The Story of Moshe Kraus

We all know the questions:

Where was G-d?
How was this possible?
How did they survive?

My 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.

In their home, I noticed 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 the same way. Tucked into the side of the frame was a small picture of the long-deceased miracle worker, Reb Shayele of Keresztur, Hungary.

Reb Shayele was part of my late 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 asked 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 historical testimonies, I realized that Moshe’s life is indicative of a much larger story. The story of how ordinary people faced the storm. The story of the spiritual resilience of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. These are the stories I want to tell.

Cantor Moshe Kraus’ story can be told in several formats:

  • A documentary film with musical theatre that recounts specific episodes in Moshe’s life
  • A musical theatre production
  • A historical drama TV series focusing on his life (1922 – present)

Moshe’s life from birth to the present included singing at Hassidic courts all over Europe from the age of nine years, becoming chazzan first in Sziget and then in Budapest, surviving Hungarian slave labour, and Bergen Belson: Appointed to be the first chief Hazzan of the Israeli army (IDF 1948 – 52), performing in concerts, and speaking engagements all over the world and finally settling in Ottawa, where he lives to this day.

Here are notable episodes in Moshe’s life:

  • Moshe’s voice and musical abilities lifted the prisoners’ spirits in Bergen Belson concentration camp in the darkest times.
  • Kramer, the commandant of Auschwitz and Bergen Belson, also enlisted Moshe to sing him German opera. After the war, when Kramer was sentenced to death by hanging, he asked for Moshe to be present.
  • While serving with the Rabbinic services in displaced person camps, Moshe found himself officiating at many marriages. He met the Klausenberger Rebbe, who insisted he lead the prayers. Moshe managed to reconnect with his Hassidic roots and to serve the Jewish people with his voice and character all over the world, from Johannesburg to Mexico City, ending up in Ottawa where he has been recognized by both Trudeaus for his compassion and wisdom.

If you have a story to share and wish to participate in this project, get in touch with me: askabigail@me.com.