Yisrael was 12 years old when the war came to Gur in September of 1939. The Nazis, who rose to power in Germany in the previous years, ruthlessly bombed the town in their advance on Poland. This was the beginning of World War II. The local Polish soldiers in Gur ran away in fear, and the Nazis broke into the unprotected homes and businesses. Among the casualties, the Rebbe ’s home was looted and ransacked. In the chaos, many Jews managed to flee to safety on the other side of the Vistula River, including some of Yisrael’s relatives.
The Nazis established a Jewish ghetto in Gur in 1940. All the Jews had to live in a specific area of the town. Though no fences or walls were put up, everyone knew the borders and knew that they were not to leave the ghetto without special permission. Fortunately for the Rosenblums, their home was located within the ghetto borders, and Mr. Rosenblum could continue working at the bakery.
Under the Nazis, the Jews of Gur were ordered to wear armbands with a Star of David, and with the armbands the Nazis were able to easily identify Jews walking on the streets, except for Yisrael. Yisrael refused to wear the armband. Once, a Nazi soldier slapped Yisrael in the face for not wearing the armband. While it was utterly humiliating, the experience also made Yisrael even more stubborn than before. He continued to defy the Nazis in many ways. When Yisrael turned 13 years old, for example, he celebrated his bar mitzvah with his family in secret, in complete defiance of the Nazis and their edicts against the Jews of Gur.
TESTIMONY: “bar mitzvah ”
“There was a fear about praying in the synagogue.”
By February 1941, the Jews of Gur were ordered to pack all the belongings they could carry and report to the central plaza. Yisrael and his family knew that the Nazis were taking them to Warsaw, the capital of Poland. They wondered what they should take and what they should leave behind. In the end, they had to leave almost everything behind. It was heartbreaking for Yisrael, but he was also optimistic. He didn’t believe that the separation from his home would last forever. He believed that his family would be allowed to return just as soon as the war ended.
TESTIMONY: “THE WARSAW GHETTO”
“There was hunger, and typhus , and many other diseases.”
Mr. Rosenblum was the family’s first victim to the horrible conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto. After seeing their father die of malnutrition and disease, Yisrael and his brother Pessach decided that they needed to do something in order to stay alive. They joined a group of child smugglers who would risk their lives to sneak out of the ghetto to find food for themselves and their families.
“The guards would walk back and forth.”
typhus eventually took the lives of Yisrael’s brothers, Hirsh-Chaim and Reuven, as well as his mother. Now, the three remaining boys were orphans. Yisrael, who was 14 years old, and Pessach, who was 10 years old, decided to place their younger brother, Yosef, in an orphanage because Yosef would not be able to survive with them on the streets. One day, however, when the brothers came to the orphanage they found that Yosef was gone. They suspected that he had died of malnutrition and disease, but no one knew for sure.
Sadly, Yisrael and Pessach had no time to mourn for their brother, because soon Yisrael contracted typhus . Pessach spent his time caring for his sick brother, nursing him back to health. He managed to save Yisrael from the same fate as their father, mother, and other brothers.