During the recent Three Weeks period, over 15,000 people across North America, Israel, Australia and Europe participated in 160 presentations of the Holocaust documentary, Sh’eiris Hapleitah, literally translated as “The Remnant that Escaped.” Sh’eiris Hapleitah, is the second in the Yizkereim series of Holocaust documentary films. This film presents the inspirational narrative of the concentration camp survivors after their liberation and their early existence in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps. The film focuses on the tremendous resilience and determination of survivors to rebuild their shattered lives and rekindle their Yiddishkeit.
Many are familiar with stories of the Holocaust. However, not as well known, is what happened to the refugees after liberation, including the nearly 200,000 Jewish concentration camp survivors left homeless and stateless. Because their host countries had confiscated their property and made it clear through pogroms that they were not welcome back, and with little or no family left, they were now “displaced persons.” The film combines actual documentary footage and photographs with interviews with Holocaust survivors and rabbis, family members and Lieutenant Meyer Birnbaum, a Jewish American soldier who helped liberate the concentration camps.
In addition to taking care of physical needs such as hunger, typhus and exhaustion, the sh’eiris hapleitah felt it imperative that they attend to their spiritual needs. Though the film recognizes organizations around the globe that helped facilitate this renewal, it shows how the sh’eiris hapleitah were impatient to reclaim their spiritual lives. They procured seforim and created yeshivos and bais yaakovs, and formed Batei Din to address their very unique halachic issues.
Series executive producer Dr. Joseph Geliebter, describes how on the morning after Buchenwald concentration camp’s liberation, his father, Rabbi Leib Geliebter, zt’l, and R’ Leibel Pinkusevich, zt’l, both survivors, searched for hours for someone they knew had hidden pair of tefillin. When they finally found him, they and scores of other survivors took turns putting on the tefillin. Mr. Joseph Friedenson, noted Holocaust author and lecturer, who published an eyewitness account about this search reflects, “People who saw the atrocities and who themselves suffered from hunger and fear were hungry for their connection with the Ribono shel Olam.” He then describes the efforts of the Agudath Israel of America and the Vaad Hatzalah, to help the sh’eiris hapleitah.
According to noted author lecturer and survivor Mrs. Pearl Beinisch, “We were reborn but we were reborn into a world of nothingness…. We had no parents, no siblings, no teachers, no one…. We started to build a new life…. We built up such a beautiful generation, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.”
Rav Aharon Kotler, zt’l, said at that time that the Jewish community had to provide the sh’eiris hapleitah with the means for their spiritual rejuvenation. Some of the Vaad programs included: yeshivos, children’s homes, mohelim and shochtim. In addition, the survivors themselves built a mikveh in the Zeilsheim, Frankfurt DP camp. “They did not ask for money or help; they just built it on their own,” reported the legendary Gavriel “Mike” Tress, z’l, an emissary of the Vaad, on the chanukas habayis of the mikveh in December 1945.
David and Michelle Sitzer, Lower East Side residents, watched the film with some of their children “As the Holocaust survivors get older and pass on, the Holocaust will be diminished in history unless we pass on the stories to our children now,” said Mr. Sitzer. The Sitzers felt it was important for their children to see the film to understand what happened to their extended family during the Holocaust and to take pride in what the sh’eiris hapleitah were able to accomplish.
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Sh’eiris Hapleitah is a project of Torah Umesorah the Zechor Yemos Olam and the Rabbi Leib Geliebter Memorial Foundation, founded as a pledge to the generation that was lost that we will not forget them or their dreams.