In the darkness that descended on the world for over a decade, our people were still able to gather in shards of light. Incredible acts of courage, incredible act of compassion, and incredible acts of dignity. I would like to relate to you this eyewitness account of just one of these acts.
“Among those murdered at Birkenau in June 1944 was the former Elder of the Theresienstadt ghetto, Jacob Edelstein. SS Lieutenant Franz Hoessler was present during Edelstein’s last moments. An eye-witness, Yossl Rosenshaft, recalled a year later:
Jacob was in the same barracks as I was – number 13 – on that Monday morning. It was about nine a.m. and he was saying his morning prayers, wrapped in his prayer shawl. Suddenly the door burst open and Hoessler strutted in, accompanied by three SS men. He called out Jacob’s name.
Jacob did not move.
Hoessler screamed: ‘I am waiting for you, hurry up.’
Jacob turned round very slowly, faced Hoessler and said quietly:
‘Of the last moments on this earth, allotted to me by the Almighty, I am the master, not you.’
Whereupon he turned back to face the wall and finished his prayers.
He then folded his prayer shawl unhurriedly, handed it to one of the inmates and said to Hoessler: ‘I am now ready.’
Hoessler stood there all the while without uttering a word, and marched out when Edelstein was ready.
Edelstein followed him and the three SS men made up the rear. We have never seen Jacob Edelstein again.”
All was taken from Jacob Edelstein, his possessions, his home, his family and, in the end, his life. He placed his life in G-d’s hands and took control of his last few remaining moments. Jacob Edelstein left a legacy to all people, he chose to defy his tormentors and regain his dignity as a human being. In the face of this his captors were powerless, and Jacob Edelstein gained the final victory.