We have all pondered the profound questions that arise when we reflect on the past:
Where was God? How did they survive? How did they endure it all?
My mother, who survived the war in Budapest, always said that every person who emerged from those trying times was nothing short of a miracle.
In 2015, while screening my documentary film “Yiddish: A Tale of Survival” in Ottawa, I had the pleasure of meeting Chazzan Moshe Kraus and his wife, Rivka. While visiting their home, which overlooked the Rideau Canal, I noticed a framed black and white photograph hanging on the wall. The picture featured a man dressed in a long black coat, black hat, and side curls, along with a little boy dressed similarly. The frame also included a small picture of Reb Shayele of Keresztur, Hungary, a well-known figure for his kind and compassionate care for anyone who sought refuge at his door. This caught my attention and piqued my interest.
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 read Moshe’s memoir, “The Life of Moshele Der Zinger: How My Singing Saved My Life,” and other historical accounts, it became clear that Moshe’s life is a microcosm of a much larger narrative. It is the story of ordinary people facing the storm, a tale of spiritual resilience in extraordinary circumstances – stories I am eager to share.
Moshe’s life, from birth to the present, includes singing at Hassidic courts throughout 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 moments in his memoir include:
- Moshe used his voice and musical abilities to lift the spirits of prisoners in slave labour and Bergen Belson concentration camps.
- During the war, he was enlisted by Kramer, the commandant of Auschwitz and Bergen Belson, to sing German opera and later requested to be present at Kramer’s hanging after the war.
- He officiated numerous marriages while serving with the Rabbinic services in displaced person camps.
- He reconnected with his Hassidic roots under the guidance of the Klausenberger Rebbe and used his voice and character to serve Jewish people worldwide.
By exploring Chazzan Moshe Kraus’ remarkable life, we discover a story of personal triumph and a testament to the tenacious human spirit. Through his singing, service, and unwavering faith, Moshe Kraus exemplifies the power of the human spirit to overcome, persevere, and transcend.