Story: Reb Shayale’s Promise Came True




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    Story: Reb Shayale’s Promise Came True

    In 1939, less than 100 years ago, World War Two began. The German army marched throughout Europe, taking control of country after country. Their goal? To rule over the entire world – and get rid of all the Yidden. • By Baila Brikman – From The Collection • Full Story

    By Baila Brikman – From The Collection

    In 1939, less than 100 years ago, World War Two began. The German army marched throughout Europe, taking control of country after country. Their goal? To rule over the entire world – and get rid of all the Yidden.

    Everywhere they went, the Germans made laws against the Jews. They couldn’t own businesses, go to regular schools, or even leave their homes at night. They had to wear yellow stars on their clothes, so that everyone would know, right away, that they were Jewish. The only way to leave the country was to escape in secret and dangerous ways. Life was very hard. The Yidden were scared for their lives – and things just kept getting worse.

    After making those laws, the Germans started sending the Yidden to horrible “concentration camps,” where they were starved, beaten, and even killed.

    It was a terrible time for Yidden all over the world.

    Towards the end of 1944, the German army took control of Hungary, a country that was full of Yidden.

    Can you imagine how scared the Yidden were? They knew it was only a matter of time before the Germans would round them up and send them to the concentration camps, too.


    The Krule Rav looked sadly at his talmidim as he finished teaching his last shiur. With tears in his eyes, he spoke to the young bachurim, trying to give them strength for all the awful things they were about to go through.

    “My dear students,” he said, full of tears, “we’re in great danger. The Germans conquered Hungary. Who knows what will happen to us? We should all go home to our families.”

    His voice got louder. “But even in the darkest of times, we have to stay strong in our emuna. Always remember: Hashem loves us!”

    His voice dropped to a whisper. “Go, my dear students. May Hashem keep us safe.”

    The bachurim hurried to their rooms and began stuffing their belongings into bags, the words of the Rosh Yeshiva still re-playing in their heads. They had no time to waste. They needed to leave the yeshiva before it was too late.

    But as one bachur, Yitzchok Dovid Hakohen Schwartz, from the city of Tokaj, was packing his bags, someone tapped him on the shoulder. “The Rosh Yeshiva wants to speak to you!”

    Now, while we’re trying to escape? It must be urgent!

    Yitzchak ran over to the Krule Rav. “Did the Rav call for me?”

    The Rosh Yeshiva looked up at him and sighed. “Yes, Yitzchak. I need to tell you something before you go. It might save your life.

    “About thirty years ago, I sat at a meal with my father-in-law, the great tzaddik Reb Shayale of Kerestir. Suddenly, the Rebbe’s face became very serious. He turned to your grandfather, Reb Michoel Schwartz, and said, ‘Before Hashem brings Moshiach, the Yidden will suffer in a terrible way. The whole world will be drowning in Jewish blood.’

    “The Rebbe continued in a weak voice: ‘I won’t be alive when that happens, but you, Reb Michoel, will go through the hardships that will come before Moshiach. And in this country, the suffering will start with one of your grandchildren. If it happens near Kerestir, my town, I will try to save him.’

    “The Rebbe was quiet for a moment, and then he sighed. ‘Yes, there will be very scary times.’”

    The Krule Rav spoke urgently to his young talmid. “Yitzchok, you might be the grandchild Reb Shayale was talking about. Listen to me: on your way back home to Tokaj, make a stop in Kerestir to visit Reb Shayale’s kever. Light candles and daven that we should all be saved in the zechus of the great tzaddik.

    “Be safe,” he told Yitzchak, wiping tears from his eyes. “May Hashem protect you.”


    Shocked by what he’d just heard, Yitzchok hurried to his room to finish packing. He slung his bag over his shoulder and ran through the streets towards the train station, hoping to make it on time.

    The station was packed. People of all types were pushing and shoving, trying desperately to get onto the crowded trains. Thinking quickly, Yitzchok climbed onto an old suitcase, squeezed through the train window, and dropped down into the train. He let out a shaky breath. Finally, he was on his way home. He hoped he would arrive safely.

    The train left the station with a big puff of smoke. It chugged smoothly down the tracks until it reached the city of Niredhaz, only 20 miles away from where they were headed. Then, it suddenly stopped. “Due to engine problems, all passengers need to leave the train!” the conductor announced. “There will be another train tomorrow morning.”

    Yitzchok got off the train and looked around. Among the hundreds of people on the platform, he saw his friend from Kerestir, Shmuel Friedman.

