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Pomegranate Guild > Long Island Group Stitches Holocaust Stories

He Let His Guard Down Only With the Cows
based on an interview with Rabbi Ben Zion Wacholder, March 15, 2005
by Lauren Horowitz

Ben Zion Wacholder was born in 1924 in Ozarow, a small shtetle in Poland. One of four children, he grew up in a home steeped in Jewish knowledge. Around the age of Bar Mitzvah, he went to "learn" in a Yeshiva in another town, returning to live with his family only after the war broke out. He remained at home until, at his parents' urging, he fled from Ozarow on the day before it was liquidated by the Nazis in 1942. With only a false identity card that gave him a Polish name to go by, he left the world in which he grew up, never to see it or his immediate family again.

The far right section of this quilt depicts the period of time in Ben Zion's life in Ozarow that was closed off to him forever.

Posing as a Polish boy, Ben Zion eventually secured work and a place to live on a farm in Poland. He cleaned stables and took care of the cows and horses. Careful not to identify himself as a Jew to anyone, he let down his guard only with the cows out in the pasture when he was sure no one else was around. Talking aloud to himself and the cows, he kept his study of Torah alive by repeating,interpreting, and expanding upon tractates from the Baba Kama, Baba Metzia and Sanhedrin that he knew by heart. In his mind's eye he could see the Gemora,the Commentaries, the subcommentaries and the supercommentaries that he had studied as a young boy.

The center section of this quilt shows him as I imagine he might have looked while reciting aloud to the cows. In his pocket is a booklet, the meaning of which is described below. The Hebrew letters spell out a phrase from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). "The world is based upon three things:Torah,prayer,and good deeds."

After being found in possession of a pamphlet dropped by the Allies advising that the war was almost over,Ben Zion had to run again. Postwar, he found himself alone, without family,friends or possessions. In 1947, he arrived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Eventually he studied at Yeshiva University where he received his B.A. and smicha (rabbinical ordination). As a learned, but not dogmatic teacher of Talmud and a scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls, he went on to impart his knowledge and love of Torah to several generations of rabbinical students at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati,Ohio. Professor Wacholder says: "Life has many patterns..."

The left side of this quilt depicts the professor's life in America. The door opens to reveal a new life filled with books and learning. All three panels are joined together under an omnipresent sky uniting the three distinct patterns that make up one exceptionally interesting life!





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Originally Posted: December 23, 2005
Last Updated: August 1, 2010

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