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Cantor Moshe Kraus, 95

Cantor Kraus, Adriana Glikman, Pastor Rudy & Ran Ukashi


by Rhonda J. Prepes, September 12, 2017

In response to an anti-Semitic incident that occurred on social media between students of Shaftesbury High School, 95 year-old Holocaust survivor Cantor Moshe Kraus from Ottawa spoke at the school to some 600 plus students on Tuesday, September 12, 2017. This event was organized by B'nai Brith. 


(To read more about the incident see “Student target of anti-Semitic attacks by six Shaftesbury High School students” )


Kraus was born in Czechoslovakia in 1921 into a Hassidic family. He was a cantorial child prodigy who travelled around Europe singing. While taking singing lessons in Austria, he witnessed the aftermath of Kristallnacht first hand in on November 10, 1938. He was very afraid about what would happen next to the Jews, so he fled to Prague. But he was captured there and sent to the Bor Forced Labour Camp in Yugoslavia.


His job was to push a wagon of coal from the mine to the trains for transport to Germany. The work was repetitive and laborious. While in Bor he became friendly with a Rabbi from Hungary. One day, the Rabbi told Kraus that he had gotten permission from the Nazi’s to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). The Nazis would allow them not to work on those 3 days and the Rabbi asked Kraus to lead the prayer services.


Hundreds of Jewish inmates gathered for the two-day Rosh Hashanah services without incidence. On Kol Nidre (the eve before Yom Kippur), the gathering crowd heard people yelling “Run, The Nazis are coming”.  Everyone ran back to their barracks except for Kraus.


The Nazis caught him and told him to come to an open court the next day. He was not worried because the Jews had received permission from the Nazis to honour the holidays.


But the next morning at trial, Kraus was convicted and sentenced to hang – not by his neck, but by his hands tied behind his back. For ten hours, he painfully remained in that position until his arms and hands went numb. He was released and put in a locked cell not knowing what would happen to him next. He was given a bowl of food, but he could not feel or move his arms to feed himself. In order to survive, he attempted to eat like a dog on his knees with his head in the bowl. One night someone came to help him eat - they lifted the spoon to his mouth. This person returned night after night to help Kraus eat and gain strength. One night Kraus said, “Thank you, but do not come back anymore. I can feel my hands now and am able to feed myself.” The very next day, the Nazi Commandant of the camp came to see Kraus and asked, “How can you still be alive if you had no feeling in your hands and were unable to feed yourself?” “I managed,” Kraus answered.


The Commandant sent him back to his barracks and he continued to haul coal back and forth. He remained in Bor for 13 months until he heard that a transport train leaving the camp was headed to Budapest. He begged the Nazis to let him aboard. They removed one passenger from the train, shot him, and allowed Kraus to go in his place. Kraus cried for that man who died on account of him.


The transport did not go to Budapest or to freedom – it went to Bergen-Belsen Concentration camp.


While at Bergen-Belsen he heard a trio singing sad Jewish songs to the inmates. “Why are they not singing happy songs?” he asked himself. So he began to go from barrack to barrack every night singing happy songs to raise the spirits of the imprisoned people.


One day, Nazi Commandant Josef Kramer sent for Kraus and asked him to sing in German. The Commandant was delighted by Kraus’s performance. The commandant gave orders not to harm Kraus so that he could return every Sunday to sing for him.


On April 15, 1945, Bergen-Belsen Camp was liberated. Nazi Commandant Josef Kramer was put on trial for his actions and sentenced to death by hanging.


To this day Kraus has nightmares about his time in Bergen-Belsen. He asks himself, “Why were 6 million Jewish people allowed to die during the Holocaust?”


And the only answer he can come up with is that there will always be good people in the world and bad people in the world.


He asks himself, “How did more than 32 people from my family perish including my parents and sisters, yet I survived?” For that question, he has no answer.


Kraus ended his speech by telling the Shaftesbury students that should they ever hear someone denying the events of the Holocaust, that they are to reply “You are a liar. I have heard from a real Holocaust Survivor.”

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