    “Shmuel,” he called, “I have to stop in Kerestir to visit Reb Shayale’s kever. It might help protect me. Let’s travel together.”

    The next morning, the two boys took the new train and continued their journey. But when they reached Rakamaz, which was as close to Kerestir as the train could take them, the Nazis – the German army – were already guarding the bridge over the Bodrog River. Crossing the Bodrog River was the only way to Kerestir, but the Germans wouldn’t let any Yidden pass by!

    The two boys were forced to take the long way. They hiked up tall hills, wriggled between thick trees, and stumbled over the rough, rocky paths. Finally, they came to the edge of the Bodrog River, and there were no Nazis in sight.

    If they could cross it, they would be in Kerestir! But how would they get there? “Look, there’s a little boat,” Shmuel whispered, pointing to a raft that was taking people back and forth across the river. “Should we try that?”

    Just then, someone passed by. “Don’t take the raft!” he warned them. “The Germans are waiting on the other side. They’re checking everyone who gets off that boat. If they find you, they’ll punish you!”

    Yitzchok and Shmuel looked across the river. How could they get across if they couldn’t take the bridge or the little boat?

    Suddenly, Shmuel recognized a woman standing on the other side of the river, washing laundry. It was his sister! He started waving his hands to get her attention, motioning that they needed to find a way to cross.

    The surprised girl hurried back home. “Father, Shmuel and his friend need to get into Kerestir,” she cried. “I saw them! They’re stuck on the other side of the river!”

    Mr. Friedman knew that some of the people who helped run the town were kind to the Yidden. They had the power to make legal paperwork! Maybe they could help?

    “There’s no way the Germans will let them into town,” one of them told Mr. Friedman, “but I have a plan. I’ll sign a document telling them to let these two boys cross the river – but I won’t write that they’re Jewish! Hopefully, the Germans won’t notice and will just let them cross.”

    He gave the document to the German guards, and Shmuel’s sister ran back to the river to signal to her brother to take the boat. The two boys quickly climbed onto the raft.

    Unfortunately, when they got off the boat, the German guards realized right away that they were Jewish. “You don’t fool me for a second,” the leader barked at them. “Show me your papers.”

    The boys handed over the documents. “You live here, so you can go home,” the guard told Shmuel. “But you,” he said, staring at Yitzchok, “are under arrest! You’re not from here. You must be a spy, here to make trouble for the Nazis!”

    The officer led Yitzchok to the police station. “Keep an eye on him!” he ordered the guards. “He’s a Jewish spy!”

    Shabbos was coming. Working quickly, Mr. Friedman’s friend signed more papers to free Yitzchok from house arrest. This way, he could spend Shabbos with the head of the community, Reb Avrohom Shmuel Samet, as long as he came back to the police station right after Shabbos.

    Reb Avrohom Shmuel came to walk Yitzchok to his house. As they made their way through the streets of Kerestir, they passed by the home where Reb Shayale used to live. The bachur leaned his tired head against the bricks and started to cry, davening that Reb Shayale should save him from the terrifying Nazis.

    As he davened, a big black car screeched to a stop right in front of them.

    “Jew! Come with us, Jew!” The German soldiers inside yelled. “That man should have never let you walk free!”

    They shoved the poor boy into their car and drove him to the shore of the Bodrog River, the river he used to get into the town. “This Jewish boy dared cross the river to get into this city!” they announced to everyone around them. “Anyone planning to try the same thing will think again after seeing what we do to him.”

    The Yidden of Kerestir ran to their Rebbe, Reb Meir Yosef, and told him what was happening. He was a tzaddik and the current Rebbe of Keristir. His wife was Reb Shayale of Kerestir’s granddaughter.

    “Yitzchok will be okay,” he told them, calmly. “It will be scary, but he will live.”

    The German soldiers put him back on the boat and told the driver to take him to the other side. “Haha!” They laughed. “As soon as he gets to the other side, we’ll make it look like he has a chance to escape. Then, we’ll shoot him for daring to run away from us!”

    Yitzchok was so scared. He begged the ferry driver to go as slowly as possible, so it would take longer to get to the other side. He turned to face Kerestir and imagined standing in front of Reb Shayale’s kever.

    He davened like never before, begging Reb Shayale to keep his promise from 30 years ago. Please help me, Reb Shayale, he begged.

