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. (more…)