Rediscovery Trip to Lithuania

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In "The Mir"

The next day we move on to the village of Mir, where R' Baron, R' Katzman, and R' Florans once learned, along with boys from all over Europe. The stream of eager talmidim was so great that R' Shabsai Yogel once remarked, "In the posuk `all the rivers go to the sea (yam),' the word yam is the initials of Yeshivas Mir!"

And when the yeshiva wandered off to Japan, the joke went around: Why was it decreed that "The Mir" must travel all the way to the Far East? Because that was the only part of the world from which no talmidim had arrived, and the guardian angels of those countries were jealous and wanted a part in the Mir's Torah.

We arrived in time for a memorial ceremony. The survivors of the Jewish community of Mir had gathered from all over the world to inaugurate a memorial stone on the site of the mass grave of the martyrs Hy"d. We had met them at the Minsk airport, where a lively conversation developed between them and R' Leib Baron, whose sharp recall of every youthful incident delighted them. These Jews -- bareheaded to a man, sad to say -- are proud of their hometown and understand perfectly that its sole fame comes from its yeshiva.

"Wherever we go, when they ask us where we're from and we say `Mir,' no one knows where that is. Who ever heard of a tiny village like that? Only when we met chareidische Yidden do we get any reaction -- and what a reaction!"

We say Tehillim and Kaddish at the mass grave, remembering how R' Avrohom Tzvi Kammai, the rav of Mir, refused to leave his townsfolk in their last moments and strode along fearlessly to his death together with his people. R' Chaim Ozer had once said of him, after the Chofetz Chaim died, "We still have the Rav of Mir." Now when his end was near he remained a "living sefer Torah." Only one thing he asked of the butchers: not to shoot him at the edge of the pit but to let him climb down and then shoot him. His last thoughts were to do the mitzvah of kevurah properly, such that none of his blood would fall outside of his grave.

We heard this story on the way to the grave site from an eyewitness, who had escaped just in time and joined the partisans. He watched the procession of the doomed from his hiding place in the forest trees, and has never to this day forgotten the awesome sight of how R' Kammai calmly descended into the pit and gave his soul back to his Creator.

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