Prior to the war, Rabbi Israel Spira was the rabbi of Blazowa, a small town near Rzeszow, Poland. Rabbi Spira was a direct descendant of the Dinov and Munkacz Chasidic dynasties.
During the Holocaust, Rabbi Yisroel Spira experienced the sufferings of hell. He lost his wife, his children, and his grandchildren.
It was there, precisely in the valley of tears, that his holy personality stood out. He displayed goodness and kindness, encouraging each Jew to place his trust in the Creator of the world and to await deliverance.
In October 1942, Israel Spira was transported from the Janowska Concentration Camp to the Belzec Death Camp. At Belzec, he was fortunate to be selected for the clothing work brigade at the old locomotive shed. Belzec was a death camp where 500,000+ Jews were murdered. Very little is known about specifics of the camp.
After a few days, the rabbi attached himself to the escort taking a trainload of clothing back to the Janowska Concentration Camp in Lvov. Thus, he was able to escape from Belzec. His wife, Pearl, was murdered in Belzec on October 18, 1942.
At Janowska Concentration Camp, Rabbi Spira detached himself from the escort and mingled with the other Jews. When he loitered near a coffee stall, he was recognized by other Jews -- who protected him. Rabbi Spira survived Janowska Concentration Camp and avoided subsequent deportations to Belzec.
Upon arriving to the U.S., an American G.I. translated for him into Yiddish Emma Lazarus's famous lines inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
The rabbi listened intently and wiped a tear from his eye. There he was, the lone survivor of his family; his beard was burnt off, his head and body still covered with open wounds from beatings. He placed his hand on the G.I.'s shoulder and said, "My friend, the words you have just translated to me are indeed beautiful. We, the few survivors coming to these shores, are indeed poor, tired, and yearning for freedom. But we are no longer masses. We are remnants, a trickle of broken individuals who search for moments of peace in this world, who hope to find a few relatives on these shores."
Rabbi Spira was sick, shorn of all his hair, his body still covered with open wounds upon arrival to the United States. He was absolutely alone, as his entire family had been murdered. He was the sole survivor of the Bluzhof Hasidic sect, which had been founded by his grandfather.
The rabbi settled in Brooklyn, and it was there that he had a great influence on the religious community. He lived to be age 99 and died in 1989. He was survived by his second wife and his sister, Chaya Horowitz.
This is the short, miraculous story of a Belzec survivor.