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Many New Yorkers and Bronxites for that matter do not know that at one point, the Bronx was the most Jewish of all the boroughs. With over half a million residents of Jewish ancestry, they made up almost 57% of the population of our beloved borough in the 1930s through the 40s. According to bronxsynagogues.org, there were over 260 registered synagogues registered throughout the borough’s landscape. Most lived in the South Bronx with highest concentration around the lower Grand Concourse.

As Israel and the rest of the world observes Yom HaShoa, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, here is an account of a Bronx rabbi, as told by his son,
of how they saved one family.

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The account begins:

“In the early 1940’s, my father was a rabbi in the Bronx, NYC. His salary was twenty dollars a week.

One day, he received a phone call. It was urgent, the man said. A matter of life and death. It was about the Jews in Europe.

The following Saturday morning, the man spoke to the congregation. He had “inside” information. The Nazis were planning to exterminate the Jews. The “relocation camps” were really death camps. Gas chambers. Gold extracted from the teeth of the dead, their body fat to be used to manufacture soap. He begged people to sign affidavits, at ten dollars each, documenting that they were seeking household help. This had to be done quickly. People could still be saved. Soon, it would be too late.

Everyone was shocked. Surely, this man was exaggerating. Maybe even crazy. Germany — the most cultured of countries — How could this be?

The man asked my parents to sign two affidavits, stating their interest in hiring a butler and maid. They would have to pay twenty dollars for the affidavits. A week’s salary – somehow they would manage. But my parents were not sure whether to believe him. And, documenting that they were hiring a butler and maid, in their small Bronx apartment? Wasn’t that fraud?

My parents gave him the money, and they put their signatures on the affidavits.

Three months later, the doorbell rang. A man and woman held a piece of paper. “We are looking for this family,” the man said, in heavily accented Yiddish. My family’s name was written on the paper. The woman bent down, and kissed the hem of my mother’s dress. “You saved us,” she said.Let us always remember and never forget.”

Read the rest of the account here.

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