Under Cover of Night

The year was 1943. Europe was soaked with Yiddish blood and the persecution of Jews was relentless and excruciating. People were terrified. Most had given up hope of life ever returning to normal.  In Timisoara, a Romanian town not far from the border with Hungary, the Jews were luckier than many of their European brethren. The Romanian government hadn’t allowed Hitler, may his name be erased, to put his barbaric, bloodthirsty hands on its citizens, so they hadn’t been sent to the concentration camps to join their innocent brothers and sisters. The townsfolk in Timisoara held an emergency meeting in the shul to discuss how to help as many Jews as possible. They knew that to save even one Jew was to save a world. They also knew that their plans would have to be made in the utmost secrecy since their Romanian neighbors were far from tzaddikim and would be only too delighted to cause them trouble. Money had been collected from all over the world to obtain passports and bring Jews over the border from Hungary into Romania. Of course, smuggling people into Romania was punishable by death, but remaining in Hungary was also a virtual death sentence for the Jews. But what Jew could just sit back and watch the agony of his brethren and do nothing? The rabbanim in Timisoara had somehow managed to bribe a high-ranking army officer to assist them in their plan.

Boshna, the officer’s son, had agreed to accompany a representative of the Jewish community each night and distract the border police with wine, cigars and gambling games while the dangerous mission was carried out. The only challenge now was choosing a representative. Who would be willing to endanger his life to save the lives of others?Not even his fellow Jews must know his identity; for their own safety, it was better that they be kept in the dark. Perel was a beautiful young girl of 16 who had already suffered a tremendous loss when she was orphaned at the tender age of 14. When Perel heard that they were looking for a volunteer, she offered her services without further thought. What did she have to lose? She had no parents who would worry about her on her nightly excursions, and she knew that this was a mitzvah worth dying for. After being orphaned, she had become very close to the family of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, the Damesek Eliezer. A close neighbor, the Rebbe had been like a father to her after the petirah of her parents. Before Perel accepted this hazardous mission, she went to the Rebbe to ask him for a brachah. The Rebbe smiled at her and said, “Go, my child, and may Hashem Yisbarach go with you!” This was enough to strengthen Perel’s resolve, and that very night the officer’s son and Perel set out for the border.  Each night the Jews who stood waiting at the agreed-upon location were met by a smiling young girl who welcomed and took care of them without showing how afraid she really was. She once even had a gun pointed at her but managed to survive by diving into a trench. Night after night these forays took place; night after night dozens of Yidden were safely shepherded over the border. Pretty soon people got used to seeing Perel strolling the streets of Timisoara in the company of a Romanian soldier.

Of course, Perel couldn’t reveal the reason for these excursions, and it was only a matter of time before tongues started wagging and people started saying the most terrible things about her. A young Jewish orphan girl and a non-Jewish teenage boy surely spelled trouble! When Perel learned about these accusations, she was heartbroken. Is this what she had earned by putting her life in danger? In tears, she ran to the Damesek Eliezer and cried her heart out to him. The Rebbe listened and gave her a warm smile. “Perele,” he said, “voil iz dem vos men is em choished in es is nisht emes (fortunate is the one who is falsely accused)! You will see, my child, you will marry a talmid chacham. And when your time comes to leave this world, I will personally greet you in the olam ha’emes!” Perel continued her holy work for many nights, saving many more lives and holding her head up high, strengthened by the Rebbe’s words. My dear mother, Perel, was niftar in London at the age of 75. A few weeks after her petirah she came to my father in a dream and said to him, “Mir iz git—my lot here is good. The Rebbe was waiting to greet me!” L’iluy nishmas Perel bas R’ Yitzchak.


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