The Miracle Candle

The following true story was written recently by my grandmother, Peska Friedman, author of the Artscroll classic Going Forward.

As a rule I never mention my yichus, but something happened to me because of it, and in order for you to understand my story, I have to tell you. But I admit that I still cannot understand why zchus ovos granted me a wish I prayed for. I am Peska Friedman, daughter of the Partezever Rebbe, z”l, who lived and died in Poland. He was a grandson of the Yid KaKodesh, and a tzadik in his own right.

My mother was the daughter of the Sossover Rebbe, and a great-granddaughter of the Sanzer Rebbe.

After World War I, my family, haven taken refuge in Russia, returned to Poland and they settled in Sedlice, a few miles from Warsaw. After my father was nifter, my mother moved the family to Warsaw. When Hitler yemach shmo, conquered the city, most of my siblings were scattered around Eastern Europe. Two brothers were in the Mir Yeshiva in Latvia. One sister was married to the Alexanderer Rebbe’s son, a Danziger. Another sister and brother were already in the Yishuv (Eretz Yisrael). An older brother fled to Russia.

One brother married the Minchas Elazer’s daughter and lived in Munkacs, now in Ukraine. I alone stayed with my mother in Warsaw, developed a close relationship with her and learned from her wisdom and experiences.

Hitler had already ordered the Ghetto walls to be built when my brother in Munkacs wrote and asked us to come to stay with him. Another brother, in Latvia, sent food packages to keep us alive.

When the letter arrived from Munkacs, my mother did not want to go, but was very much concerned about my future. She asked him to arrange my escape from the Ghetto and to see to it that he saved my life. It was all set up without my knowledge and I was in shock when my mother told me that I was going to Munkacs. I protested. I did not want to leave her alone, but she insisted, day and night, telling me she had had a full life, why shouldn’t I have a full life, too? I gave in, and was smuggled from the Ghetto to the Slovakian border. From there I was taken to my brother’s house in Munkacs.

When I said goodbye to my mother, I tried not to look back, I didn’t want to see her sad face. But I couldn’t help myself—I looked and saw her face filled with love and hope radiating from it. About eighteen months after my escape, my mother died of typhus. It was Daled Av 1942. We know the date because a friend wrote to my brother to say he had buried her in the Warsaw Cemetery, but he had had no money for a matzevah.

The day before this terrible news arrived, I woke up and said to my friends that I sensed something horrible had happened to my mother, and that I must go back to her. It was an impossible wish. I started to cry, and cried for days, feeling guilty and sad, asking Hashem Yisborach for forgiveness because I had abandoned my mother in her time of need.

I survived the war, eventually married, came to America and raised my family.

The brother who sent us food packages from Latvia survived the war, too and also came to America. He married a lovely young woman, Tzibu, who has been my close friend ever since.

Through the years since the war, my brother could never rest easy because he couldn’t make peace with the fact that our mother did not have a matzevah on her kever. As years went by, my husband died, the children moved away, and things changed.

From the day I was smuggled out of the Ghetto, I had never gone back to the country of my birth. But my brother and Tzibu decided to go to Poland to find my mother’s kever in Warsaw, and Tzibu also wanted to visit her mother’s kever in Hungary. Now, that they were going, I decided to go with them.

We left for Warsaw in the fall of 1989. We arrived on a gloomy and rainy day, went to our hotel and then set out for the cemetery on Okopowa Street. When we got to the cemetery, there was no one there to help us, and we waited for at least an hour before the caretaker came.

My brother explained that we were looking for our mother’s grave, and asked if it would it be possible for the caretaker to guide us to the place she was buried. He asked us the date of her funeral, we told him, and he brought us to a vacant lot and said, “This is the place where all the people from that particular time were buried,” but there were no matzevot, plaques or indication of names of those who were buried there. There was just a lonely, empty lot.

Our hearts sank with disappointment and pain, and we asked ourselves which spot we could chose to put up a matzevah for Mother.

As a rule, when I have to go to a cemetery, I always bring a candle and matches with me in my handbag. As long as we were there, we looked at the existing matzevot for family names, and lo and behold, I looked up, and two very tall graceful matzevot standing not far from me turned out to be the matzevot of my paternal grandmother and my aunt. My grandmother was the Bialer Rebbe’s daughter. We felt that was a form of consolation for us, so that our trip to Warsaw would not be totally in vain. We were happy to find someone from the family that we could use as a melitza yeshara to whom we could pray and whom we could ask to ask Hashem for the wellbeing of our children and the future generations of our family and clal Yisrael. I took out the candle and matches and lit the candle.

We spent a few days in the city of Warsaw, which was then dilapidated. Gensia Street, the street I had lived on, has been renamed Mordechai Anielewicz Street. Where our home had been, they build a big Soviet-style apartment house. Nothing was left, but memories.

We continued on to Hungary to visit Tzibu’s mother’s grave in Uyhel. We arrived on the day of the Yismach Moshe’s yahrzeit. He is one of my ancestors. Many people were there that day to visit his ohel, and we met the late Satmar Rebitzen Faigie Tietelbaum, who was with me in Bergen Belsen during the war.

From the Yismach Moshe’s ohel we went directly to the City Cemetery and as we arrived, Tzibu was shocked, and cried out because she couldn’t find her mother’s matzevah. She had a picture of it with her, but the matzevah wasn’t where it was supposed to be. As we looked at the picture, we decided we were in the right place. We started cleaning up leaves and grass in the area, and soon found the headstone broken, face down on the ground. We were certain then that we were where we were supposed to be.

My brother and I were very happy for Tzibu. As we cried and prayed I felt a void in my heart. I was not envying Tzibu, I just felt like the lonely orphan I was. And I asked her permission to light a candle on her mother’s kever. She was kind enough to grant me permission—after all, my brother is like Tzibu’s mother’s child, so perhaps I could be her “adopted” child and pray at her kever in my mother’s name.

I looked in my handbag, but there was no candle.

I was horribly disappointed, hurt and bewildered, and we looked around at the other matzevot to see if I could find a candle stub or something I could light. Unfortunately, there was nothing to be found, and my neshama collapsed.

I broke down, crying bitterly, as I leaned my head on the matzevah next to Tzibu’s mother, and I could not stop. I wondered why Hashem denied me the ability to light a candle in my mother’s memory. I begged Him to tell my mother of my pain and regret for leaving her alone in the Ghetto. I don’t know how long I remained in that state of sorrow and agony—but when I opened my eyes, there on the ledge of the matzevah, was a brand new, never lit candle that appeared out of nowhere.

My brother, Tzibu and I were speechless. We looked at each other, and asked each other who put the candle there. None of us had. I lifted the candle, and checked to see if it was real. And it was. I lit this mystery candle and felt as if a stone had been lifted from my heart. I could not believe that Hashem had chosen to grant my wish with a miracle.

Who am I? I don’t really know. What I do know is that my mother forgave me because of my zchus ovos. Tzibu is still with us, and she is a witness to the truth of this unusualness.

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