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A Bar Mitzvah again 75 years after the Kingdom of Death

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There is nothing physically imposing about Lou Dunst—a cherubic, dignified man with a sweet smile yet deep, sorrowful eyes. At times, when he walks slowly by, it seems that a stiff wind could knock him down. But then you realize that not even the wind could do such a thing; the worst genocide in the history of this planet failed to put this kind gentleman down.

No one in the room failed to weep with bittersweet privilege.

Nor did the brutish murders of his parents, teachers, neighbors, and childhood friends break his spirit or stop him from walking forward—even, when by his own description, he had become a lifeless human being with no flesh at the terminus of his four death camp internments, endless box cars horror transports, and two near-misses he endured within the gas chambers.

Yesterday morning, in one of his three synagogues here in San Diego, Dunst, now 87, in a business suit and donning a woven yarmulke [skullcap] and embroidered tallit [prayer shawl], stood up before the congregation and renewed the covenant of his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. It was on exactly the 75th anniversary of its occurrence in secret and in fear. He sang the Hebrew, kissed the Torah scroll, and no one in the room failed to weep with bittersweet privilege.

What was furtively pulled off in the cold shadows of Jasina, Czechoslovakia (and organized a few weeks early because, well, everyone knew the Nazis were coming any day) was re-celebrated on a warm sunny January day in a safe synagogue under a blue American sky.

Lou, an elderly man with an eternal spirit, likely remembered his father and mother, Mordecai and Priva—both gassed at Auschwitz. He remembered the weekly Sabbath dinners, created in spite of the hardships, the town fascist bullies, the restrictions, and the dangers.

Lou recalled the delicious aroma of the challah bread baking in the oven; he saw his mother’s rosy cheeks even while acknowledging with a humble blink of his eyes the applause and sanctifications of the congregation. While chanting the scriptural blessings, he likely remembered “the unity of the family” that he and his brother and sister irrevocably shared with their parents—until the killers came and destroyed their world in the Carpathian Mountains.

After Lou completed his recommitment, a young man came forward for a special honor: the opening up and lifting of the Torah, high on his arms, before the holy scroll was rewrapped and replaced in the ark. For a moment, the 20th century chronicle of the Jewish people was re-enacted on the pulpit.

The younger man, brawny, informal, wearing sandals, was a hearty Israeli, a father whose little girls ran about the pulpit laughing. Holding up the Torah, he smiled at the survivor. The torch was passed. But Lou Dunst, whose love for humankind is stronger than death, is still here to do exactly what Hitler had sworn would never take place.

www.benkamin.com

The new book I’ve written, ‘MY BARGAIN WITH GOD: The Story of Holocaust Survivor Lou Dunst,’ will be launched on January 30 and is available online via www.loudunst.com.

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