DIVREI TORAH

BO – MAGNIFICENT VANILLA ICE CREAM IN AUSCHWITZ

OHR TZVI ON THE PARSHA: BO - MAGNIFICENT VANILLA ICE CREAM IN AUSCHWITZ

Rabbi Yehoshua Weber
Dedicated by Judy Friedman in honor of Rabbi Weber for his warmth and continuous support. 

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It is a diary that is acid to the soul.

It is the diary that details Dr. Johann Paul Kremer’s period as a surgeon at Auschwitz.

In his diary, Kremer is initially shocked by Auschwitz’s unimaginable cruelty.

Right after his arrival at Auschwitz, on September 2, 1942, he writes, “was present for first time at a special action … by comparison Dante’s Inferno is a comedy… a transport of 1,000 Jews from Drancy…. 761 people are killed in the gas chambers.”

On September 5th, Kremer writes, “was present at a special action in the women’s camp…. the most horrible of all horrors…”

Just a day later, though, on September 6th, Kremer is focusing on the Auschwitz staff’s excellent food. “An excellent dinner: tomato soup, one half a chicken with potatoes and red cabbage (20 grams of fat), dessert and magnificent vanilla ice cream.”

For the rest of his stay at Auschwitz, Kremer’s emotions are stoked by food and by his personal and social life. Auschwitz’s evils, when they are referenced, evoke no emotion at all.

On September 9th, he writes, “was present as physician at the flogging of 8 camp inmates and at one execution by shooting with a small caliber gun. Got soap flakes and 2 cakes of soap.”

On September 23rd, he writes: “We had baked pike, as much as we wanted, real coffee, excellent beer and sandwiches. Jews from Slovakia arrive … 294 men and 67 women are admitted, the rest are gassed…it is a week since I came to camp and am still not able to rid my room of fleas, despite all kinds of insecticides…”

This soul-searing diary is an extreme example of how humans can acclimate themselves to evil.

Such acclimatization is described in the Gemara that cautions: “someone who sins and then repeats that sin, will view that sin as permissible.[1]

That acclimatization happens because “people who do certain actions repeatedly, view those actions as the norm, rather than as departures from the norm.”[2]

This acclimatization may explain why Hashem “hardened [Pharaoh’s] heart”[3] allowing Pharaoh to continue enslaving us, despite incontrovertible evidence that our enslavement was destroying Egypt.

Why was Pharaoh’s heart hardened? Because Hashem “opens doors” to one who “wants to contaminate himself” (one who starts sinning will acclimatize himself to continue sinning despite evidence about sin’s damage).”[4]

Pharaoh - like Kremer - had habituated himself to evil. Because of that, Pharaoh continued viewing evil enslavement – despite mounting evidence about enslavement’s immorality and counter-productivity - as appropriate.

Habituation to mass-murder and to enslaving others are extreme examples of negative acclimatization.

Less extreme acclimatization is caused by habituation to lashon hara and to harsh language.

If our peers speak lashon hara, we may view lashon hara as normal.

If our parents spoke to us harshly, we may consider harsh speech acceptable.

Such negative habituations – galaxies away from Kremer’s habituations, but habituations nonetheless – may be our “norms.”

Kremer’s diary - and it’s lesson about acclimatization - isn’t just about what happened there and then.

Kremer’s diary is also about what happens here and now.

Rabbi Weber, founder of Ohr Tzvi Montebello-Monsey, is a rav to the young men and women at Kochvei Ohr and Ateres Bais Yaakov and is Rabbi Emeritus of Toronto’s Clanton Park Synagogue. Please visit his website, ohrtzvi.org, to sign up for his weekly email message or for information on his live or zoom shiurim. Rabbi Weber will be mara d’asra at the Hudson Valley Resort for Pesach. For information, please email or call (845) 794-6000.

[1] Arachin 30b, Moed Katan 27b, Kiddushin 20a, Yoma 36ba

[2] Maharal, Arachin 30b

[3] Shemos 10:1, See also Shemos 7:3 and 10:20

[4] Ibn Ezra, Peirush Ha-Aruch, Shemos 10:20. See, though, Rambam, Teshuva 6:30 and introduction to Pirkei Avos, Ramban, Shemos 7:3, Ibn Ezra, Peirush Ha-Aruch, Shemos 7:3 and others.

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