entire world? Did they not know that they would bring mass sorrow for ages to come? Or did they know but not care, since they also knew that the same blessing which that very Temple provided to the world was what was hindering their total world conquest?
“They burned, they slaughtered, they…., oh my God what they did …. The blood in the streets of Jerusalem and Betar flowed in deep rivers up to the horses’ knees!
“Those of us who survived and were exiled, were bound and put into the holds of their ships, taken to Rome and paraded like captured animals in a circus train. We were forced to walk in lines tied one to another like little train cars, heh trains… Then they shipped us off to Spain. Some of us, like my family, wound up in Portugal. There Shimon Lavi, the author of the liturgical song “Bar-Yochai”, was born. Though he later moved to Fez and later to Tripoli, some of his sons stayed in Portugal. Though they changed their family name from Lavi, a Hebrew word for lion, to the Portuguese word Dzubas, lion’s mane, they had to flee Portugal as well when the inquisition and expulsion decree arrived there.
“The Dzubas families eventually made it to Poland and settled there. Having survived the pogroms of Polish gangs and of the Cossacks, as time went by they became members of the Gur Hasidic movement. Rav Yosef Dzubas’s soap factory, my cousin’s charity fund, the shidukh offer that brought me to Berlin from my hometown Czenstokhowa, my-my, how things go from one to another, how the wheels turn.”
Then he snapped back into the present; “Hmmm, I wonder how young Friedel is faring; he does have quite a knack for art, pity he went into that odd abstract style. Oh here home already, good. A cup of hot tea will be welcome.”
“Now I have to figure out how to explain to Becka and my in-laws what Rabbi Freier wants me to do. That is if he hasn’t told Reb Mordekhai already while I was on my way home. Well, if it’s for saving children and it’s from him they’ll agree, that’s for sure.”
To be continued