We are all familiar with the profound questions that arise when reflecting on the past:
- Where was G-d?
- How was survival possible?
- How did they endure?
My mother, a survivor of the war in Budapest, often emphasized that every individual who emerged from those harrowing times was nothing short of a miracle.
During the screening of my documentary film, “Yiddish: A Tale of Survival in Ottawa,” in 2015, I had the privilege of meeting Chazzan Moshe Kraus and his wife, Rivka. In their home, a framed black and white photograph caught my eye – a striking image of a man in a long black coat, black hat, and side curls, accompanied by a little boy dressed similarly. Tucked into the frame was a small picture of Reb Shayele of Keresztur, Hungary, a long-deceased figure renowned for his compassionate care for anyone who sought refuge at his door.
Reb Shayele, a part of my mother’s memories from Tokay, was a legendary force in Hungary, offering care, shelter, and advice to all, regardless of faith. Moshe explained that the figures in the photograph were him and his father, taken before the war, with Reb Shayele being his grandfather.
As I delved into Moshe’s memoir, “The Life of Moshele Der Zinger: How My Singing Saved My Life,” and other historical accounts, it became evident that Moshe’s life is a microcosm of a much larger narrative. It is the story of ordinary individuals confronting the storm, a tale of spiritual resilience amidst extraordinary circumstances – the stories I am eager to share.
Moshe’s life, spanning from birth to the present, encompasses singing at Hassidic courts across Europe, becoming the chazzan in Sziget and Budapest, surviving Hungarian slave labour and Bergen Belson, working for the rabbinic services of the Joint Distribution Committee, and eventually settling in Ottawa. Significant instances in his memoir include:
- Moshe uplifted prisoners’ spirits through his voice and musical abilities in slave labour and Bergen Belson concentration camps.
- Being enlisted by Kramer, the commandant of Auschwitz and Bergen Belson, to sing German opera during the war and later requested to be present at Kramer’s hanging after the war.
- Officiating numerous marriages while serving with the Rabbinic services in displaced person camps.
- He was reconnecting with his Hassidic roots under the guidance of the Klausenberger Rebbe and using his voice and character to serve the Jewish people worldwide.
In exploring Moshe Kraus’s extraordinary life, we uncover not just a tale of personal triumph but a testament to the resilient human spirit. Through his singing, service, and unwavering faith, Moshe Kraus exemplifies the power of the human spirit to overcome, endure, and transcend.