Yisrael Spira (Shapira) of Posen, Bluzhever Rebbe (1889 - 1989)

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Nicknames: "Bluzhever Rebbe", "Rav Yisroel (Bluzhev) Spira"
Death: Died
Managed by: Rabbi Shlomo Leib Mund
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Yisrael Spira (Shapira) of Posen, Bluzhever Rebbe

האדמו"ר מבלוזוב Hebrew Books

תיאור מסע הלוויתו Hebrew Books

Rabbi Spira New York Times Obituary who was descended from a line of rabbis, led congregations in several Polish towns and survived confinement in concentration camps during World War II, including Bergen-Belsen.

In 1982, Yaffa Eliach authored an important book called Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, in which Jewish survivors of the concentration camps told their harrowing stories of survival.  One of the most moving tales was that of Israel Spira, a Rabbi who suffered horribly in the camps, yet survived to become one of the great spiritual leaders of the Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York after the war.  His wife and children were not so fortunate; all of them were murdered by the Nazis. Spira recalled one particular incident that took place during his imprisonment in the Janowska concentration camp in Poland. 

On a cold winter night, a German voice over the loudspeaker barked out the following order:  “You are all to evacuate the barracks immediately and report to the vacant lot.  Anyone remaining inside will be shot on the spot!”  Exhausted and emaciated, the prisoners stumbled to the vacant field and saw before them a large open pit.  The voice commanded, “Each of you dogs who values his miserable life must jump over the pit and land on the other side.  Those who miss will get what they rightfully deserve – ra-ta-ta-ta-ta.”  The voice imitated the sound of a machine gun.

According to Spira, jumping over the pit would have been nearly impossible even under the best of circumstances.  The prisoners were “skeletons”, feverish from disease, and physically exhausted from their daily labors.  Spira himself suffered from bruised and swollen feet.  Awaiting their turn to jump, he and a close friend watched prisoners die in a hail of bullets with each unsuccessful attempt.  The bodies began to pile up in the pit.  Spira’s friend recommended that they not bother trying and simply accept death, but Spira encouraged him to jump. They leapt into the darkness and found themselves alive on the other side of the pit.  Incredulous at their success, Spira’s friend asked him how he did it.  “I was holding on to my ancestral merit,” said Spira.  “I was holding on to the coattails of my father, and my grandfather and my great-grandfather, of blessed memory.”

Spira then asked his friend how he reached the other side of the pit.  “I was holding on to you,” he said.

Spira miraculously survived several years in the camps.  During that time, he buoyed the spirits of his fellow Jews by secretly performing important Jewish rituals and ceremonies, such as lighting the menorah, saying blessings, and obtaining matzah.  To acquire materials for these observances, Spira would establish a rapport with the camp commandant or guards.  When asked why he bothered to recite the Hanukah blessing amidst such suffering and death, Spira noted that he saw “faith” and “devotion” in the faces of the prisoners all around him.  “If, indeed, I was blessed to see such a people with faith and fervor, then I am under special obligation to recite the blessing,” he said.

Heroes help people even under the most grim of circumstances.  Spira witnessed the horrors of the holocaust unfolding right before him, but it didn’t deter him from doing everything he could to lift the spirits and faith of those around him.  Six million people perished in the camps, but Spira lived to become a highly revered religious figure for many years before passing away peacefully in 1989.  He once said, “There are events of such overbearing magnitude that one ought not to remember them all the time, but one must not forget them either. Such an event is the Holocaust.”

Rav Kook - Moving Story by Rabbi Yisroel Spira during the Holocaust

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