A number of years ago, I struck up a friendship over Pesach week with a Holocaust survivor, a former inmate of the Janowska work camp and Auschwitz. Towards the end of the week I summoned up the nerve to ask him if there was anything in particular that stood out in his mind as the reason he had survived. Without hesitation, he responded: “It was one mitzvah; the Sukkos I spent in Auschwitz.
When he arrived in Auschwitz in the middle of his thirteenth winter, one of the Kapos, the barracks captains, who often exceeded the Nazis in cruelty, arranged for him to be in charge of the daily rations to be given out to the prisoners at the end of the day. It was a job that would save his life. He spent the days in a small shed attached to the large barracks, responsible for dividing up the bread and soup to be given out to each inmate at the end of the day. In his access to food, he was often put into difficult situations having to respond to desperate fellow prisoners.
One day, while preparing the rations in the dark winter night, he heard banging on the door of the shed, and opened it up to discover a man he knew to be a great Torah scholar and one of the eminent rabbis of his area before the war, standing in the snow.