Rediscovery Trip to Lithuania

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"Flee Quickly!"

R' Osher Katzman tells us now about the last time he met the Rav of Mir. The War was already raging and the Mirrer Yeshiva had evacuated to Vilna. Food was, however, scarce there and hard to come by, to the point where the refugees were almost starving. R' Osher had in the meantime made the acquaintance of a local baker, but when he told the man what a state the talmidim were in, he received a surprising answer: yes, the baker could manage to supply them with a small daily allotment of bread, but he had run out of salt and could find no more! Since saltless bread would not be very tasty, the baker suggested that R' Osher find a supply of salt sufficient for the bakery, and in return he would supply the yeshiva with bread.

But where could one find salt in wartime Vilna? R' Osher suddenly remembered his abandoned guest-room back in Mir, with a half-full sack of salt standing in the corner. Quickly he decided to make the dangerous trip there and back -- anything to feed the hungry!

He returned to a fear-stricken Mir, a village where the people numbly awaited the inevitable coming of the butchers. Then he heard that R' Kammai was still in the village. Hurrying over to the Rav's house, he asked, "What is the Rav doing here still?"

The measured answer was, "A Rav does not leave his community in time of trouble. I am staying with my people, come what may." Raising an eyebrow, the Rav continued, "But what are you doing here? You had already left for Vilna. Out of here, quick, if you want to escape death."

"Suddenly R' Kammai seized my hands and burst into tears over the closing and flight of his beloved yeshiva. `Elokim, gentiles have come into Your heritage, they have defiled Your holy place,' he mourned, as his tears ran down and wet my hands. But after a couple of minutes he pulled himself together and commanded, `Now flee quickly, immediately, right now! Don't wait even a minute. Every moment you delay you are in mortal danger.' I tried to convince him to let me spend a few minutes in town to ask after my family, who had remained in Mir, but he prodded me: `Absolutely not! Off with you at once! Hurry, hurry!'

"I obeyed the Rav and rushed to the train station. All the cars in the train were full, crammed with refugees from the battle areas. I couldn't even get into a car, and ended up standing on the steps with half my body hanging out over thin air.

"Only when I got back to Vilna did I realize how right the Rav had been. If he hadn't hurried me along I wouldn't be here today, for that train was the last one to leave Mir. Afterwards all roads were closed and no trains were allowed to run. Every Jew left in Mir after that last train was murdered."

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