Sinas Chinam - A Story For Tisha B'Av
Excerpt from The Enemy At His Pleasure:
Rabbi Hoyzner told me a dreadful story. It was hard for him to talk, but impossible for him to hold back.
He had been summoned to a Russian military hospital to attend a mortally wounded Jewish soldier, who wanted to confess. When the rabbi arrived, the man was already dying.
"Rabbi! I can't die... I'm burdened with a great sin, and I beg you to grant me forgiveness."
"What is your sin?" asked the rabbi.
"Our regiment occupied a Jewish shtetl," the dying patient began. "As usual, there was a pogrom. The troops broke into the wine cellar and started drinking. I shared the liquor with them, got drunk, and set out to rob Jews. I stormed into a house and found an old man with a shtreimel and long side locks. Later on I learned he was the town rabbi. I grabbed the front of his shirt and screamed, 'Jew! Give me money!' He said he had none."
The dying man fell silent.
"What happened next?" Rabbi Hoyzner asked.
The soldier clammed up for a while, then murmured, "I ran my bayonet through him."
He moaned and pleaded. "Rabbi, grant me forgiveness so I can die in peace."
Rabbi Hoyzner was shaken, at a loss for words. He promised the dying man that he would think about it and give him an answer. But within a few hours he was told that the soldier had died.
This story was extraordinary but not unique. When savage instincts are unleashed by war, nightmares are bound to occur when even the weaker, backward Jewish soldiers yielded to the ferocious intoxication and joined their Russian comrades perpetrating the most shameful atrocities, even against Jews.