R’ Moshe Helman’s z”l story of survival in Siberia

This story was printed here.  Scroll down to “Shabbos story”.  Note that Reeva said: where they say Reb Moshe Ulman in the article, it is supposed to read Helman. It was their original mistake but I have left it in the story that I reprint below:

Reb Moshe Ulman from Pupa relates an incident of mesiras nefesh for shemiras Shabbos that happened when he was with Reb Ben-Tzion Hirshfeld (from Rutka). One Shabbos in the middle of a bitterly cold winter, the two were guarding a storehouse, far from the village. The two guards were staying in a hut that had been built for workers in the summer to rest in during the day. It was bitterly cold, even inside, as the flimsy hut only shielded them from the wind. There was a small iron stove that gave a bit of warmth, but because they decided not to add wood on Shabbos, the fire soon went out. What did they do? They stayed awake, standing and pacing back and forth in the room, because the minute anyone sat down, he could fall asleep and freeze to death. The entire night, they spoke about mussar and mesiras nefesh for Kiddush Hashem until gentile workers came the next morning to thresh the grain. They found them suffering from the cold with an unlit oven, and they burst out screaming and laughing, mocking them for having not re-lit the stove. Go explain to a goy that it is forbidden to light a fire on Shabbos. The gentiles immediately lit the fire and we also enjoyed it and said, “Chasdei Hashem ki lo somnu.” HaRav Yaakov Pasternak tells of a similar incident: “During the Yomim Noraim I was with my friend, Pinchas Ingberman (from Makava) who was later killed in an airplane crash on his way to Eretz Yisroel. We worked together in the ‘Mehl Stroui’ which was comprised of a few buildings where the villagers from many villages would stay when they came to grind the wheat. The Mehl Stroui was about seven kilometers away from Nizshna-Machavei, and we also slept there. Pinchas and I were separated from the group in Nizshna although our spots there were still reserved for us. Before Yom Kippur, we spoke about running away and going back to Nizshna so we could spend Yom Kippur together with the group. We tried, but when we left, we were immediately captured by the policemen who brought us back to the Mehl Stroui. That night, we said whatever piyutim we could remember by heart and spoke about mussar and Teshuvah. In the morning, we complained that we were sick. The guards rebuked us but allowed us to stay inside on the condition that we make sure the fire in the oven does not go out, so the workers could cook their meal on it. We stood to daven tefillas Yom Kippur, but did not add wood to the fire and it went out. We almost froze in the cold. When the workers came back, they were very angry at us. They also made fun of us and called us lazy.” How did they honor Shabbos under such circumstances? It is worthwhile to quote a few paragraphs of a letter from Reb Ben Tzion Hirshfeld, who was with Reb Yehuda Leib zt”l in a farmhouse in Arashau. “We yearned for Shabbos even though there was nothing to look forward to, because we barely had any food or clothing, and did not even have a minyan. Whatever we could do, we did. I remember how the Rebbetzen Etka Nekritz made sure to take salami with her to Siberia. A few pieces of it were made into soup lichvod Shabbos that had a taste of Gan Eden. The salami lasted ten weeks. (For all the rest of the years, there was no kosher meat in Russia.) We sat around the kupert, a box that served as a table, with the tzaddik Reb Yehuda Leib and sang zemiros. Today, when I sing Tzur Mishelo, I tell my family that this zemer is very dear to me, because it reminds me of the past when we sang it in Siberia.” Further on in the letter he writes: “When we were forced to work separately, the group wanted to be together on Shabbos to discuss Torah and mussar. The distance between Reb Yehuda Leib’s house and us was more than the techum Shabbos, so one of the group (Reb Hirsch Nudell) would go out on Friday with a piece of bread and put it on the path two thousand amos away. On Shabbos, we would go to that spot, and when we found the eruv, we would continue on to Reb Yehuda Leib zt”l to learn Torah with him until nightfall. Usually, we would hide the bread very well so the hungry dogs that roamed the area would not smell the bread and eat it up.”

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