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Smuggling out of the Soviet Block

Reb Pinchas had been very ill -- his sons were certain the end was nigh. He'd been in intensive care a few weeks. Then suddenly, his wife, who was medically healthy, though off with fairies, suddenly passed away. Reb Pinchas of course was not able to attend the funeral. They weren't even sure his system could take being informed of her passing. His sons continued visiting him daily, even during the shiva mourning week. But even in his state, the sons were sure their would notice their newly growing beards -- all them had been clean shaven before their mother's funeral.

But Reb Pinchas miraculously recovered. Not long after, he celebrated his ninetieth birthday at his son, David's house. It was a jolly kiddush and he was in a great mood. He loved telling jokes, and after a dvar Torah, he told us a great one about the Irish whiskey factory, the one where Paddy falls into the vat. He wasn't all jokes though. He was a walking history book of the twentieth century.

Unfortunately, Reb Pinchas did not reach his father's one hundred and four years. He was back in intensive care a few months later. This time though, he didn't recover, returning his soul to his Maker.

Reb Pinchas was born in Hungary during the first world war. His father, Reb Moshe, was then in the Austro-Hungarian army, serving on horseback in the cavalry. The peace after this war did not last long, and our Reb Pinchas, realising Europe as they knew was going to end, managed to leave for London where he studied at university. Unfortunately, Reb Moshe didn't make it out in time, and spent close to a year in the camps and forced labour.

Following liberation, he joined his son in London. He never went back to Hungary. They both became British citizens. Following the establishment of Israel, Reb Pinchas moved there. His father joined him some years later.

Though Reb Pinchas didn't care for it at all, his father always wanted to return to his old hometown. But Hungary was behind the "iron curtain", part of the Soviet bloc. Western tourism wasn't encouraged. But still Reb Moshe yearned to see his old home. In the mid-eighties the opportunity arose. One could fly to Vienna and enter Hungary from there by train. Of course not on an Israeli passport.

After all these years, Reb Pinchas had even less of a desire to travel back there. He had no interest in it all. But is father was firm -- he wanted to see the old country one more time. As he was by now close to ninety, his son had to accompany him.

And off they went. Reb Moshe wanted to visit all the places he had lived around the country, both in Budapest and out in the country.

They were visiting his last abode, the large country town from where he and his fellow Jewish citizens was "deported, transported". They were walking down the street in which his house had been located. The local synagogue once stood at the end of this street.

Towards the end, the community moved all the valuables, silver items, from the synagogue to Reb Moshe's house for safekeeping. There was a justified fear that the synagogue would be burnt down by a mob As hard as it may be for us to believe today, the Jewish townfolk didn't realise that the fate awaiting them was not much rosier.

"Moshe Baci!", a voice shouted out from behind. "Uncle Moshe", a man in his sixties was calling, running to catch up to them. It was Reb Moshe's former neighbour. Their families had always had cordial relations.

"I knew you would come back. It is so good to see you." After a brief exchange to cover momentous events of the last forty years, this local gentile, a Catholic, said come with me. I have something for you.

Our travel companions did not understand what this man wanted to show them. He took them through the front gate of his property, but bypassing the front door of the house, he lead them into a large barn. Once in the barn, he climbed up a ladder into the loft. Our intrepid heroes felt obliged to follow Reb Pinchas behind his father, covering in case the unsteady old man may fall. They were excited, but confused.

Once in the attic, the Hungarian lead them to a far corner. He was digging in the hay. He pulled out a silver breastplate from a Torah. Then another. Then some bells and other ornaments. He displayed from within the hay all of the synagogue's ornaments.

"I knew you were coming back, and I wanted to make sure you would receive these when you came." He had taken all the religious artifacts from Reb Moshe's house for safekeeping. Until this very day, no-one, including his family or his priest, knew about courageous act. They had lain under the hay for over forty years.

Both father and son could not hold back their tears. They hugged the righteous goy.

Once they sobered up, Reb Pinchas said to his father -- this all very nice, but what are you going to do with all this? You can't take this out of Hungary. We may be carrying British passports, but smuggling is a serious offence here. We'll both get arrested and thrown into gaol. They'll even toss away the key. "I came here and this was waiting me -- for all these years it awaited my return. I am not leaving without it."

They packed the booty into a suitcase and started their journey back home to Israel. They were on the train to Vienna. They were approaching the Hungarian-Austrian border crossing, the road to "freedom". About a mile before the frontier, the train stops and Hungarian border officials, immigration and customs, board the train. Passports please. Thank you. Anything to declare? Reb Pinchas hands over his passports, "Nothing to declare", trying to hide his apprehension. "Thank you . . . and you old man". Our hero passes over his passport.

"Where are your bags?" Reb Moshe points to the rack above his head. "What do you have in there olf fella", they ask with a bit of a smirk. Silverware, he proudly responds with a very straight face. Reb Pinchas wants to sink into his seat and disappear. The immigration officer looks at the customs man, circling his ear with his index finger. The customs man nods with a laugh. They hand back the passport and carry onto the next compartment.

Today the Hungarian silver adorns a number of Torah scrolls in the holy city of Yerushalayim.

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