Elul 1

May 31, 2009

2 min read


In 1942, the ghetto of Mir, Poland was liquidated by the Nazis. Mir was a center of Jewish scholarship in pre-War Europe, the site of the famed Mir Yeshiva that was founded in 1815. Jews first began to settle in Mir in the 17th century, and by the end of the 19th century, Jews comprised 62% of the town’s population. The Germans captured Mir in June 1941, and executed large numbers of Jews. By May 1942 the remaining Jews were confined to an ancient fortress in the city and murdered. As for the students and staff of the Mir Yeshiva, they had fled to Lithuania with the fall of Poland in 1939. There, they were able to obtain visas from the Japanese consul-general in Lithuania, and made a miraculous escape across Siberia by train, arriving in Shanghai where they spent the remainder of the war years. After the war, new Mir yeshivas were established in New York and Jerusalem, which today is the largest yeshiva in the world with over 5,000 students.

On this same day in 1942, Metropolitan Andrei Szeptycki, a bishop with the Greek Catholic Church in Nazi-occupied Lemberg (Lwow), Poland, issued orders for the clergy in his jurisdiction to shelter Jewish children. Ignoring risks to his position and his life (in Poland there was an automatic death penalty for aiding Jews), Szeptycki spoke out against Hitler, and threatened "with Divine punishment" anyone who "shed innocent blood.” Szeptycki led by example: He hid 21 Jews in his own cathedral, and 183 more in convents and monasteries. (Szeptycki was waging his own battle against the Nazis: Hitler resolved to exterminate Polish culture and identity, and his first step was the elimination of the intelligentsia, including the clergy. Many priests were killed or placed in concentration camps, where an estimated 3,000 Polish clergy died.) Szeptycki was later honored by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.

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