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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The man who brought Herzl home

This is the story of Rabbi Oscar M. Lifshutz, a Lieutenant Colonel in the US army who brought Theodore Herzl to Israel for burial in 1949. Rabbi Lifshutz was (I believe) a contemporary of my father-in-law at the Chicago (now Skokie) yeshiva (Mrs. Carl said that the name rang a bell).

But the story is about much more than Rabbi Lifshutz bringing Theodore Herzl's remains to Israel for burial (along with Rabbi Shlomo Goren z"l - the first Chief Rabbi of the IDF and later the Chief Rabbi of Israel). So here's a small sample, and then you should read the whole thing.
"By May 18, 1948," Lifshutz recalled, "I knew something monumental had occurred, having heard a day or two earlier via army radio that the Jews now had their own state and had been attacked by several Arab countries. Up until then I had fostered the hope for freedom in the hearts of the survivors with whom I worked. In fact, little groups in clandestine rendezvous had achieved a trickle of movement by escaping and making their way to Eretz Yisrael. Every refugee had awaited his turn to run the gauntlet of border guards and police and go home. The previous situation changed in May 1948."

Lifshutz learned through his Bricha sources that "Jerusalem was both the focal point of fighting and the hope for Jews the world over."

"ON MAY 18," he stressed in a touching memoir, "as if handed down from Sinai, publicly throughout Vienna came the overwhelming news of the jubilant miracle - that Israel had been reborn!"

On that day, Lifshutz went to visit with the leaders of Camp Riedenberg, a DP camp near Salzburg. "There was shouting and dancing in the parade area of these old and dilapidated ex-German barracks. The American military police, who formerly guarded the outside gates and policed the surrounding area, were now dancing the hora with the refugees."

Unexpectedly, a jeep filled with officers drove up. Led by a colonel, the others dismounted and headed toward the flagpole. After exchanging greetings, the colonel said to Lifshutz. "This is a great day for you, Rabbi, and I am here to see to it that we are going to do things in the right way."

Lifshutz remembered that morning vividly, recounting its details throughout his lifetime. "What do you have in mind, sir?"

The colonel answered him without hesitation. "I am a Christian and I feel that I, too, have had a hand in helping to bring the Children of Israel to the Promised Land."

Then the colonel continued in a most moving way. "I want to tell my children that I helped a people find a homeland."

He went on to explain that he felt that his family should know why he had been away from home these past three years - "regaining freedom for all people."

As the colonel explained his intentions, he signaled to two of his MPs to approach the base of the flagpole. The American flag was lowered. The flag bearers folded the flag, presented it to the colonel. He then gave it to the DP camp leader with these touching words. "Remember, will you, that a lot of my men fought and died to achieve this day. Here is the flag of my country, the United States of America, a symbol of freedom."

Lifshutz watched as the camp leader signaled a refugee who carried a large package under his arm. He came forward, placed it in the hands of two DPs. When they opened the package, a large blue-and-white flag was revealed. They began to raise it.

"As the wind got it," Lifshutz noted, "it unfurled, and there majestically flying almost within the shadow of Hitler's retreat area flew the flag of Israel in all its majestic glory. An American officer issued the command attention. Every DP in the camp grew a head taller as they sang 'Hatikva.' When the final notes of the anthem ended, I had the same feeling as if a sacred prayer had just been sung by a celestial choir."
Like I said, read the whole thing.


At 11:12 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Oscar Lifschutz is one of those individuals who never thought he would have a such great merit to bring Israel's founder home. Yet that is what happened and its another illustration that G-d sees to everything: everything happens in this world for a reason. The rebirth of Israel and the reinternment of Herzl are both connected. Now many decades later we can see how a dream came to be fulfilled.


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