Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, author of Eim Habanim Semeichah, described a Kol Nidrei during the Holocaust, Yom Kippur 1942. He was in Hungary, from which mass deportations wouldn’t begin until 1944, gathered with many others in one of the only synagogues still functioning in that terrible time. The following is my translation of what appears in Mishneh Sachir, Yom Kippur 5703:
I am recalling and transcribing in order not to forget what I saw and heard that Yom Kippur. A sight I had never seen before in my life. A vision that was awesome and dreadful, that Yom Kippur night.
The rabbi came into shul, completely bent over. Bent over from the dread of judgment. But even more contributed to his being hunched over — the pain of our generation. The rabbis who were there told me he was bent over double the way he normally was, carrying both the fear of judgment with the pain the nation of Israel was going through. He was literally bent over to the ground.
This is how he walked and stepped up to the holy Ark, and began crying out “Shir hamaalos Mimaakim Karasicha Hashem — from the deepest depth of pain reflecting our situation now, we CRY OUT TO YOU!”
He began to enumerate the terrible things that had befallen them.
“Where are my brothers? I’m missing my balabatim (congregants)!” And he started to name them: Where is this one? And this one? Last year he was here. We were ALL here together. And more and more and more — it’s impossible to recount everyone. Where is each one now?
And then he added: “Fathers who are here now are asking ‘where are our sons who were here last year?’ Sons are asking, ‘Where are our fathers who dedicated their souls to raising us, and who have now been stolen from us? Where are they?’
“The husband asks about his wife, and the wife asks about her husband. Where is she? Where is he? Small children who were stolen from their mother’s embrace, whose parents know nothing of their whereabouts.” He enumerated the multiple tragic stories that have affected families among us.
nd then there was a tremendous emotional outcry, the likes I had NEVER BEFORE SEEN IN MY LIFE. Throughout the synagogue, men and women were crying, in a loud voice, screams which almost caused people to faint. Children six years old and younger were also crying in a loud voice — almost like a stone wall was crying with us without stopping.
The rabbi continued, “Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father in Heaven, asei l’maan — do it for the children who study! Hear the simple cries of innocent children, over whom the Satan has no prosecutorial argument. See how they have been exiled, in this most difficult way, from their mothers.
“Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father in Heaven, asei l’maan — do it for those who have been murdered over Your Holy Name! How many of acheinu bnei Yisrael (our Jewish brothers and sisters) have been killed by the hands of the cursed ones, even though they had done NOTHING to deserve this fate!
“Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father in Heaven — have mercy upon us and our children.”
Through all of this expounding on the Avinu Malkeinus, the crying never stopped — the great sound of everyone’s voice, the broken hearts from every corner, both from the men section and the women section.
I do not have the ability to describe this awesome sight which I saw in this synagogue — the only one in the country where a large number of people gathered, bli ayin hara, and Hashem should add for us 1,000 times this number, as the blessing of Moshe says, “The Lord your G-d should heap upon you a thousand fold.”
n the whole country, many communities have already been destroyed, to the point that many did not even have a minyan in these Holy Days. And in my community of Pishtian, which had close to 500 Jewish families, since the expulsion from there from Pesach through Rosh Hashana, there are only three families left. No minyan at all. There is only a minyan where I am now because the rabbi here is a tremendous tsaddik, the Chief Rabbi, and in his merit, people came from all over the country to benefit from his shade.
We are very grateful to the wonderful baalei batim, important, wealthy, influential, God-fearing men who were able to impress upon the officials of the city not to bring about the decrees of the country to this place in the manner that has befallen other communities.
That is the main reason why this congregation is still here. Although even from here around 4,000 souls have been deported. But 1,000 people still remain here, and G-d should save them from the terrible decree. And they should remain here until G-d will bring a great salvation soon.
Many who have become refugees from their cities are here as well, such as myself and my family, and that is why there is a large contingent here.
This concludes Rabbi Teichtal’s recounting of that tragic Yom Kippur. The rest of the story is well-known, as Hungarian Jewry was largely wiped out in the summer of 1944, including Rabbi Teichtel.
Let us allow the depth of the seriousness of that Yom Kippur inspire us to tap into what kind of day Yom Kippur ought to be.
Shana tova to all.