These Orthodox Jews Survived The Holocaust But Tragically Succumbed to Covid-19
by Sara Levine
April 20, 2020
There are just a few hundred thousand survivors of the Holocaust survivors left in the world. No one knows how many among them are observant Jews, but it is certainly a minority. The Coronavirus Pandemic is reigniting their traumas, making them sick, and even tragically killing some of them. While millions in funding has been made available by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany to help elderly Holocaust survivors navigate the challenges of the Covid-19 Pandemic, their advanced age and health issues sadly make them particularly vulnerable. Unfortunately, the lives of a few known Orthodox Jewish Holocaust survivors have been lost in the past few weeks. Here are the stories of a few notable survivors who have passed away from Covid-19. If you know of additional victims of Coronavirus who survived the Holocaust, please add their names in the comments, so we can memorialize them on this page.
Harav Yosef Leifer, zt”l, the Verdaner Rebbe of Flatbush and the oldest of the Admorim in America lost his life to Coronavirus at the age of 96. A Holocaust survivor, he established a shul in Midwood, Brooklyn, where he was known for learning in talis and tefillin at all hours of the day. He was known for hosting a tisch on the seventh night of Pesach, where he would give blessings for shidduchim and parnassah.
Israel’s 14th death from Covid-19 was Perel Weisel, a”h, a 94-year old member of the Kretchnifer Chassidus and a Holocaust survivor. A Bnei Brak resident, Mrs. Weisel, lost her entire family in the Holocaust. In years that followed, she built a new family, only to lose her husband, daughter and son-in-law, but was known for accepting these losses as Hashem’s will.
Rav Romi Cohn z”l, also known as Rabbi Avrohom Cohn, passed away from Covid-19 on March 24. He was 92 and a resident of New York. As a well-known Mohel, he performed thousands of Bris Milahs and acted as a partisan fighter during the Holocaust. In January, he was chosen to lead the U.S. House of Representatives in prayer on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Born in Czechoslovakia and smuggled into Hungary as a child, he learned at the Pupa Yeshiva before joining the Czech underground. At age 16, he helped save 56 families and was later awarded the Silver Star Medal of Honor. All his life-saving efforts were recorded in the book The Youngest Partisan. He established a scholarship foundation for Torah scholars, many of whom are Rabbinical leaders in their communities. As a mohel, he refused payment for thousands of bris milahs he performed and trained young mohels on condition that they also do the brissim for free. Cohn wrote a Sefer on the Ribnitzer Rebbe, as well as a well-known one on Bris Milah and was Chairman of the American Board of Ritual Circumcision.
Tragically, one week after Rav Romi Cohn passed, his longtime chavrusa, Rav Moshe Yehuda Gubitz, z”l was also killed by Covid-19. Rav Gubitz was born in Neuheisel, Hungary, and studied under the Vayechi Yosef of Pupa zt”l. After surviving the Holocaust, he built his family in the U.S.
The Lubavitch community of Brooklyn suffered a terrible loss this past Shabbos with the death of Rebbetzin Faiga Korenblit, a”h, who was a 96-year-old longtime resident of Flatbush and a Holocaust survivor. Her parents, Chasidic dynasty scions Harav Aharon and Rochel Felberman, were killed in the Shoah alongside the majority of her siblings, except her brother, Mordechai Felberman, who survived with her. Living in Crown Heights in the 1950’s, she married Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Korenblit z”l and they moved to Flatbush as one of the first Lubavitch families. Both Korenblits were active educators in the United Lubavitcher Yeshivos and women’s auxillary, before her involvement in growing the Ohel Moshe Chevra Thilim Lubavitch Shul as its Rebbetzin. She was known for her warmth and love for Yiddishkeit and is survived by five children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, along with one great-great-grandchild.
Another survivor who succumbed to Coronavirus last month is Dr. Alexander Schonfeld, z”l a 93-year-old psychologist and Torah scholar. He was a well-known therapist in the Jewish community, combining a mental health background with Torah knowledge. From his childhood in Austria, he was sent to England by way of the Kindertransport, and later moved with his wife and 5 children to Far Rockaway. He ran a variety store in Crown Heights and simultaneously attended college, receiving master’s degrees in social work, psychology, family counseling, and a PhD. He and his wife later made aliyah to Israel, and he is survived by her as well as their 5 children, many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and his brother, whom he lived near in Israel.
98-year-old Crown Heights resident Henya Lasky a”h survived the Holocaust in hiding and went on to raise a proud Chabad family died of Covid-19 in March. Born in Galicia, she was raised in a Polish Hareidi community and remembers the lengths she would go to in helping her family keep Cholov Yisroel. The only child of Eliyahu and Cipa Gottesman, her father was an accountant very in-demand by the Polish government. Mrs. Lasky herself was brilliant at math and was studying to be a chemist, when the war began. The Gottesmans gave all they had to a non-Jewish woman who hid them in her home. For 18 months, they lived under the woman’s table while fearing being caught. After the war, she emigrated to the United States with her family. Speaking six languages fluently, she was as a secretary for the American World Jewish Congress. When her mother died, Lasky married Aron Lasky, with an agreement that her father live with them in different neighborhoods, even the declining East Flatbush, which they helped to stabilize. Later moving to Crown Heights, Mrs. Lasky attended shiurim for women in 770 and went with her husband to his kollel in Boro Park daily until he passed away at age 95. She was known for saying the entire book of Tehillim daily and lived with her daughter, who survives her along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Other Covid-19 victims who survived the Shoah include 90-year-old Rav Yeshaya Roth z”l, Yosef Zundel Motzen z”l, Elya Gelbert z”l, who was one of the oldest and most respected Gerrer chassidim, Betzalel Kahan z”l, who survived Kristallnacht and later worked as an administrator in Williamsburg’s Tzelihm Cheder.
May Hashem bring comfort to their loved ones. May this horrible plague quickly end. And may we merit the ultimate redemption, speedily in our days.
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A former Hollywood script editor, Jerusalem event planner, non-profit fundraiser and professional blogger, Sara Levine is an accomplished writer and editor. After graduating from USC's School of Cinematic Arts, her first screenplay was well-received by story executives at major studios. As a journalist, her articles have been published internationally in popular magazines and websites. With over 18 years experience as a story consultant, her notes and critiques on novels and scripts have been used to select and improve material by top studios, networks, agencies and writers in Hollywood and beyond. She is currently at work on her first novel.