Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto (Image credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101III-Schilf-002-29 / Schilf / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons)
In commemoration of the Fast of The Tenth of Tevet which was designated Yom Ha-kaddish Ha-klali, the general Kaddish Day, to remember the Holocaust Victims; dedicated to the unknown heroes whose astounding deeds remain etched in the Heavenly Treasure Chest.
Since David and Goliath, every period of history has produced a confounding conglomeration of personalities who symbolize the quintessential image of unsurpassed courage.
But Viking princes, valiant knights, and Trojan warriors all pale in comparison to a little boy named Shimon.
An unremarkable act of kindness does not usually require an intrepid spirit, but in the Lodz Litzmanstadt Ghetto it constituted a flirtation with death. Shimon was a slight young 11-year-old when he entered the ghetto with his family. The ecliptic disruption of normal life and abysmal conditions around him did not succeed in altering little Shimon's spirit. Shimon acted as the emissary who received food surreptitiously from a compassionate non-Jew and carried it to an old man on a regular basis.
One day Shimon got caught and was beaten mercilessly by three Gestapo men who demanded that Shimon reveal the name of the person who "illegally" supplied the life-sustaining food for the old man.
Other men who were collected and beaten for a variety of dubious infractions received 100 lashes, but little Shimon, who remained upright and mute, was given 125 lashes.
The three Gestapo men were utterly confounded by the incorrigible obstinacy of this child who would not reveal the name of the food supplier. They aimed their rifles at Shimon in one last desperate attempt to force him to produce the one name whose utterance would grant the child a chance to live.
It was so easy to say the name. There were so many reasons to give the name. Even if he did reveal the name, the Gestapo might not find their prey anyway. Who would blame this frail tortured child for succumbing to a moment of weakness in order to save his life?
Little Shimon remained impervious to the momentous click that meant the rifle would go off. He had already closed his eyes and said Shema Yisrael and was now reciting Vidui, the last confession prayer that is traditionally said on one’s deathbed. These prayers were the same prayers uttered by Jewish martyrs who perished in the tumultuous pyres of the Spanish Inquisition. These were the same prayers offered by Jews throughout history who were willing to sacrifice their lives in order to preserve the sanctity of their souls.
This courageous frail Jewish child conquered the might of the nefarious German army with his silence. Shimon would willingly forfeit his life because he was forbidden by his precious Torah to snitch on another person. It was unthinkable, in any case, to repay the man who had given him the food with anything but gratitude. He would cause him no harm, intentional or otherwise, even if it meant sacrificing his life.
But Shimon did not die. He remained standing with his eyes closed immersed in his final prayers long after the Gestapo put down their guns and withdrew in abject defeat. It was only when someone came and told him to go home did he realize that he had been given his life back. Shimon suffered for weeks afterwards from the brutal beating that he received - there was not a spot on his body that was not bruised and swollen. But his soul remained unscathed.
Frail little Shimon, emaciated from living in the Ghetto, hardly looked like a hero by any standard. From where did he get this unimaginable strength? Was the spirit of his Biblical namesake Shimon, known for his unconquerable might, imparted to him? Was little Shimon sustained by the ethereal vitality of his deep Chassidic background? What force propelled him to jump from the train that was taking him to Auschwitz, alone in the night to face a perilous existence as frightening as death itself? There is no perceptible explanation.
Shimon never thought that he did anything remarkable, and it took him ten years before he even mentioned this story to his wife. If you saw Shimon today, you would detect no hint of the profound heroism that lies camouflaged deep beneath the guise of the gentlest unassuming grandfather. Shimon is blessed with children and grandchildren who carry with them the same veracious spirit of loyalty to their heritage and profound kindness to anyone in need.
The true story remains unrecorded and is remembered only in the hearts of the few people who know what happened. It certainly is etched indelibly in the heavenly treasure chest of our Creator, where the unknown sacrifices of all - the young and the old - throughout Jewish history remain revealed for all eternity.
This article, reprinted with permission of the author, previously appeared as Stone, Darla Chavkin. “Conquered By Silence” in The Jewish Tribune, London; The Algemeiner Journal, New York; and in Horizons Journal.