b. Sochachev, Poland, 1928
The town of Sochachev lay forty kilometers from Warsaw. According to the census, the population was forty thousand. Twenty-five percent were Jews. The remainder were Catholics. Although the cultures, religions and languages were different, we were able to live amicably side by side.
Sochachev was quite a modern town with two train stations, one local and one express. There were Hebrew as well as rabbinic schools, parks, a hospital, a library, and two synagogues, one ancient.
My father was the rabbi of Sochachev. He was the spiritual leader beloved by all.
Our home was open to everyone. Jews did not go to secular courts of law in Europe, they went to the rabbi. So people came to our home with questions about what was kosher—dietary observances—about emotional problems, economic problems and for Din Torahs. In Din Torahs, the Torah was used as a source to settle all types of problems.
My father listened carefully, patiently, and with an open analytical mind to what was being claimed by the litigants, after which he consulted the Code of Talmudic Law.
Opposite us lived Mr. Tarnovsky, a well known and successful advocate. As a lawyer he was very interested in my father's legal work. He sometimes attended trials and stayed later to discuss the outcome. He admired the logic and humaneness of the Torah teachings. My father considered him a friend.
When the Germans occupied Poland in 1938, everything changed.
One afternoon Advocate Tarnovsky and an SS officer called on my father. They came bearing a large bowl with a liver in it. The bowl was placed on the table with malice, so that the blood splattered over the white tablecloth—an act designed purposely to humiliate my father.
“Is the pig's liver kosher or treif?” asked the advocate.
“Mr. Tarnovsky, you know very well that according to Jewish law, I cannot judge a non-kosher animal.”
“You must. If you don't, you will soon hear from us.”
They stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind them.