||Biography of R. Zevi Ezekiel b. Abraham Hayyim Michelson (1863-1942 or43), the Av Bet Din of Plonsk and later Rav in Warsaw (where he died in the ghetto). World renowned erudite scholar, wrote biographies of famous rabbis and many books on Halakhah. People turned to him from all corners of the globe for advise, guidance, and knowledge. The following story tells it best:
This is the Story of R. Zvi Michelson, one of Warsaw’s oldest rabbi’s who at the age of 79, became just another of the 700,000 Jews killed in the death camps of Treblinka.
Early in 1942 the Germans first began their systematic raids in the Warsaw ghetto, snatching Jewish men, women and children from the warrens in which they had been “resettled” and transporting them to the extermination camps.
In the very first of these raids, the Germans aided by Ukrainian soldiers surrounded the house in which Rabbi Michelson lived, shouting through the megaphones that all those inside were to come out into the courtyard. All the Jews in the building obeyed the German command – except for Rabbi Michelson, who refused to budge. Those who would remain in their rooms, he reasoned, would soon be routed out by the German soldiers. Their travail would not last long; they would be gunned down on the spot, and their bodies would be flung into the street. There, chances were that other Jews would find them, pile them upon the carts that creaked through the ghetto alleys to collect the dead and bury them in accordance with Jewish law. Those who would go to the Germans in the courtyard, on the other hand, would be loaded by the storm troopers onto trucks and taken to the death camps. There they would die, too, but not without suffering. Even worse, from what the rabbi had heard, they would not be buried at all but cremated, in violation of the Torah. And so R. Michelson prepared himself to meet death as he felt befitted a man of age and tradition. He put on his phylacteries, draped his tallith (prayer shawl) around his spare body, bolted the door of his room and waited for the Germans to come.
But things did not happen the way the rabbi had expected. Yes, the Germans, accompanied by a Jewish ghetto policeman, kicked open the door and burst into R.i Michelson’s room. But when the storm troopers saw the old man with the long flowing white beard standing upright before them, stern of countenance and draped from shoulders to feet in his snowy-white, silver -bordered prayer robe, they were immobilized by awe, indeed by a fear, such as they probably never knew before. Years later, the ghetto policeman, who survived the war, was to tell the end of the story. “Why, it is Moses himself!” the policeman heard one of the Germans mutter. With that, the German silently turned and led the others out of the room, slamming the door and leaving R. Michelson untouched.
Alone in his little room, the rabbi could hear the babble of the crowd in the courtyard below, mingled with the raucous shouts of the German soldiers. From his tiny window, he could see the others from his house being shoved into onto huge German army trucks. And a thought far more frightening than death came to R. Michelson. True, he had been granted a a miraculous reprieve. But for how long? When the Germans would recover from their surprise, they would return and shoot him. That is how he would die, and he would die alone. In effect, by refusing to leave his room he had run away like a coward; he had deserted his brethren. Which, he asked himself, was the proper alternative – to die alone, with the chance that he alone might be found by some survivors outside and be given proper burial, or go out to his brethren and be with them on their last journey? Which was the proper way to die?
It did not take R. Michelson more than a moment to make his decision. He turned from the window, adjusted his tallith, and strode from the room. With firm steps, he descended the stairs and marched out into the courtyard. There he joined the others on their way to the Umschlagplatz, the assembly point from where they all were to be taken to Treblinka. He remained a source of comfort and inspiration to his brethren, and when the end came, he shared their fate. He is among the millions who have no graves, but he has a lasting memorial in the annals of valor and uprightness.
(from The Unconquerable Spirit – by Simon Zucker and Gertrude Hirschler)