Friday, October 31, 2014

The man in the borrowed clothes

This month is the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany's invasion of Hungary: which is an opportunity to tell the story of Pinchas Rosenbaum.

It was late 1944. The Germans were already losing the war, but they still took every opportunity to kill Jews. In a few months, they destroyed something like 600,000 of the 800,000 Jews in Hungary.

Pinchas came from a long line of eminent rabbis: his father was rabbi of Kleinwardein, in north-east Hungary. Pinchas himself was ordained for the rabbinate at 18 years old. It was expected that in due time he would succeed his father.

After the invasion, Pinchas was sent to a Nazi work camp. With several friends, he escaped and returned to Kleinwardein. He obtained false papers for his family, and pleaded with them to flee. His father refused to leave. The entire family except Pinchas was sent to Auschwitz and perished.

From somewhere he obtained a uniform of an officer in the Arrow Cross, the Hungarian fascist organisation that rounded up Jews for the Germans. Mingling with Arrow Cross officers, he would learn who were the next Jews to be arrested, rush to their addresses, "arrest" them himself and take them to the Glass House, a former glass factory, where they hoped to survive the war.

"You're going to have to lend me your suit," he told a friend one day. "I'm going to a party at the Hungarian police tonight. I can't go in uniform. If I'm arrested, well, you'll lose your suit. But if I'm not, I'll give it you back in the morning." The man got his suit back.

One day Pinchas heard that a friend was going to be arrested that same day. He decided to attempt a rescue. He went in uniform to his friend's address and began to curse the Jew. A non-Jewish man was present. "Pinchas, what are you doing?" said his friend. He continued to curse the Jew until his friend caught on and began to play the game. He got away with it.

Before the war ended, Pinchas saved hundreds of Jews, including entire families. When the war ended, he took off his uniform and left it behind in the Glass House. He was still only 21 years old.

After the war, he married and had three children, all of whom moved to live in Israel. He died in 1980, aged 57.

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