Can we do Teshuvah for acts committed under compulsion? Should we be denied the healing power of Teshuvah, just because we aren’t actually guilty? 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.
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
Some things should continue to awaken our sense of outrage, because not to be outraged is to cease to be human. We should not surrender our humanity without a fight, even if we know we will lose that fight in the end.
The Sonderkommando and the Rabbi: A conversation on the nature of evil
When does survival become a crime? When does choice become treason? And what choice do we have when all choices are wrong? These are the questions faced by the Sonderkommando—the Jews who were forced to burn the bodies of the dead.
For Those Who Wrote: The attempts by the Birkenau Sonderkommando to leave a record
A tribute to Zalman Gradowski and others among the Birkenau Sonderkommando who worked to get word out of what was happening in Birkenau-Auschwitz.
In a Time of Persecution: The Sonderkommando & the Rabbi
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.
Priorities and Charity: A Sonderkommando’s lesson in humanity
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.
To be a Memory: Trauma and identity
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: Eliezer’s prayer and the quest for certainty
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?
The Response to a Blessing and the Hidden Lessons of the Kaddish
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 & Resh Lakish: A lesson in interpretation
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
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
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.
The Past in the Rear-view Mirror
A poem by Ovaday ben Malka on memory and our inability to flee from the past.
Our Last Journey
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.
On the Liberation of Birkenau
We are free
Free in the dead of winter.
There is no sign of life
No sign that freedom is here
The story of Shmuel the Glazier: File under “Lessons for Life”
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.
The Revival of the Dead: A Poem by Ovadya ben Malka
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