    As soon as the boat reached the other side of the river, the German soldiers began to shoot at him. Yitzchok ran as fast as he could, but a bullet hit his shoulder and sent him flying to the ground. He landed with a loud thud. He was bleeding – so much that he passed out.

    Yitzchok lay on the ground until late Friday night, frozen and unable to move.

    Just across the river, the Rebbe, Reb Meir Yosef, sat with a very small group of men at his Shabbos meal. The Rebbe repeated the words of bentching, “Mi-marom yelamdu alav, v’aleinu zechus – a zechus should come upon him and us from Shamayim,” a few times with a lot of kavanah, tears pouring down his face.

    Heavy snow began to fall, covering Yitzchok’s body. The freezing snow helped stop his bleeding, saving his life. Late at night, Yitzchok woke up. Still weak and in lots of pain, he tried standing up, but he immediately slipped on the ice and hurt his head. He lay on the ground the entire night, cold, tired, and too dizzy to get up. He was so scared.

    In the morning, the Germans told the townspeople that they shouldn’t even think about helping the Jewish boy – or else they would be punished. So, Yitzchok lay there on the ground, freezing and alone.

    Towards the end of Shabbos, he fell into a deep sleep. As he slept, he had a dream:

    A man with a shining face and deep eyes appeared to him. He was dressed all in white.

    “Who are you? Yitzchok asked.

    “You wanted to light candles by my kever,” the man replied, and Yitzchok realized he was Reb Shayale. “Don’t worry. You will become healthy again.”

    “But how will I get out of here?”

    “The Satan himself will save you,” Reb Shayale replied. “Because when Hashem decides, even the darkest kelipah will have rachmanus and will help.”

    The next day, the local non-Jewish priest called all the townspeople together. “We can’t let the Nazis leave this boy in the snow!” he announced. “We have to help him!”

    He brought everyone to the German headquarters. “You can’t leave that boy lying on the ground,” the galach begged.

    “Yes!” the townspeople shouted. “We need to help him!”

    The Germans didn’t have the patience to deal with so many angry people. “Fine,” they said. “We’ll send two of our soldiers to get the boy.”

    Two German soldiers crossed the river and went over to Yitzchok, who was lying flat on the ground. One soldier lifted his gun. “Let’s just finish him off!” he whispered to his partner.

    “No!” the other soldier said firmly. “If we kill him, the priest and his men will force us to spend the whole day digging him a grave in the frozen earth. Let’s drop him off at the hospital. He’s obviously really weak; he’ll probably die soon, anyway. Let them bury him!”

    They brought a car and dumped Yitzchok in the back. Then, they drove him to an army hospital, just a few miles away in the town of Sárospatak. “Here’s a Jewish boy,” they told the doctors. “Do whatever you want with him.”

    “A Jew?” the doctors spat in disgust. “We don’t treat Jews over here. Take him somewhere else.”

    With no other choice, the soldiers brought Yitzchok to the Jewish hospital a few miles further up the road in the city of Ujhely. Before they left, they warned the doctors: “Don’t you dare do anything that will save this boy!”

    Despite their warnings, a local Hungarian doctor took pity on Yitzchok. He treated his injury and saved his life.

    While Yitzchok was in the hospital, his grandfather, 86-year-old Reb Michoel, came to visit him. As they spoke, Yitzchok suddenly asked, “What did Reb Shayale of Kerestir tell you?”

    Reb Michoel’s face turned white. He’d never repeated that conversation to anyone – how did his grandson know about it? “My Rosh Yeshiva, the Krule Rav, was there when Reb Shayale made his promise to you,” Yitzchok explained.

    Reb Michoel nodded, a faraway look in his eyes. “This means, my dear grandson, that you will survive all of this. The Rebbe promised he would look out for you.”

    Over the next few weeks, Yitzchok and his family – along with most of Hungary’s Yidden – were sent to the concentration camps. Yitzchok suffered so much over the next few months, but the Rebbe’s words gave him comfort, helping him get through even during the hardest times.

    In the end, Yitzchok Schwartz survived the war, just as Reb Shayale promised. Thirty years later, the tzaddik’s words were still powerful and true.


    This is the power of a tzaddik. Even long after his passing, he’s still looking out for us, taking care of us, and showering us with brachos. All we have to do is ask. World War Two was one of the worst times the world has ever seen, but even then, our tzaddikim were still protecting us.

    Adapted with permission of Rabbi Yisroel Besser from the book Reb Shayele: The Warmth and Wonder of Kerestir (authored in hebrew by descendants of Reb Shayele)


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