Can we do T’shuvah for acts committed under compulsion? Even in the absence of responsibility, the need for atonement can be met. We feel contaminated by being brought to the point of ultimate helplessness, but healing comes from our learning to take responsibility for our own lives from this point on. We feel guilty for living through our own deaths, but healing comes from the ability to partake of life and give life as much and as selflessly as possible. Should a person be denied the healing of T’shuvah, just because he isn’t guilty?
Ovadya ben Malka
Ovadya ben Malka was born in 1926 in Saloniki, Greece. At the age of seventeen he was deported, together with his mother and younger sister, to Birkenau. His family was killed on arrival. He survived nearly two months in the quarantine camp, outlasting most of those who arrived with him, but his survival was to cost him dearly. The rest of his story is told in Returning, Kasva Press, 2018.
Recent articles by Ovadya ben Malka
Former Sonderkommando Ovadya ben Malka discusses the nature of evil with Rabbi Ish-Shalom: Was the Holocaust really the work of psychopathic monsters or of people like you and me — people whose choices led them to abandon their humanity, one act of cruelty at a time? Perhaps the single most important statement we can make regarding evil is: “That could have been me”. And that leads to the next stage: Let me act and think and feel in such a way that that will not be me.
A tribute to Zalman Gradowski and others among the Birkenau Sonderkommando who worked to get word out of what was happening in Birkenau-Auschwitz.
When does survival become a crime? When does choice become treason? And what must happen before we are forgiven? A survivor of the Birkenau sonderkommando gets more than he bargained for when he brings his past to a rabbi for judgment.
Even when all that defines us is stripped away, one thing remains–the ability to help others. In extending a hand to another we save ourselves as well.
It is a strange thing, to be a memory…. I write from a moment in my own past—from within my memories. In fact, I realize that I am my memories. I am everything that I remember up to this point in my life. I drift between the past and the future—living and dreaming and thinking in the past, but writing in my own future.
Parashat Chayei Sarah features the journey of Avraham’s servant back to Avraham’s home town to seek a bride for Yitzhak. Eliezer asks for a sign—Let it be that the maiden who says, ‘drink, and I’ll water your camels too!’ be the one chosen for Yitzhak. The Talmud records an opinion that Eliezer’s prayer to God to be given a sign was an “inappropriate” prayer. But can any sincere prayer ever be inappropriate?
What is the proper response to a blessing? According to Rav Ish-Shalom, we learn the answer from a an unexpected source: the mourner’s Kaddish.
Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish are two of the greatest sparring partners in the Talmud. The story of their meeting and later falling out contains an unlooked-for treasure on the subject of moral responsibility.
The seeds planted on Tisha b’Av, a poem by Ovadya ben Malka: “A curse and a blessing were laid on us that day. Having lived the curse, can we doubt that blessing will come as well?”
On the liberation of Birkenau. Only those who’ve known the depths can known the full impact of redemption. A poem by Ovadya ben Malka.
A poem by Ovaday ben Malka on memory and our inability to flee from the past.
My past has faded away into nothing
Leaving shreds of longing.
The sound of the waves.
My mother’s voice
The feel of my sister’s hair as she slept,
her head in my lap.
I am not a citizen of the world; the world is too big a place for me. I belong to a small people whose destiny I embrace with every fiber of my being. To learn a page of Talmud is to be as close to home as I have ever come. In embracing heritage, we gain more than the world. It is ourselves that we gain.
We are free
Free in the dead of winter.
There is no sign of life
No sign that freedom is here
Miracles do happen, sometimes, to some people. But we still have to be fast on our feet to make any use of them. Shmuel the Glazier points the way.
T’chiat HaMetim means being reborn to see death for what it is, and to know that those things are most precious that can be taken from us in the blink of an eye