The Krakow gangster

Thursday, 8 October, 2020 - 2:25 pm

Max Redlich was Krakow’s Jewish gangster at the end of the 1930’s.

Max Redlich almost never went into a shul – neither he nor his cohorts – but on Monday, the 22nd of Kislev 5700, December 4th, 1939 he did go in; an Einsatzgruppen unit forced him to enter the old Stara Bozhnitza synagogue.


They didn’t meet him by chance. They had singled him out, precisely because he was the Krakow Jewish gangster.


They gathered in that shul a group of religious Jews who prayed there regularly, together with a group of Jews who were not synagogue goers as a rule. With their bloodstained hands they opened the holy ark, removed a Sefer Torah from it, and ordered everyone to walk by it and spit on it – not on the mantel or the gartel, but directly on the holy letters of the Torah, inked on the parchment. I have no way to comprehend the pleasure those German beasts received from watching the Jews being humiliated this way.


There was no way to avoid it. The spittle was supposed to land clearly on the parchment.


Jews going by the holy ark in a line – that was a familiar scene from the hakafot of Simchat Torah. But the hakafot of the Einzatzgruppen… Oy.


 As mentioned, they had no choice. The strictly religious and those that weren’t – one by one they went by and spit, brokenhearted, on the Sefer Torah. All of them – except for Max Redlich. He refused to spit.


The Krakow gangster faced the Nazis and, with his head held high, said, “I have done many things, but this I will not do.”


He was the first to be killed, and after that they killed all the others and set fire to the shul.


Max Redlich is my hero on Simchat Torah. He proved that the Sefer Torah belongs to him no less than to any other Jew, and, when the moment of truth came, even more than to any other Jew.


The holy gangster of Krakow is looking at the whites of our eyes and saying, with his head held high: The Torah belongs to all of us. It doesn’t matter what you are called by people and what you do every day; the Torah is yours. This book belongs to all of us.


Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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