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.

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 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.

Born into a European Chassidic environment, Moshe Kraus 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.

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 survival of Nazi death camps, serving in the first Israeli army as a Chazzan, and leading services, performing in concerts, and speaking engagements all over the world. 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 recovered his faith and, through strenuous efforts, managed to reconnect with some siblings who survived.
  • In 1948, Moshe enlisted in the nascent Israeli army, and as chief cantor, he often sang on Kol Yisrael radio station. He brought 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 me: askabigail@me.com.