How Five Girls Fulfilled the Commandment of Sukkah in Auschwitz

Yehudit will never forget the Sukkot holiday that she spent in Auschwitz. It was during the period of the High Holidays, after the fast of Yom Kippur. Yehudit and her friends were laying on their wooden beds in a state of exhaustion, longing for death to come to redeem them from their misery. Suddenly, from the silence and melancholy,  Chani suddenly asked, “What will be with Sukkot?”

Leah, Yehudit, Blumi and Rivkah straightened up in surprise at the strange question. Yehudit suddenly remembered how her family used to celebrate Sukkot in past years, and the special aura that took over her home. Her beloved grandfather holding the beautiful, fragrant etrog he had purchased and reciting the blessing over it with joy. Her father and brothers rolling up their sleeves and working on building the sukkah. The hypnotic fragrance of the sweet challahs that her mother baked in honor of the holiday…

Her thoughts were broken by Leah’s blunt words. “We have to build a sukkah,” she said. Yehudit didn’t think it possible. To build a sukkah? In Auschwitz? Sure, of course. She didn’t know whether to cry or laugh, but in the end, it was the crying that tipped the scales. Crying over what was and what seemed would never again be.

Leah wouldn’t give up. She dropped her head down under her wooden bed and pulled out the “treasure” that she had managed to smuggle into their barracks: a roll of threads and several needles — worth a fortune. Leah tore a piece of fabric from the shirt she was wearing and explained the plan that was forming in her mind: The first seam we will sew tonight.  Tomorrow we will get more fabric and will continue our work,” she inspired the other girls with her initiative.

The next day the five friends put together the scraps of fabric that they had collected. They gathered scraps of shirts, sheets and other “treasures” that were going to be thrown into the garbage, and which the cruel kapo in a moment of “generosity” decided to give to them without asking why they wanted it.

The friends sat and utilized all their spare time for the project to sew the sukkah. They were buoyed up by their excitement over the idea and forgot the hunger, suffering and torment that was their daily portion. The only thing they were thinking of now was the sukkah and what it symbolized to them.

But that night, the kapo stormed their barracks and with earsplitting shrieks forced the women to leave for a roll-call that lasted hours. The women returned close to dawn broken and exhausted to their hut. The cruel kapo then entered the hut again and found the fabric that they had designated for their sukkah. She tore it to pieces and stomped it with her feet. Then she cynically told the girls to fulfill the commandment and sit inside it because it was the eve of their Sukkot holiday. 

A deathly trepidation took hold of Yehudit and her friends upon hearing the order. H The girls looked up at Leah, who had come up with the idea in the first place, but she didn’t lose her savvy. She confidently picked up the torn fabric from the dirty floor and told her friends to each hold one corner and try to stand under the makeshift sukkah.

Her friends hurried to obey Leah’s command, and went under their makeshift “sukkah”. They recited the blessing “to sit in a sukkah” while bursting into heartbreaking sobs which they directed inwardly to their Father in heaven, as Yehudit later described it. 

At the moment, a great miracle occurred: the kapo left the hut and despite failing to accomplish their goal, the girls felt invigorated by their attempt to make their own sukkah.


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