Rabbi Herschel Schacter, Chaplain At Buchenwald Liberation, Dies At 95
03/21/13
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Rabbi Herschel Schacter, a national Jewish leader and the only Jewish chaplain present at the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, died Thursday at the age of 95.

The first rabbi to be ordained by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the founder of Modern Orthodoxy, the resident of Riverdale led the Mosholu Jewish Center in the Bronx for more than 50 years and held leadership roles in numerous national Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which he chaired from 1967 to 1969.

A statement from Richard Stone, chair, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference, described the rabbi as “an exemplary leader who often spoke of his `deep commitment to Jewish inclusiveness and unity.’”

The rabbi’s son, Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, university professor of Jewish history and Jewish thought and senior scholar at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, and daughter, Miriam Schacter, a psychotherapist, recalled: “Our father modeled for us the great importance of caring for other Jews and devoting one’s life and efforts to the Jewish people.”

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, described the senior Rabbi Schacter as “a warm, friendly man and an orator’s orator, someone his colleagues would turn to [for guidance on] speeches and sermons.”

While serving as a chaplain in the VIII Corps of the Third Army of the United States Armed Forces, Rabbi Schacter participated in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp and brought comfort to many survivors.  He then led a UNRRA Kindertransport from Buchenwald to Switzerland after World War II.

In 1956, he was a member of the first rabbinic delegation to the USSR, and he escorted a transport of Hungarian refugees from Austria to the U.S.

His communal activities included president of the Mizrachi-Hapoel Hamizrachi; founding chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry; chairman of the Chaplaincy Commission of the Jewish Welfare Board; and director of Rabbinic Services at Yeshiva University.

In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by his wife, Pnina (nee Gewirtz, who he married in 1948), four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Rabbi Schacter should not be confused with Rabbii Hershel Schachter, who is rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.

editor@jewishweek.org


 

Last Update:

03/29/2013 - 04:45

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Thank you for speaking up, Jakob. I too knew the rabbi as one of my parents was one of the Buchenwald survivors and my feelings about the man are exactly the same as yours.

As a young girl growing up in the Bronx, I recall Mosholu Jewish Center as a place where working class girls were expected to know their place as homemakers and where they were strictly separated from the males.

May the rabbi rest in peace, but my memories of his shul are far from warm and fuzzy. He was also a great friend and defender of Richard Nixon as I recall.

Mosholu Jewish Ctr. was an orthodox synagogue and as such men sat in one section and women sat in the balcony. This style of separation was very popular in large shuls in many European cities (Rome, Budapest, Lemberg, etc.) before the Holocaust. To the extent that there was this separation due to the architecturally reasonable altitude of a balcony, your comment is correct. But otherwise any further extrapolation about "excessiveness" of the mechitsa only make you sound like a disgrunteled congregant. Finally, your comments about Nixon & Schacter are hardly a badge of dishonor to the Rabbi as you imply. Surely you would not expect a pulpit rabbi from the Bronx to be privy to any of the behind-the-scenes misbehavior that occurred in the White House -- or the Watergate Hotel.

Rabbi Schacter was a great man who went in the way of the great rabbis of our time. He was very close with the Lubavitcher Rebbe who knew him well and extolled his virtues. He also admired the late Satmer Rebbe and would go often to him and other hassidic rebbeim. He influenced many young people to become baale teshuva way back in the 40's when it was not in style yet. He brought the lubavitcher rebbe and Rabbi Soloveitchik together for an historice meeting. He was a great orator and speaker and his Torah knowledge was very great. He did much for the holocaust survivors even those who were not as famous as Rabbi lau. He also knew how to teach Gemara. What many people do not know about him is that he spoke a perfect Hebrew. On his trip to Russia he met the Georgian jews and conversed with them and had the highest respect for their tenacity to Torah. He was a true Jewish leader who will be missed by all. May his memory be for a blessing for his wife and children and theother members ofhis family and Kelal yisrael.

Not to be confused with Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Rabbi Herschel Shacter. Rabbi Shacter was pivotal in inspiring me to consider the rabbinate as a career. He was the pulpit rabbi's rabbi. I recall fondly those walks we took together at Yeshiva University Rabbinic Alumni conventions in the Homowack Hotel where we discussed the rabbinate and its challenges. May his memory be a blessing.

Thank you for liberating my parents from Buchenwald. Rabbi Herschel Schacter served as a model for all other Rabbis to follow. He was my friend and mentor AND A TRUE FRIEND OF THE HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS. Rabbi DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

Rabbi DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG,

I attended Rabbi Schacter's Shul during the 1950s & 60s, my family was very active in his congregation, Rabbi Schacter was a family friend, I knew Rabbi Schacter well. And my parents were adult survivors of the Holocaust. But with all due respect for both the niftar and yourself, I fail to recall through the rabbi's actions, and his words (as he was truly a great orator), how he was any "truer" a friend of Holocaust Survivors than any other rabbi of that era. I would even argue for the sake of truth, that he often failed to use his pulpit and the largess of his institution to so much as recognize the awful plight of the adult survivors who populated not only his Synagogue but the park benches of Mosholu Parkway and the Grand Concourse in those days when few in the establishment -- both Jewish & secular -- had much interest in what they had so recently been through. Rabbi Schacter was no exception in those dark days depicted in the play, "A Shayna Maidel." Sure, years later, after this entire generation had died off, when Eli Wiesel and the young teenage and child survivors came into the spotlight, Rabbi Schacter was quick to hop on the bandwagon with his Buchenwald story... but that was only after it was "easy" (popular) to be a friend to this younger ("more cuddly" or "user friendly" for lack of a better descriptive terms) generation of survivors who had only a dulled sense of the bitterness, suffering, and experience of the adults due to their tender age at the time of the occurrence. True friend? No! The true friends were the ones that petitioned Rosevelt and members of the US political elite in protest, when it was unpopular to do so, those who worked at HIAS, volunteered in the lower east settlement houses, and waited at the piers for the Liberty Ships to arrive. "True friends" of the survivors were heroes like Jan Karski, Peter Bergson, Yitzhak Sternbuch, Sen. Patrick Monihan, and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein. Not Rabbi Herschel Schacter. I'm sorry if this account conflicts with whatever you have heard from your parents about his chaplincy at Buchenwald, but all this happens to be true. And I felt a strong need to tell not just the truth, but the whole truth.

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