As Pesach approaches, many people get together to bake Matzahs. Eating Matzah on Pesach that you made with your own hands is quite special. It is even better when you are part of a special chabura.
Being part of the Skverer Rebbe’s chabura is no small privilege. The Matzah baking is an event. The chasidim dress in their bekeshes and streimlach. Hallel is recited upon completion of the baking. If you have ever been a part of a chabura, you know that everyone has a job to do. Some parcel out the dough, others roll it out, and others poke the holes in the dough.
Rav Shaya Ungar was the Gabbai for the previous Skverer Rebbe and the current Rebbe. He is the shiver for the Skverer Rebbe’s chabura. The job of the shiver is to take a long board and, when the Matzah is finished baking, remove the Matzah and determine whether it is kosher or not. Every year jobs are rotated except for one. Rav Shaya is always the shiver. As Rav Shaya got older, it became increasingly difficult for him to stand before the blazing hot inferno and to remove the Matzah. The chasidim implored him to relinquish his duties as the shiver, but Rav Shaya refused.
Someone asked Rav Shaya why he held on to this particular job with such fervor. Rav Shaya told the following story. “In Auschwitz, I had the worst job in the history of the world. After the Jews were gassed to death they would be packed onto a flatbed truck and wheeled to the crematoria. My job was walking alongside the truck to ensure no bodies would fall off. I would often see the bodies of friends and neighbors among the dead. Upon arriving at the crematoria, I had to put the bodies in the furnace. I had no choice but to do as the Nazis commanded. They would have killed me otherwise. Still, I have always felt guilty that I cremated those bodies. I feel like I need some sort of Tikkun, rectification, for what I did. So when it comes time for Pesach, I am the shiver. I put into the fire, and now I take out of the fire. As I take the Matzahs out of the oven, I don’t see Matzah. I see the faces of those I put into the ovens in the crematoria in Auschwitz. Every Pesach, I have the zechus of taking those people out of the oven I cremated years ago. Every Pesach I have the zechus of pronouncing the Maztah to be kosher.”
I never cease to be amazed by stories like these. Not only because of the gehenom that these Jews went through, but because of the heroism of what they did with their pain afterwards. Their pain became the catalyst for unparalleled growth. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Rav Shaya could have simply stored away his pain deep in the recesses of his soul. Certainly, no one would have blamed him. Instead, he chose to face his worst nightmare and bring new light to the world.
Thankfully we have no idea what these people lived through. At this point, few Holocaust survivors are left. The Yeshivas that I grew up in made sure to bring survivors to school so we could hear their stories firsthand. I did the same for my oldest children. My younger children may not have that privilege. It is our responsibility to tell these stories to the next generation. Our children must understand how we got to this point in history. They may have been born on top of the mountain, but those who climbed the mountain from the depths of hell cannot be forgotten. Our children ought to know the heroism of the people that came before them. We may live in easier times, but they should be taught about the indefatigable nature of the Jewish soul. And especially in light of the recent uptick in antisemitism in America, we would do well to remind ourselves again to never forget.