Hitting someone takes courage and conviction and is always risky. You never know how it will turn out.
In this week’s Torah Portion, Shmot (Exodus), we are introduced to Moses. Raised as an Egyptian Prince, Moses goes out to his “brothers” and sees the burdens of the Hebrew slaves. He witnesses an Egyptian Overlord hitting a slave and, after looking around and seeing no one, Moses hits the Egyptian, killing him. Moses buries the Egyptian in the sand. The next day, Moses realizes that in fact two Hebrew slaves saw the deed. They call him to task when he criticizes them for fighting. The news of the murder is reported back to Pharaoh and Moses flees to Midyan to save his life (Exodus 2:11-15).
This Biblical story reminds me of Sam Goldberg’s two famous hitting stories. One is with a plank of wood and another is with a frozen turkey.
Sam was a slave at Treblinka from June of 1942 until August 3, 1943. He was the supervisor of the laundry. He worked with a group of women who, together with him, washed the mountains of clothes from the murdered Jews.
During the time when transports arrived daily from the Warsaw Ghetto, a Kapo (Jewish Overlord) saw some of his relatives get off the train. In an attempt to save them, he ordered Sam out of the laundry. He intended to replace Sam with four of his Warsaw relatives. Sam said “I am working for a year already. You are going to take me out of here and put me in hell.”
The Kapo started to hit Sam with a “beitch” and a “conchic” made from wire and leather. Sam took a board and hit the Kapo over the head. This did not kill the Kapo, but blood ran from his head. The Kapo called the Nazi Oberstumfurer who Sam describes as “a bastard, a terrible bastard. We called him ‘stinker.’” The carpenters were building a gallows to hang Sam.
The women of the laundry stood up for Sam and said, “don’t hang him, hang the Kapo. If you hang him, hang us all.” The Nazi asked, “Why?” One woman said, “Because the Jews are coming now from Warsaw and they were going to take him out and put in four of theirs.” The German asked the Kapo why he was going to hang him. The Kapo said “because he stole money and gave it to the Ukrainians.” The women said “this is not true, he didn’t steal any money, he works very hard. But you want to take him out.” The German saw what was going on and gave Sam the gun to shoot the Kapo. Sam said – “no, I won’t shoot anybody, no sir, I don’t want to.” So the German shot him in the head. Sam stayed in his work in the laundry.
The second famous hitting story occurred after the war. Sam, Esther and baby Fay were living in the DP camp in Stuttgart. There was a coupon program in place to allow the refugees to get food. Sam had used his coupons to purchase a frozen turkey. As he stepped onto the bus to return to the DP Camp, a German man said to him, “Jid – to the back of the bus!” Sam hit the man over the head with the frozen turkey. The man fell to the floor and Sam got off the bus.
It was hard, even for Moses, a Prince, to stand up to the injustice of the Egyptian Overlord’s cruelty. Kal V’Chomer (how much more so) for Sam to stand up to the Kapo and the German on the bus. These hits were of Biblical proportions.