We all know the questions:
Where was G-d?
How was this possible?
How did they survive?
My own mother, who herself survived the war in Budapest, by working with fake papers, in a small Hungarian beauty shop, used to say that every single person who survived was a total miracle.
In 2015, while I was screening my documentary film Yiddish: A Tale of Survival in Ottawa, I happened to meet Chazzan Moshe Kraus and his wife Rivka.
I noticed, in their home, a framed black and white photograph of a handsome man in a long black coat, black hat, and long side curls. And standing next to him was a little boy dressed in exactly the same way. Tucked into the side of the frame was a small picture of the long deceased miracle worker, Reb Shayele of Keresztur.
Reb Shayele was part of my Mother’s memories of her home town of Tokay. Everyone in Hungary knew about Reb Shayele because he was such a legendary force for caring, feeding, sheltering, and advising anyone who came to his door – Jew or gentile.
When I inquired as to why the picture was there, Moshe explained that the figures in the photograph were of himself and his father taken before the war, and that Reb Shayele was his grandfather.
Reading Moshe’s memoir The Life of Moshele Der Zinger: How My Singing Saved My Life and other historic testimonies, I realized that Moshe’s life is emblematic of a much larger story which has just begun to be told – the story of how ordinary people faced the storm – the story of the spiritual resilience of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances: This is the story I want to tell.
Moshe Kraus, born into a European Chassidic environment, was a musical child prodigy, trained as a Chazzan – a musical synagogue prayer leader – from the age of nine. A resourceful and clever man, Moshe faced many challenges and lived to tell the tale.
This project could be told in several formats:
- A documentary film with musical theater that recounts certain episodes in Moshe’s life
- A musical theater production
- A historical drama TV series focusing on the life of this Chazzan (1922 – present)
Moshe’s life from birth to the present included survival of Nazi death camps, serving in the first Israeli army as a Chazzan, and leading services, performing in concerts as well as speaking engagements all over the world. Here are notable episodes in Moshe’s life:
- Moshe’s voice and musical abilities were used to lift the spirits of the prisoners in the darkest times in Bergen Belson concentration camp. Kramer, commandant of Auschwitz and Bergen Belson, also enlisted Moshe to sing German opera for him. And when Kramer was judged and sentenced to hang after the war, he asked for Moshe to be present at his hanging.
- While serving with the Rabbinic services in displaced persons camps, Moshe found himself officiating at many marriages. He met the Klausenberger rebbe who insisted he lead the prayers. Moshe recovered his faith and through strenuous efforts, managed to reconnect with some siblings who had survived as well.
- In 1948, Moshe enlisted in the nascent Israeli army and in the role of the chief cantor, was often heard singing on kol Yisrael – Israeli radio – bringing hope and encouragement to the Israeli people. Moshe also sang at their weddings and the funerals of fallen soldiers.
If you have a story to share and wish to participate in this project, get in touch with us!