A woman once came to the Kapischnitzer Rebbe, Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel zt”l. She was on the verge of despair. Having survived the Holocaust, she came to the United States and raised a family. She valued her Jewish roots; however, she was not a deeply religious person and consequently, neither were her children. Now, though, her grown-up son had gone too far; he had met a non-Jewish girl, courted her for some time, and just recently, they announced their engagement. She was horrified; her son was planning to marry out of the faith! She begged, she cajoled, and she even took her son to speak with many important rabbis. It was no use. “Mama,” he would say, “don’t you want me to be happy? I have met the woman of my dreams. So what if she’s not Jewish? It’s not as if we keep the Jewish laws, anyway. Why is this so important to you?”
His mother tried to explain, but she was at a loss. Now, as she stood in front of the Kapischnitzer Rebbe, she broke down in a torrent of tears. The Rebbe looked at her with tenderness in his eyes. “Bring him to me,” he said. “I want to tell him a story.”
Mother and son came to the Kapischnitzer Rebbe and, while the mother waited outside in the anteroom, the Rebbe welcomed the intrigued young man into his private study. “Much like your mother,” began the Rebbe, in a voice full of warmth and affection, “I, too, suffered under the boot of the Nazis, although surely not as much as she did. I was able to leave Europe in 1938, before the war began. But in the short time that I lived in Vienna, I did get a personal taste of oppression, German style.
“I recall one incident that stands out in my mind till today. We were on line, waiting for a selektion that would decide our fate. Jews were being sent to the right or to the left. For some it meant slave labor and work details; for others it meant a temporary respite before the next selektion. We were all terrified – but there was nothing to do about it. We all lined up.”
The Rebbe looked wistful for a moment. “Suddenly, we heard the sound of loud sobs coming from the back of the line. A man was crying hysterically. I walked over to him. ‘Please don’t cry,’ I said. ‘We are all in this together and we will all get through this together. We are all Jewish brothers, and we will share your burden.’ But the man shook his head violently. ‘No! Go away! Leave me!’ I again tried to console him, to at least get him to stop crying. And finally he did, but only long enough to tell me his story. ‘Rabbi, I was born and raised in a religious home. But I was a rebel and in my youth; I fell in with the wrong crowd. There was an Austrian girl, non-Jewish, with whom I became friendly. We were young and having fun, and it wasn’t long before we decided to get married. But how would that work? I was Jewish and she was Christian. Well, I saw no future as a Jew, so I did the unthinkable: I converted to Christianity. We got married and lived happily together for the past 20 years.’
Now, the young man sat up in his chair. This, no doubt, was the part he was meant to hear. The Rebbe continued: “The man on line continued sobbing softly. ‘When the Nazis announced this selektion a few days ago, not only were all Jews ordered to report, but all non-Jews were warned of the consequences of hiding or not reporting a Jew. My wife got scared. She knew that I was once a Jew and in order to save herself from potentially being arrested, she went to the Gestapo and reported that I am Jewish. The Nazis came for me a short while ago; they took me away from my wife and family and threw me into this square.’
“Suddenly, the man looked up and pointed across the street. ‘Rabbi, you want to know why I’m so hysterical? Because right over there, across the street, my wife of over 20 years is standing and watching. In fact, she’s chatting with a few people, smiling even – she doesn’t look upset at all! When I look at her standing there, my heart convulses in pain. I cannot control my emotions.’ The man let out a loud cry. ‘Rabbi, this woman betrayed me not once but twice! First, she convinced me to give up my religion and turn my back on my Jewish heritage. Then, when it suited her, she decided that I was a Jew and should be taken away with all the rest of the Jews! A double betrayal by one woman! That’s why I cry so hysterically!’”
A somber quiet enveloped the Kapischnitzer Rebbe’s study. The meeting was over. There were no more words to say. Silently, the young man stood up and let himself out of the room. His mother jumped to her feet when she saw her son emerging from the Rebbe’s study. Then, she noticed the ashen look on his face. “Mama,” he said quietly, before she could say a word, “the wedding is off. You were right. How can I trust a gentile with something as important as the rest of my life?”