Orphans of two different cities
By Robert B. Kahn
Since my formative years, my conscience has been becoming stronger and stronger, and has perhaps guided me to make decisions with a combination of heart and mind that have enabled me not to become a victim of the Holocaust. After many diversions from my intended goals, my conscience has channeled my actions into a successful and rewarding life. I have discovered, almost like a law, that I must obey the voice of my conscience, which has plagued me for several days now about the similarities between recent events and to those of the past.
As a boy growing up in Mannheim, Germany, there was a Jewish orphanage run by a Mr. and Mrs. Moritz Oppenheimer in a homelike setting. My dear mother, knowing the daily routine of the Jewish orphans, always reminded me to bring several of the boys to our home for dinner so they would get a good, home-cooked meal, especially on Shabbat.
I remember one of the boys named Arnie Lipschitz. On Oct. 10, 1940, after my family had found temporary sanctuary in another country, Arnie and 15 other orphans, along with their caretakers, were deported by the Nazis to Camp Gurs in France. Those who survived there until 1942 were again tragically transported to Auschwitz where they were murdered. So ends the first story.
My conscience was recently awakened by the unprovoked war by Russia against Ukraine. I bitterly recall that some 80 years earlier, on Sept. 29 and 30 of 1941, almost 33,000 of the Ukrainian Jewish residents were shot by the Nazis after being taken to the ravines of Babyn Yar near Kiev with the assistance of the local nationalist militia, who treated the Jews with particular cruelty. When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, there lived approximately 35,000 Jews in Odessa, including 125 orphans cared for by Mishpacha Chabad.
A few days later, at the decision of Rabbi Avraham Wolff, the president of the Jewish community of Odessa, 106 Jewish children under the age of 18 were evacuated on five buses. Yehuda Teichtal, the chairman of Berlin’s Chabad, made arrangements for sheltering the orphans and caretakers who had traveled the long and arduous 1,050 miles to Berlin, a 52-hour trip.
The children needed special diplomatic visa arrangements to go through the borders of Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. Everything was done for them as long as it was anticipated, such as kosher meals, and to make the bus trip as bearable and comfortable as possible. Yarmulkes of all colors gave the school-age boys a peculiar look at the various stops that were needed along the route. All received an incredibly friendly welcome from Berlin’s Jewish community, even with presents for the little ones. The 120 adult caretakers followed several days later, on additional buses.
The evacuation of the orphans from Odessa was undertaken because no one knew what Putin’s ideas were regarding the future of the Jewish orphans. There were rumors to bring the orphans back to Russia. In the meantime, the majority of Jewish adults left Odessa for more stable and safe countries.
Chabad of Berlin undertook the necessary appeal for volunteers and funds to underwrite the cost estimated at $125,000 only for the trip of the children. To provide a new and meaningful Jewish life for the orphans required immediate fund raising by Chabad, which has reached the substantial amount of $500,000. My contribution is on the way. This is my story about two different Jewish orphanages, one with a tragic ending, the second on a happier track being continued.
Robert B. Kahn lives in Kettering, Ohio.