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Five for Five

Shimon and Yael Spitzer* of Florida were married for many years without children. They went through rounds of treatment and much tears and prayer, and were finally granted their desire, not once but five times over. Yael gave birth to quintuplets.

Before the birth of the quintuplets, the Spitzers lived modestly. However, the birth of the quints threw them into a financial crisis. A woman in the community, Mrs. Gordon, heard of their plight and contributed generously to support the newly expanded family.

One day Mrs. Gordon decided to visit the beneficiaries of her generosity. When she entered the Spitzers’ home, her gaze fell on the portrait of a woman hanging on the wall. Suddenly she collapsed in a faint. An ambulance was called and Mrs. Gordon was rushed to the hospital.

Naturally, Mrs. Spitzer was concerned for the welfare of her benefactress. The next day she went to visit Mrs. Gordon in the hospital. She could not understand why Mrs. Gordon was so affected by seeing the portrait of her mother.

When Mrs. Spitzer came to visit, Mrs. Gordon was very moved, even more so when she heard that the portrait she saw was that of Mrs. Spitzer’s mother. “I owe your mother my life,” she explained, and began to relate her tale.

“I am a Holocaust survivor and I was in the Bergen-Belsen death camp. I was part of a group of teenaged girls who tried to keep mitzvot as best as we could, despite the horrors all around us.

“It was a few days before Chanukah. We saved up our tiny margarine ration for days, to have enough fat to light the Chanukah candles. We tore threads out of our clothes and fashioned them into wicks. All we were lacking were cups to hold the margarine and wicks.”

“The most practical solution was to use potato peels. But acquiring the peels was a feat requiring much ingenuity and courage. We needed to sneak out of our barracks at night into the kitchen, and steal the potato peels.

“Our investigations revealed that the kitchen was unguarded for exactly five minutes each night, from midnight until 12:05 a.m. Five of us decided to take our lives into our hands by sneaking into the kitchen to get the peels. I was among the five.

“We crept up to the door of the kitchen, but to our horror, the guard spotted us. He grabbed us and recorded our names and numbers, and ominously told us that the next day we’d be taken out and hanged publicly, as a warning to all the other inmates.

“There was a Jewish girl in the camp who lived separately from the rest of us. She was fluent in many languages and the officers in the camp used her as an interpreter. She’d listen to foreign radio broadcasts and report their content to the camp’s commander. Due to her work she was given a hut of her own and several other special privileges.

“We decided that we would turn to her and beg her to intercede with the camp’s commander to save our lives. We snuck out of our barrack and made our way over to her private hut. The hut was dark, but we heard hushed singing coming from inside. Putting our ears close to the door, we heard her making a blessing over the Chanukah candles and singing ‘Maoz Tzur.’

“We entered her hut and begged her to intervene on our behalf, as we were going to be publicly hanged the next day. However, she refused to listen to us. She yelled at us and angrily chased us out of her hut.

“Heartbroken, we returned to our barracks to await our fate. The next day the five of us were taken to the central square of the camp. All the prisoners were gathered around to watch. Five gallows were set up for us, and the noose placed around our necks. Our terror knew no bounds. At any moment the commandant would give his signal and the chairs we were standing on would be kicked away, leaving us to our horrible fate.

“With only moments left to live, we prayed to G-d in our hearts. Suddenly there was a commotion. The girl we had spoken to the night before came flying into the square, went over to the commander and whispered in his ear. She gesticulated wildly and seemed to be very overwrought. We do not know what she told the commander, but he didn’t look very happy about what she was saying. In any event, he gave word to remove the nooses from our necks and ordered us to disperse.”

Mrs. Gordon took a deep breath and wiped the tears coursing down her cheeks. “Shortly after our Chanukah miracle, the Bergen-Belsen camp was liberated. The war ended, and I never had a chance to thank the girl who saved my life. I carry her image in my heart; I have never forgotten her. Suddenly I saw a picture of her on the wall of your house...”

Now it was the turn of Mrs. Spitzer to say a few words.

“The night before I gave birth, my mother came to me in a dream and said in Yiddish, ‘Finf far finf,’ five for five. I asked my mother what she meant, but she did not answer.

“The next day, my quintuplets were born. I assumed my mother was alluding to their birth, but I did not know in exchange for which five my babies were born. Now I know.”
 

 


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