The Suffering of the Righteous according to Shlomo Zalman Unsdorfer of Bratislava, 1939–1944

  • Gershon Greenberg


Shlomo zalman Unsdorfer, born in 1888, was trained at the Bratislava yeshiva under the aegis of Akiva Sofer (known as the Da’at Sofer), who was the son of the Shevet Sofer, grandson of the Ketav Sofer and great-grandson of the yeshiva’s greatest figure, the Hatam Sofer (1762–1839). The Da’at Sofer’s son Avraham Shmuel Benyamin Sofer (the Heshev Sofer) left Bratislava for the land of Israel in summer 1943, leaving Unsdorfer as the de facto leader of the city’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in the ghetto during 1944. At least until November 1943 Unsdorfer delivered addresses at his Vedritch Street synagogue and to the Torah-Seekers Group (Hevra Mevakshei Torah) on Sabbaths, holidays, and the day of recognition in May (the 33nd day of the counting of the Omer) for the Burial Society (Hevra Kadisha). He also lectured on the Chapters of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) on summer Sabbath afternoons, and spoke to the Jewish refugees stranded in the nearby area known as Patronka. His son Shmuel Aleksander writes that his father was also the rabbi of the Gemilut Hasadim (Charity Society). When a decree was issued to evacuate the old cemetery of Bratislava, it became his responsibility to care for the bones of the Hatam Sofer and other greats, including that of Akiva Eger (1761–1837), author of Mishnat Rabeinu Akiva.


Metaphysical Transition Jewish Refugee Prison Camp Torah Study Burial Society 
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  1. 1.
    In late summer 1947 Akiva Sofer wrote to Shmuel Aleksander Unsdorfer, who had been his student, in support of his intention to publish his father’s work. Akiva Sofer, ‘Haskamah’, in Siftei Shlomo (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Balshon Printing, 1972): p.8.Google Scholar
  2. On Unsdorfer, see Shmuel Aleksander Unsdorfer, ‘Hakdama… Toldot Hamehaber’ in Siftei Shlomo, pp.8–18. Simha Bunem Unsdorfer, The Yellow Star (New York: T. Yoseloff, 1961); ‘Jewish Resistance Under the Nazis’, Jewish Tribune 2 no.40 (18 October 1963): 2, 4; ‘Remembrance Day’, Jewish Tribune 2 no.42 (15 November 1963): 2; ‘Yizkor Elokim’, Jewish Tribune 2 no.62 (18 September 1964): 2; Editor, ‘Simha Bunem Unsdorfer z’l’, Jewish Tribune 5 no.139 (15 December 1967): 1; Editor, ‘Dos Lebn un Shafn fun R. Simha z’l’, Idishe Tribune 5 no.139 (15 December 1967): 1; Editor ‘Shiva Lipetirato shel Har’r Simha Bunem Unsdorfer z’l’, Hamodiya 18 no.5792 (13 December 1967): 3.Google Scholar
  3. On Bratislava see Gila Fatran, Nairn Ma’avak al Hisardut (Tel Aviv: Moreshet, 1992).Google Scholar
  4. Avraham Fuchs, Yeshivot Hungary a Bigedulatan Uvehurbanan (Jerusalem: A. Fuchs, 1978/1979);Google Scholar
  5. Avraham Fuchs, Hashoa Bimekorot Rabaniyim She’elot Uderashot (Jerusalem: A. Fuchs, 1995)Google Scholar
  6. and Gertrude Hirschler, ‘The History of Agudat Yisrael in Slovakia, 1918–1939’ in The Jews of Czechoslovakia: Historical Studies and Surveys (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1971): 2:155–172.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Unsdorfer, ‘Hem omru shelosha devarim’ in Siftei Shlomo, pp.181–182 [P.A. 1:1] for a then-contemporary probe into God’s punishing those nations He used as His instrument against Israel. See Gershon Greenberg, ‘Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich’s (1863–1944) Religious Response to the Holocaust: February 1939—October 1943. Simleul-Silvaniei, Transylvania’, Studia Judaica IX (2000, forthcoming).Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    The need for silence about the catastrophe was probed at length in Hayim Israel Tsimerman’s (Tel Aviv) Tamim Pa’alo (1947) and Ya’akov Moshe Harlap’s (Jerusalem) wartime Met Marom. See Gershon Greenberg, ‘The Holocaust Apocalypse of Ya’akov Moshe Harlap’, Jewish Studies 40 (2000) and ‘Tsimerman’s Absolutistic Response to Catastrophe’ in In God’s Name (Oxford: Berghahn, 2000).Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    Unsdorfer, ‘Va’eira: Or Leyom Erev Shabbat Kodesh Lesefer Va’eira Shenat 5702’ in Siftei Shlomo, pp.93–96 [17 January 1942]. Unsdorfer, ‘Parashat Va’eira: Or Leyom 6 Erev Shabbat Kodesh Va’eira Shenat 5703’ in Siftei Shlomo, pp.308–310 [9 January 1943]. Hatam Sofer also spoke of Abraham’s not probing God’s intention. See Hatam Sofer, ‘Va’yeira’ in Hatam Sofer Al Hatorah (Jerusalem: Me’ein Hahakhma, 1957/1958): 1:72–73.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

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  • Gershon Greenberg

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