Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau poses in the garden of his home in Presov.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 69375
- Presov, [Slovakia; Presov] Czechoslovakia
- Variant Locale
- Photo Designation
LIFE BEFORE THE HOLOCAUST -- Czechoslovakia -- Family/Friends/Portraits
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Naphtali Lau-Lavie
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau poses in the garden of his home in Presov.
- Naphtali Lau-Lavie (born Naphtali Lau) is the son of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau and Chaya Lau. He was descended from rabbis on both his mother and father's side and the family traced its ancestry back to Rashi. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau also had a doctorate in addition to rabbinical ordination and was active in Poalei Agudat Yisrael, a strictly Orthodox Zionist organization. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau served as chief rabbi in Suceava, Romania, but in 1926 his wife Chaya returned to her family in Krakow, Poland to give birth to Naphtali, her first child. (Rabbi Lau also had an older son Yehoshua by a previous wife.) In 1928 Rabbi Lau became the rabbi of Presov, Czechoslovakia, and a second son, Shmuel Yitzchak (Milek) was born there in September 1929. In August 1933 Yehoshua left home in to study in Wizhnitz Yeshiva with his grandfather, Rabbi Yisrael Hager. Because of the intervening war, Naphtali did not see him again for the next twelve years. The following year, in December 1934 Rabbi Lau was appointed chief rabbi of Piotrkow, and the family prepared to return to Poland where they would also be closer to their relatives. However, before he could assume the position, Rabbi Lau was injured in a train accident and need to have his arm amputated. After a long recuperation, the family left Presov for Piotrkow and arrived just before Yom Kippur. Naphtali's youngest brother, Israel Meir (Lulek), was born there on June 1, 1937. On September 1, 1939 Germany invaded Poland and occupied Piotrkow. Though Rabbi Lau insisted that he was only a spiritual, not administrative leader of the community, German officials demanded that he supply them with Jewish laborers and collect a levy of 25,000 Polish zloty to compensate Germany for damages sustained during first days of war. Only after the creation of a ghetto and Jewish Council the following month, did the Germans turn to someone else to serve as their intermediary with the Jewish community. Rabbi Lau initially served on the Jewish Council, but he resigned over their decision to cooperate in the formation of a Jewish police force. However, Rabbi Lau to serve as the town's rabbi and leader of the rabbinic court. Naphtali's mother worked in the ghetto soup kitchen distributing free meals to the needy. Shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, German soldiers knocked on door of the Lau's home and not finding Rabbi Lau at home, grabbed Naphtali. Though he was only fourteen-years-old, they imprisoned him in the Gestapo cellar together with a group of Poles. From there the prisoners were brought to Radom and placed on a convoy to Auschwitz. Naphtali arrived in Auschwitz on June 30, 1941 and was sent to work building foundations for what would become the ramp at Birkenau. After forty hellish days, another prisoner arranged for Naphtali to be smuggled out of the camp in a bakery van. He was escorted safely back to Piotrkow where he reunited with his family in the ghetto. He later learned that his mother's brother, the rabbi of Jaworzno, had arranged for his escape in exchange for a large sum of money. In late 1941, the first rumors of mass murders reached the ghetto and in March 1942 a survivor of Chelmno escaped to the ghetto and provided Rabbi Lau with eye witness testimony of what was happening there. Rabbi Lau wrote down all that he said and Naphtali transcribed the account on a typewriter. After learning of the murders, people in the ghetto began to search for more secure places to live. Naphtali went to work at a glass factory deemed essential for Germany's war effort. Milek also worked there after he became bar mitzvah. On October 13, 1942, word leaked that there would be a deportation action the following day. Rabbi Lau refused to abandon his flock, but he instructed his wife to hide with Lulek in a ghetto bunker and for his two older sons to report to the factory. Milek, however, insisted that he remain with his father and stayed behind. Rabbi Lau, however forced Naphtali to leave telling him that he was responsible for caring for Lulek and ensuring that the family's rabbinic legacy remain unbroken. Rabbi Lau and Milek were taken to Treblinka and murdered. Naphtali, his mother and younger brother remained in the ghetto until early summer 1943 when the remaining Jews also went to live in the glass factory. In November 1944, the Germans decided to liquidate this work camp as well. Though Lulek wanted to remain with his mother, she decided that he would have a greater chance of survival if he stayed with the men and therefore pushed Lulek into Naphtali's arms during the deportation. The brothers never saw their mother again. She perished in Ravensbrueck in 1944 at the age 45. The brothers were taken to HASAG (Hugo Schneider Aktiengesellschaft-Metalwarenfabrik, Leipzig), a plant in Czestochowa where they were befriended by a group of Bobower Chasidim from Krakow who had been friends of their grandfather. Naphtali pretended to be a trained metal fitter and luckily his skills were never tested as he was put to work painting military vehicles white in preparation for the Russian campaign. Lulek, who was then seven-years-old, stayed in barracks and waited for Naphtali to return at night. Two months later the Germans evacuated the HASAG plant. During the evacuation, the guards pried Lulek away from Naphtali and forced him to go in the women's train car. Naphtali did not want to abandon his brother, and when the train briefly stopped, he climbed into the women's car, found Lulek and brought him back to his car. In January 1945 they arrived in Buchenwald. Fearing that Lulek would be killed upon arrival, Naphtali smuggled him into the camp in a large bag. After learning that there were other children there, he registered Lulek instructing him to say that he was thirteen and had worked as a kitchen helper. They were taken to Block 52, but after a few days Naphtali arranged for Lulek to be transferred to Block 8, a children's barracl under the supervision of a school teacher named Wilhelm Hammann. The children in Block 8 received relatively benign treatment, and Lulek was cared for by an older Soviet prisoner. Naphtali, however, endured abuse and hard labor. He only received a reprieve when for four days in the spring, he was selected to work in the home of an SS man who gave him sandwiches, apples, real coffee and a chance to wash in exchange providing household help. After Passover April, 1945 in advance of the Americans, the Germans decided to evacuate Jewish prisoners from the camp. Naphtali feared he would become separated from Lulek just as the war was ending. He therefore jumped from the deportation train as it approached an embankment and walked back to Buchenwald. After several days walking without food or water Naphtali arrived back in the camp and found Lulek still in Block 8. When they were finally liberated a few days later, Naphtali had typhus fever and was near death. After his recovery, in June the boys joined a transport of children from Buchenwald to France where they were brought to Ecouis, an OSE children's home. Naphtali however did not want to remain in France and was anxious to immigrate to Palestine. One month later, he and Lulek left for Marseilles. From there they sailed to Genoa where they boarded the Mataroa and arrived in Haifa on July 15. After arriving they met their half-brother Yehoshua (Shjiko), whom Napthali had not seen since he left for his grandfather's home twelve years earlier. Naphtali went on to assume a career in journalism and politics. In keeping with his father's wishes, he provided his younger brother with a religious education. Israel Maier (Lulek) received rabbinical ordination and later was appointed chief rabbi of the State of Israel.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Naphtali Lau-Lavie
Record last modified: 2006-10-26 00:00:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1157028