"To destroy a single life is to destroy an entire world."
If so, how do we measure the tragedy when an entire world is actually destroyed?
Today, the 11th of Nisan, is exactly 70 years from the day the town of Dulhinov was destroyed by the Nazis - and with it the world that belonged to Zelig and Mindel Diamond.
The following is the account as told by Zelig at davening this morning.
In 1942 Zelig and 9 other strong and able boys were taken into the forrest about 18 kilometers away from Dolhinov to cut trees and put up 100 cubimeters of wood. At that time, all of the Jews in Dolhinov, a town in Poland about 100 kilometers from Vilna, had been moved into the part of town that became the Jewish ghetto.
After two days in the forest they started to walk back towards Dolhinov and on their way the police were there waiting for them. The snow was very high. They made us undress and stand naked and barefoot in the snow.
They killed one of us - Gershon.
The rest of us were able to run away into the forest. By midnight we went to a nearby village and were able to get clothes. We walked about 40 kilometers to the other side of Dulhinov. We came to a non-Jew who I knew through my father. He let us stay in his barn with the pigs and he brought us some cooked potatoes to eat. Then we asked him to go into Dolhinov to see if anyone was left there.
The man found Zelig's father and brought back a message to Zelig to come home. When they got to Dolhinov the snow on the ground was not white - it was red from Yiddishe blood from when they killed out everyone the day before.
The streets were empty. That evening was pesach. They locked up the windows and they recited the Haggadah. The next morning they went out and dug mass graves to bury the dead.
"Every year since then I sit on pesach and read the Haggadah - Ilu lo yotzianu miMitzraim - had You not taken us out of Egypt... what was that??!! Absolutely nothing. When I compare Yitziat mitzraim to what we went through in Europe - mitzraim was nothing!!"
"Kol Haben hayilod hayiora tashlichuhu - all newborn boys thrown into the Nile - a tragedy, yes. But kol habat tichayun - all girls could live - they did not bother them."
"They had to work - fine, but they ate. They lived.
It is a miracle that I am alive."
Zelig refers to the massacre on the 11th of Nissan as "the first shechita." Zelig estimates that a few hundred Jews managed to escape death on that day.
The Nazis returned for a a second shechita in the month of Iyar. Zelig escaped from the Ghetto the day before Shavuot. On the night of Shavuot the Nazis returned for the 3rd and final shechita. After that there were only a handful of people who remained from what was once a large and vibrant Jewish city.
Today, those of us who davened at Beth Israel may have been the only people in the world to remember the thousands of Jews who were killed on this very day 70 years ago. They, and their families, and their memories were almost completely wiped out from this world - an entire world completely destroyed.
It is a great privilege to be able to daven every morning with Zelig. I try to get him every day to tell me one of his many stories of life before the war, of his life as a partisan soldier during the war, and of he and his wife Mindel rebuilding their world after the war. I record them on my phone.
There are no words of consolation to a person who has seen an entire world destroyed. Noach saw his world destroyed, but was given comfort by Hashem with a rainbow as a promise that the world would never be destroyed in that way again.
Hashem, remember your promise, please never allow anything like what happened to the generation of the shoah occur to anyone, anywhere, ever again.