On Sunday evening, April 11, Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, Operations Manager of Chazaq, interviewed Dr. Moshe Katz, author of Nine Out of Ten, Holocaust survivor, and well-known speaker about the Holocaust. Dr. Katz was a co-founder of most of the Torah institutions in Far Rockaway, including Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv, TAG, Yeshiva of South Shore, and Agudath Israel of Long Island. His book Nine Out of Ten is about the history of the Hungarian Jews’ will to survive the war.
First, Dr. Katz described his Jewish education as a young boy. He had strict rabbis who were critical and put him down. Later he learned in a different yeshivah, when he was 13, and there the rebbe encouraged him and helped him to succeed in learning. This rebbe had confidence in him and that led him to success. This is a beautiful message about chinuch right here. Dr. Katz shared, “I didn’t want to let my rebbe down.”
He shared his experience in 1938, when the war came and all the husbands were taken to labor camps. He had seven boys and three girls in his family. His father had connections, so he was able to stay home. His father once helped one of the Hungarian officers whose business went bankrupt. He had forgiven him any loans, and that person would do anything for his father in order to help him.
In 1942, Hitler demanded that the Hungarian government deliver their Jews. The leader needed the Jews for their factories. Hitler then said okay but I want the Polish Jews. Dr. Katz’s father was Polish and he hid. In 1942, they collected 22,000 Polish Jews in Hungary. The Jews were taken to the Ukraine. His brother, Pinchas’ father-in-law, was taken. His father used connections to rescue the father-in-law.
Dr. Katz shared that he was involved not only in how to save people but there was a family with two orphaned girls in Hungary, aged 11 and 13. He went to their apartment. They were crying that they would have to leave the house. He found a Catholic orphanage that agreed to take them if he provided their food. He worked in a small supermarket and he was able to procure food and he took it to them in a basket. When he came, he found the girls had crosses around their necks. He took them outside and told them to remember that they were Jewish, and after the war they should go to Jewish people who stayed alive. He would then say Sh’ma with them. One day, Dr. Katz was coming from the Catholic home and he was accosted by two detectives. They saw the basket of food and they accused him of trafficking in the black market. People were only allowed at that time to get food with coupons. He was able to get out of this situation.
Rabbi Meirov asked him how we can fight anti-Semitism. Dr. Katz replied, “It’s not a new thing. Since the world was created, there was anti-Semitism.” He shared that he is a mentor for Mrs. Lichtenstein’s Project Witness. He speaks on their behalf. He shared how he went to a school in Crown Heights that had non-Jews. He presented a simple message: “You don’t have to hate us. We don’t have to hate you. We have a common enemy. They want to destroy us.” They hate Black people and anyone not like them. We have to fight them together to stop them.
He shared that there isn’t a day that he doesn’t think about the Holocaust. “This is my life. I dedicated 30 years to teaching about it. He has spoken in Catholic schools, yeshivos, and public schools. “I never say no to teach about it.” He spoke via Zoom for a special public school for gifted children on West 125th Street in Manhattan. The class went on for more than two hours because the children were so interested.
“Regardless of how religious or not religious you are, you ended up in Auschwitz,” he shared. He was in a farm during the war and he said he is still in touch with the third generation of that family that helped him during the war. The last time he was there was 12 years ago. At that time, the bishop of the town came to him to apologize for how he had spoken against the Jews.
The Germans collected 40,000 Jews and marched them to Germany. They had a motto: no work, no food. Every night, there was a curfew at ten p.m. and Dr. Katz saw the Nazis throwing Jewish children into the Danube River. Their shoes were lined up at the edge of the river. “For eight days, they threw 2,000 children a day into the river. I saw that and I said, ‘Hashem, if I remain alive, I will help make yeshivos.’” That is why he started the Torah Academy for Girls (TAG), Yeshiva of South Shore, and Rabbi Freifeld’s Sh’or Yoshuv. “They were all born in my house.” He noted that today there are 150 boys in the Sh’or Yoshuv Institute in Lawrence, New York.
Dr. Katz noted that he invited one family – a couple and their three children – every Shabbos for 20 years, and that family became observant; he went to Israel and met 50 children and grandchildren who all came from that family, and every one of them is frum.”
Rabbi Meirov asked Dr. Katz to share a final message. “”My final message is: My Jewish brothers and sisters, wake up. Nothing in life is secure. If you could get one family to be shomer Shabbos overnight, there will be two million. You can make up in some way for the six million Jews. There is no other way. You don’t have to be rebbe or chasid. Invite them for a dinner.
He concluded that he loves every Jew and every Jew is important to him.
By Susie Garber