When World War II broke out, Rav Boruch HaLevi Leizerovski zt”l, the rav of the Lithuanian shul in the Polish city of Lodz, was shipped to Auschwitz and became another non-descript prisoner in that most blood-soaked of all human habitats. Upon arrival, all inmates underwent the “selektzia” (selection) by the inhuman beast, Dr. Mengele. With a minor indication of his finger, this “elegant monster” indicated who would live and who would die. Like hundreds of thousands before him, Rav Boruch passed by and, as a healthy young man, was directed to the right – the work brigade – rather than to the gas chambers. Close to three horrifying years followed, years of backbreaking labor and starvation, years of indescribable pain and anguish.
At a later date in the war, Rav Boruch was ordered to pass by Dr. Mengele again. Of course, he understood its meaning, having been educated with blood and tears in the definition of that most dreadful word in the entire dictionary, selektzia: The weak would perish, while the fate of those appearing in better health would be postponed until the next selektzia.
At the time, Rav Boruch had contracted an abscessed wound at the heel of his foot, causing extreme pain with every step he took. When his turn came to pass the beast, he controlled himself with an iron will from displaying any pain, making his passage with a normal stride. Mengele did not discern Rav Boruch’s agony and motioned him to the right.
Not a moment passed before Rav Boruch realized what a terrible mistake he had made and was overtaken with deep remorse. Memory flashes came back to him from the first moment the Nazis marched into Lodz and the atrocities they carried out, acts that are simply unfathomable to a normal human mind. Why, thought Rav Boruch, would he want to continue to experience this pain, this torture? For what? A few more days of pain and torture?
“Have I suddenly become clever, deciding my own destiny?” Rav Boruch said to himself. No, he made up his mind firmly. “Let Hashem decide. He, Who has guided me these last three years without the slightest planning on my part, will follow me through to wherever I’m destined to be, either among the survivors or among the k’doshim – the martyrs.”
Without another thought, Rav Boruch slipped out of the group of men he was in, eluded the guards milling about, and sneaked back into the line of people about to pass Mengele. He wanted to pass by one more time, with his true pain showing. This time around, when he passed by, he did not camouflage any of his symptoms, not even the facial contortions associated with his painful walk. Mengele motioned him to the left, together with a group of sick and infirm inmates.
They didn’t need to be told where they were headed. The brutal facts of life in Auschwitz and all Nazi concentration camps had taught them all too well what to expect. Rav Boruch, like the other religious members in the group, began to prepare for his final passage, the imminent crossing of that fateful bridge into eternity.
But Hashem had other plans; He doesn’t follow a human script. “How great are Your deeds, Hashem; exceedingly profound are Your thoughts… A boor cannot know, nor can a fool understand this.” The infirm were not taken to the gas chambers. Rather, they were loaded onto trucks and taken to a modern hospital facility in the Auschwitz compound that the Nazis had built for one specific purpose: to dupe the International Red Cross into believing that the Germans provided outstanding medical attention to their prisoners!
He spent close to two weeks in the hospital in the care of world-class physicians. They attended to his foot and largely restored his general well-being. Some time later, he found out that the entire group that was directed to the right side was ordered to participate in a “death march.” These marches were so named since the objective was to cause as much death as possible. At the final stage of the war, when the Nazis realized that the end was nearing, they ordered the last remnants of the concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Birkenau, to march, daily, tens of kilometers aimlessly, with almost no food or drink. To our great misfortune, the vast majority perished, may Hashem avenge their blood!
“Imagine what would have happened to me,” said Rav Boruch later, “had I ended up on the right side, with the healthy ones. My ailing foot could have never survived even half a day of those marches. Reclassifying me as sick was Hashem’s method of saving my life.”