By Rabbi Avraham Bekhor
Approximately ten years ago I met Mr. Bernard Cytryn, a Holocaust Survivor and a Korean War veteran. Reb Baruch, as he is known to my family, lives in my town and was a neuromuscular massage therapist. Reb Baruch’s energy and happiness drew me to him like a magnet and he became like a Zaide to us.
The first time we met I was having one of my low Shlichus days, not feeling successful and being hard on myself when in walks BARUCH! He was excited to show me a treasured letter from the Rebbe dated the 5th of Tammuz 5711 (1951). Of course, the Rebbe’s words hit me hard. It read: “It was a little surprising to me that you do not mention anything about your personal contact with your friends in matters of Yiddishkeit, for while influence by good example is effective often enough, it is necessary to make it the subject of conversation whenever possible.”
Reb Baruch hand delivered a message from the Rebbe to redirect me and help me focus on what’s important.
Reb Baruch went on to share his story with me. He narrowly escaped the line marching towards the crematorium in Aushwitz as a 13 year old boy. Sadly, he was the only survivor of his entire family – or so he thought. As he would say, “my family was destroyed.” And for Bernard Cytryn family means everything.
Even though he had an opportunity to escape Nazi Germany in the beginning of the war, his dear Mama couldn’t part with him, so he stayed. With G-d’s help he made it over to America after the war and despite all his atrocious memories of the past he signed up to fight in the Korean War. He was grateful to the United States for saving his life during the Holocaust and he wanted to give back.
A friend of his, Rabbi Eliyahu Gross took him to yechidus with the Rebbe before he left for Korea. The Rebbe told him to put on Tefilin everyday while he is overseas and gave him a bracha to return home safely. He remembers how: “the bullets were whizzing by the right side of my face and the left side of my face, but they didn’t touch me because of the Rebbe’s blessing.”
After hearing this encounter with the Rebbe, I quickly connected Reb Baruch with Rabbi Yechiel Cagen of JEM’s My Encounter project, who interviewed him in 2010. In fact, Bernard’s story was one of those selected in JEM’s new book, My Story.
But Bernard’s story does not end there. The Rebbe was not finished with him.
About two weeks ago I received a call from a Lubavitch couple who were looking into moving on shlichus to a town on the East Coast. A local family hosted them for a Chanukah party along with 35 other local Jews.
As a token of appreciation, the prospective new Shluchim gave the host family the new My Story book. The book portrays a broad picture of the Rebbe’s wisdom and the impact that he had on the lives of individuals so they felt it was a suitable gift which would relay what the Rebbe is all about. It’s really a beautiful book!
Several days later, the Lubavitch couple received a phone call from this family. They read the story about Bernard Cytryn and were very curious about him, because their last name is also Cytryn and they come from the same town (Kielce) in Poland.
They contacted Rabbi Cagen, who reached out to me and I immediately called Reb Baruch. After asking him to sit down I shared this story with him and told him that there is a chance that he has family! Reb Baruch began to cry.
The family that shared the same last name recently flew to Florida for a family gathering. Within hours, Baruch (who is currently in Florida as well) met with them and they discovered that they are indeed related! Clearly, Reb Baruch was not the only survivor of his family. He finally had the mishpacha he had always hoped for! They invited him to join their family gathering celebration and gave him a place of honor.
Here were his words that he shared with me: “I have met the Albert Citron family and we are family from the moment we met! On December 24th I was invited to Cousin Albert Citron’s 75th birthday party in Boca Raton and I was the honored guest and the whole family with the children greeted me…I met close to 40 family members that I never knew of!”
I attribute this miracle to the Rebbe’s bracha and JEM!
If JEM had not painstakingly done these interviews, would Bernard ever have the opportunity to meet his family? Would our young generation who have never met the Rebbe been able to experience the greatness of our dear Rebbe and be able to connect with these stories?
It is my hope that by sharing this miraculous story, people will be inspired and will feel the great importance of helping JEM’s My Encounter project everlasting work!