Herschel Schacter leading the Shavuot prayer
service for survivors in the Buchenwald camp in
Germany in 1945.
smoke was still rising as Rabbi Herschel
Schacter rode through the gates of
was April 11, 1945, and Gen. George S. Patton's
Third Army had liberated the concentration camp
scarcely an hour before. Rabbi Schacter, who was
attached to the Third Army's VIII Corps, was the
first Jewish chaplain to enter in its
morning, after learning that Patton's forward
tanks had arrived at the camp, Rabbi Schacter,
who died in the Riverdale section of the Bronx
on Thursday at 95 after a career as one of the
most prominent Modern Orthodox rabbis in the
United States, commandeered a jeep and driver.
He left headquarters and sped toward
late afternoon, when the rabbi drove through the
gates, Allied tanks had breached the camp. He
remembered, he later said, the sting of smoke in
his eyes, the smell of burning flesh and the
hundreds of bodies strewn everywhere.
would remain at Buchenwald for months, tending
to survivors, leading religious services in a
former Nazi recreation hall and eventually
helping to resettle thousands of
his work, Rabbi Schacter was singled out by name
on Friday by Yisrael Meir Lau, the former
Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, in a meeting
with President Obama at Yad Vashem, Israel's
Buchenwald that April day, Rabbi Schacter said
afterward, it seemed as though there was no one
left alive. In the camp, he encountered a young
American lieutenant who knew his way
there any Jews alive here?" the rabbi asked
was led to the Kleine Lager, or Little Camp, a
smaller camp within the larger one. There, in
filthy barracks, men lay on raw wooden planks
stacked from floor to ceiling. They stared down
at the rabbi, in his unfamiliar military
uniform, with unmistakable fright.
Aleichem, Yidden," Rabbi Schacter cried in
Yiddish, "ihr zint frei!" --"Peace be upon you,
Jews, you are free!" He ran from barracks to
barracks, repeating those words. He was joined
by those Jews who could walk, until a stream of
people swelled behind him.
he passed a mound of corpses, Rabbi Schacter
spied a flicker of movement. Drawing closer, he
saw a small boy, Prisoner 17030, hiding in
terror behind the mound.
was afraid of him," the child would recall long
afterward in an interview with The New York
Times. "I knew all the uniforms of SS and
Gestapo and Wehrmacht, and all of a sudden, a
new kind of uniform. I thought, 'A new kind of
tears streaming down his face, Rabbi Schacter
picked the boy up. "What's your name, my child?"
he asked in Yiddish.
the child replied.
old are you?" the rabbi asked.
difference does it make?" Lulek, who was 7,
said. "I'm older than you, anyway."
do you think you're older?" Rabbi Schacter
you cry and laugh like a child," Lulek replied.
"I haven't laughed in a long time, and I don't
even cry anymore. So which one of us is
Schacter discovered nearly a thousand orphaned
children in Buchenwald. He and a colleague,
Rabbi Robert Marcus, helped arrange for their
transport to France --a convoy that included
Lulek and the teenage Elie Wiesel-- as well as
to Switzerland, a group personally conveyed by
Rabbi Schacter, and to Palestine.
decades afterward, Rabbi Schacter said, he
remained haunted by his time in Buchenwald, and
by the question survivors put to him as he raced
through the camp that first day.
were asking me, over and over, 'Does the world
know what happened to us?' " Rabbi Schacter told
The Associated Press in 1981. "And I was
thinking, 'If my own father had not caught the
boat on time, I would have been there, too.'
Schacter was born in the Brownsville section of
Brooklyn on Oct. 10, 1917, the youngest of 10
children of parents who had come from Poland.
His father, Pincus, was a seventh-generation
shochet, or ritual slaughterer; his mother, the
former Miriam Schimmelman, was a real estate
spent about a year as a pulpit rabbi in
Stamford, Conn., before enlisting in the Army as
a chaplain in 1942.
Buchenwald was liberated, he spent every day
there distributing matzo (liberation had come
just a week after Passover); leading services
for Shavuot, which celebrates the revelation of
the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai, and which
fell that year in May; and conducting Friday
one of those services, Lulek and his older
brother, Naftali, were able to say Kaddish for
their parents, Polish Jews who had been killed
by the Nazis.
from the Army with the rank of captain, Rabbi
Schacter became the spiritual leader of the
Mosholu Jewish Center, an Orthodox synagogue on
Hull Avenue in the north Bronx. He presided
there from 1947 until it closed in
was a leader of many national Jewish groups,
including the Conference of Presidents of Major
Jewish Organizations, of which he was a past
chairman. He was most recently the director of
rabbinic services at Yeshiva.
Schacter, who in 1956 went to the Soviet Union
with an American rabbinic delegation, was an
outspoken advocate for the rights of Soviet Jews
and an adviser on the subject to President
Richard M. Nixon.
resident of the Riverdale section of the Bronx,
Rabbi Schacter is survived by his wife, the
former Pnina Gewirtz, whom he married in 1948; a
son, Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, who confirmed his
father's death; a daughter, Miriam Schacter;
four grandchildren; and eight
what of Lulek, the orphan Rabbi Schacter rescued
from Buchenwald that day? Lulek, who eventually
settled in Palestine, grew up to be Rabbi
Yisrael Meir Lau.
Lau, who recounted his childhood exchange with
Rabbi Schacter in a memoir, published in English
in 2011 as "Out of the Depths," was the
Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel from 1993 to
2003 and is now the chief rabbi of Tel
Friday, when Rabbi Lau told Mr. Obama of his
rescue by Rabbi Schacter -- he thanked the
American people for delivering Buchenwald
survivors "not from slavery to freedom, but from
death to life"-- he had not yet learned of Rabbi
Schacter's death the day before.
me, he was alive," Rabbi Lau said in an
interview with The Times on Monday. "I speak
about him with tears in my eyes."