The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Pinchas Hirschprung

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Born
July 13, 1912 Dukla, Poland

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1941 Montreal

An epic journey across borders, The Vale of Tears chronicles close to two years in the life of Rabbi Pinchas Hirschprung as he seeks an escape route from Nazi-occupied Europe. In this rare, near day-by-day account, Rabbi Hirschprung illuminates what life was like for an Orthodox rabbi fleeing persecution, finding inspiration and hope in Jewish scripture and psalms as he navigates the darkness of wartime to a safe harbour in Kobe, Japan.

About Pinchas

Rabbi Pinchas Hirschprung was born in Dukla, Poland, in 1912. In 1941, he managed to escape Nazi-occupied Poland, travelling to Vilna, Lithuania, then Kobe, Japan, and finally to Shanghai. He came to Canada in 1941 on the last boat to leave Shanghai before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. He married Alte Chaya Stern on 8 May 1947, and they raised nine children together. A world-renowned Torah and Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Hirschprung became the chief rabbi of Montreal in 1969 and led its Jewish community until his death in 1998.

Photos and Artifacts

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    Pinchas Hirschprung (left), with two friends. Lublin, mid to late 1920s.

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    Rabbi Hirschprung with open Gemara (front row, centre), surrounded by five friends. Lublin, early 1930s.

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    Rabbi Hirschprung (centre) with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Eiger (left) and Rabbi Yechiel Menachem Singer (right). Poland, 1930s.

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    Rabbi Hirschprung (right), with friends. Poland, 1930s.

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    Rabbi Hirschprung’s mother, Leah (née Sehmann) with his sisters Chaya Golda (left) and Matya Bayla (right). Dukla, 1930s.

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    A painting of Rabbi Hirschprung’s maternal grandfather, Rabbi David Tsvi (Tevel) Sehmann.

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    A painting of Rabbi Hirschprung’s teacher and mentor, Rav Yehuda Meir Shapira, head of Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva.

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    Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva, where Rabbi Hirschprung studied. Construction of the yeshiva began in the 1920s and was completed in 1930.

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    Rabbi Hirschprung (centre) learning Talmud with a group of men. Clockwise from left to right: Rabbi Moshe Werner of the Chevra Tehillim synagogue; Tzudyk Mandelcorn, a community leader and beloved student of Rabbi Hirschprung’s; Rabbi Hirschprung; Rabbi Shlomo Spiro of the Young Israel of Chomedey synagogue; and Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, who became dean of Jews’ College (now known as the London School of Jewish Studies) in London, England, and is currently rosh yeshiva and dean of the hesder yeshiva in Maalei Adumim, Israel. Montreal, 1940s.

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    Rabbi Pinchas and his wife, Rebbetzin Alte Chaya Hirschprung, with their children. Montreal, 1968.

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    Rabbi Hirschprung, left, with Mr. Samuel Blumenberg, executive director of the Bais Yaakov school of Montreal, centre, and the third Bobover Rebbe, Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam. Montreal, late 1940s.

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    Rabbi Hirschprung, left, with the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. New York, late 1980s.

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    Rabbi Hirschprung, left, with Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter, seventh Gerrer Rebbe. Jerusalem, Israel, 1980s.

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    Rabbi Hirschprung, left, with Rabbi Chaim Kreiswirth, Chief Rabbi of Antwerp from 1953 to 2001. Montreal, 1980s.

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    Rabbi Hirschprung, left, with the fifth Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach. Jerusalem, Israel, 1980s.

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    Rabbi Hirschprung learning Talmud in his study. Montreal, 1990s.

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    Rabbi Pinchas and Rebbetzin Alte Chaya Hirschprung. Montreal, 1990s.

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    Rabbi Pinchas Hirschprung. Montreal, 1990s.

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    Gravestone of Rabbi Pinchas Hirschprung. Jewish Cemetery of Sainte-Sophie, Quebec.

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    Gravestone of Rebbetzin Alte Chaya Hirschprung. Jewish Cemetery of Sainte- Sophie, Quebec.

The Book

Cover of The Vale of Tears

The Vale of Tears

My tears, like the words of the prayer, fell like fresh dew: pure, delicate, unadulterated, honest words, and pure, delicate, unadulterated, honest tears.

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The Vale of Tears

From Dream to Nightmare

I worked with all my strength. I pictured our house, the synagogue and my street on the eve of Yom Kippur. Jews would be rushing to and from the bathhouse, wishing each other “a good year” and “may you have a good inscription in the Book of Life.” Some would hurry to synagogue early, bringing large wax candles. I pictured my mother standing in front of the candles, piously praying with tears in her eyes. Around her, we, her children, always stood crying, as was traditional for us on Yom Kippur eve. Looking at the position of the sun, I ascertained that it was probably time to light the candles. My poor mother was at this moment most certainly crying her eyes out for me, her only son, who was not with her. My mother’s suffering broke my heart. I put away my work and went over to a nearby tree. I rested my tired head there and my tears began to flow. I made every effort to stop my tears, to control my emotions, but my efforts were in vain. Leaning my head against the tree, I stood crying like a little boy. My tears fell on the dusty ground and on my dusty clothes. I felt strangely better. I felt lighter, revitalized. I had completely forgotten that I was supposed to be working and that all around me were Nazi murderers. I began to float in higher realms. My grandfather stood before me. I saw my grandfather in his kittel and his tallis, standing on the bimah and exhorting the congregation to repent from the bottom of their hearts.

Suddenly, from out of the blue, a hail of blows landed on my bent back. I lost my bearings, not so much from the beating but from the unexpectedness and suddenness with which the blows had so murderously and mercilessly targeted my back. Nevertheless, I collected myself immediately, realizing where I was in the world. It was not my grandfather but a Nazi overseer that stood before me. His eyes glowered with violent rage. He was ready to kill me. I went straight back to work.