In 2007, the Los Angeles Bikur Cholim ran a campaign to raise money for poverty-stricken Holocaust survivors, with the funds going to pay their medical bills. The organization sponsored a screening of the film “Swimming in Auschwitz” at the Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills.
The documentary depicts six Jewish women of various backgrounds who had one thing in common: during World War II, they had all been deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and as prisoners, had been appointed pool attendants to the Nazi officers’ swimming pool.
All six were still alive, and all of them attended the screening. After the film came a question-and-answer session, where the audience was able to ask these survivors about their experiences. As with many film screenings, they had paid a nominal entrance fee, which was donated to Bikur Cholim’s Holocaust Survivors Assistance Program, dedicated to improving the lives of the neediest victims of Nazi persecution.
As any public speaker can attest, an unscripted Q&A can have surprises. This one proceeded as planned until a curveball came.
“This question is for Sarah,” an audience member said. “After surviving so much, how did you feel watching your grandson become bar mitzvah?”
It was not an unusual question, but the answer was not what anyone expected. Sarah became visibly upset. “Bar mitzvah?” she said. “I made sure that he didn’t have one. I don’t keep kosher. I want nothing to do with religion or rabbis. It’s all their fault!”
At this point, the moderator stepped in and gently handed the microphone to the next woman. The audience shifted uneasily in their seats. The Q&A went on, but no one dared pose another question to Sarah. The organizers were grateful—in a group of shomer Shabbos Jews, they did not want anyone to walk out offended by what they had heard.
Finally, the event was over. Outside the music hall, Rabbi Hershy Ten, the president of Bikur Cholim, thanked everyone for coming. The crowd was clearing when suddenly someone walked up to him and jabbed a finger at his chest. It was Sarah.
“It’s you and all the rabbis’ fault that this terrible, terrible thing happened to the Jewish people,” she said.