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The Protected Rabbi

May 9, 2009 | by Leah Abramowitz

Why the Nazi's paid a life-long pension to a chassidic rabbi, and provided stormtroopers to safeguard his yeshiva.

Is it possible that there are still new tales to relate from the Holocaust? Hasn't everything been told already? Indeed it turns out that there are always new stories coming to the fore from that horrendous, yet heroic period. One of the organizations which delves into Shoah history, called "Synagogue Memorial," is dedicated to memorializing all the houses of prayer that were destroyed on the infamous Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938 in Germany.

Prof. Meier Schwarz, the director of Synagogue Memorial, a Holocaust survivor himself, discovered a fascinating nugget of history. A rabbi had a yeshiva, located on 35 Munz Street in the middle of Berlin, which was not only left standing on Kristallnacht, but armed SS guards were actually placed in front of the rabbi's house, bodily protecting him and his disciples from Nazi hooligans.

Even months earlier when all the Polish Jews residing in Germany were expelled, this man, Rabbi Kupperstock, and his disciples were not only left alone, but the rabbi continued to draw a stipend from the Nazi German government, as he had for two decades previously. (As documented in the Berlin newspaper "Aktuell" in a 1996 article written by German journalist, Gerald Boceian.)

It seems that many years before the war, Rabbi Kupperstock lived in Warsaw, and already as a young man headed a yeshiva. The Russians occupied that part of Poland and drafted many young Poles to help them in their war efforts. Anyone who deserted was killed instantly. Two of Rabbi Kupperstock's yeshiva students who were forced into the Russian army, suffered terribly. Despite the death penalty for deserting, they chose the lesser of two evils and ran away. Unfortunately they were caught and tried and doomed to death that very day.

Amid a jeering crowd in the city square, Russian officers hung the two yeshiva students.

Amid a jeering crowd of Polish and Russian anti-Semites, the two young Yeshiva lads were brought into the city square. There, in front of the huge crowd, the Russian officers had them strung up and hung publicly as an example. Rabbi Kupperstock was forced to witness this horror and on the spot he vowed to take his revenge against the Russian officers and their government.

World War One broke out and the German troops seemed far superior to their enemies on the East. The Germans found themselves fighting under adverse weather conditions and on terrain that was unfamiliar to them. It seemed that they would be unable to break through the Russian fortifications. Moreover their troops were concentrated on an additional front, in France and England to the West.

Nevertheless, and contrary to all logic and predictions, the German army managed to conquer some of the most strategic fortifications on the Eastern front. The defense efforts collapsed and the Russians eventually sued for peace. As everyone knows, shortly thereafter the Russian Czar was ousted and eventually the Communists came to power. The German generals were greatly lauded for their stupendous victory on foreign soil, and prayers of thanks were recited in churches and even in synagogues throughout Germany.

However, it was not solely due to the German superior military skills, nor to the bravery of their leading generals, Hindenburg and Ludendorf, that the Russian front fell so quickly. It was partially due to a lone Jew, Rabbi Kupperstock, who had somehow infiltrated the Russian forces and obtained plans for secret tunnels leading to Russian fortifications. The rabbi then passed this information to the German army. Still seething with rage over the murder of his two students, he helped change the tide of the battle and bring about the Russian surrender. But that fact was kept in complete secrecy.

For years, no one knew why the chassidic rabbi and his students were invited to move to the safe house in the middle of Berlin, and why he was granted German citizenship, a lifelong pension, and a subsidy for his yeshiva. He was even the official Jewish representative at government public celebrations, e.g. when President Hindenburg's birthday was commemorated at a state reception. The rabbi, magnificently garbed in his long, black satin frock, carrying his silver-handled walking stick, was always treated with honor and reverence by the leading German ministers. But no one knew the reason why.

Two years after Hindenburg came to power in 1931, he was forced to appoint Adolph Hitler as Chancellor of Germany. The rabbi ceased to attend official gatherings, but his pension and stipend for the yeshiva continued until his death in 1941. Thus during the early years of the Holocaust, while Jews were being deported or put into slave labor all over Europe, while anti-Semitism became official policy and synagogues and other Jewish institutions were burning, the German government continued to support one chassidic rabbi and his followers in the middle of their capital city - even setting up guards outside his house to protect him - in repayment for the "glorious German victory" which he helped secure in World War One.

When Rabbi Kupperstock died, the yeshiva was confiscated and his students were deported to concentration camps.

Undoubtedly the rabbi and his disciples were greatly distressed by the persecution of their fellow Jews going on around them, and they realized that they too would be killed or deported were there no special "historic" arrangement. Like all the Jews of Europe, they held out hope that the war would end much sooner.

Unfortunately, all this lasted only until Rabbi Kupperstock died, from natural causes. The yeshiva was confiscated and his students were deported to concentration camps. There is no record of what became of them. But the story shows us the resourcefulness of someone that seemed so removed from political and military affairs, a man immersed in spiritual matters and holiness, yet who could change the tide of history, motivated by a distant injustice and the verse, "Plague the Midianites and smite them, For they have plagued you…" (Numbers 25:17-18)

More recently, Prof. Schwarz of Synagogue Memorial has petitioned the Berlin Municipality to establish a suitable memorial for this extraordinary rabbi, perhaps naming a street in his memory and thereby bringing to light an unusual chapter in 20th century Jewish-German history.



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