His name was Matisyahu Gelmann, and he was a young hero in our history, tragically cut down in his prime.
Have you never heard of this great person, the leader of Matisyahu’s Men, who bravely stood up to the Nazis and refused to bend an iota to them? Then you must read this book, a classic that has finally been republished after years of being out of print.
This legendary book that tells the true tale of a small band of Chassidishe bachurim who kept firm in their commitment to keep every aspect of their mesorah, even in the face of the wicked Nazi soldiers, has moved countless readers to tears. It will inspire you to no end, and will give you much food for thought this Bein Hametzarim.
Click here to purchase online.
Keep reading below for a sneak preview and an incredible story:
Yankel Geffen, too, wears the halo of legend. At the side of Mattisyahu the Penitent, the major hero of the chassidic rebel movement, Yankel Geffen stands out as one of those who guided all the underground activities. Yankel had been an introverted student, modest and retiring, supported by his father-in-law and happily circumscribed by the walls of the shtiebel–until the winds of war came along and swept him out onto the battlefield to confront Satan. These very storm winds lifted him up to the lofty peaks of leadership.
He, the young chassid, whom all the other shtiebel men considered the biggest batlan of all, was suddenly revealed as the most daring of all. To their astonishment, he rushed ahead into the riskiest of all plans. He escaped time and time again from the most certain death-traps. It was he who jumped out of the death-train racing ahead to the Belzec extermination camp, it was he who escaped from his cell in the Plaszow torture camp, and it was he–and this is the highpoint in the legend of his bravery–who set out to smuggle himself across the border between Poland and Slovakia in order to go to Jerusalem, to the Gerrer Rebbe.
Yehudah Leib Judet, a Haifa clerk, was an expert in smuggling needed items into the Warsaw ghetto. He witnessed a rare incident in the streets of Warsaw, starring Yankel Geffen:
At the very beginning of the German occupation of Poland, a company of German soldiers, wild and drunk with victory, ran through the Jewish streets of Warsaw celebrating their victory by ridiculing and beating Jews. On Twarda Street they “struck it rich” when they encountered a group of chassidim leaving number 18 after the Chol Hamoed Sukkos prayers.
They fell upon their prey like so many vultures, one officer screeching, “Moses! Give me your pretty beard!” And he drew his bayonet and began to slice off chunks of beard from each of the older chassidim.
The shamefaced old Jews lowered their eyes and said nothing. The German went about his work. They felt helpless and thanked G-d that they were getting of “cheap,” that the demons were content with hairs instead of lives. And then, suddenly, they heard incredible words, so incredible that even the Germans stood stock-still, refusing to believe their ears:
“Shoot me. Kill me. But I won’t let you touch my beard!”
A gentle-looking chassid with eyes and face aflame had said those words. “Yantchi” they called him. The astonished German officer was furious. There stood Yantchi gripping his blond beard with both hands in utter defiance of the raging soldier.
“Cursed Jew!” he shrieked. “I’ll kill you on the spot!”
The unfortunate chassidim standing there were terribly shocked and upset by Yantchi’s boldness. One of the older men begged,
“Have pity on yourself, Yantchi. You’re not allowed to start up with these devils.”
The old chassid’s words fell on deaf ears. The entire company of soldiers screeched in chorus,
“Such Jewish audacity! Devil, take them!”
The Germans were confused. They had never expected so much courage from a Jew. The frustrated officer who held the bayonet in his hand was almost in tears at this audacious young chassid’s unwillingness to be humiliated.
He began to entreat Yantchi, “All I want is to cut off a handful of hair. Just let me take the pointy end.”
“Take pity on your young life, Yantchi,” the older chassidim tried to soften his rebelliousness. “They’re likely to avenge themselves on all of us because of you.”
“Okay,” Yantchi finally yielded to save them all from a sure death. “Here! Take the point of the beard. But only the ‘shpitz,’ do you hear? Not a single hair more!” He let a few hairs out from between his fingers to indicate that these were the ones he meant.
The disappointed officer screeched, “Get out of here!”
And the Jews did.
Allow me to add something to that testimony. Yantchi was later asked how he had allowed himself to endanger his life by baiting his tormentors. He very calmly explained, “I did that deliberately. I didn’t want those villains to think that the whole world belongs to them!”-