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Angel of Orphans

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Angel of Orphans

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Angel of Orphans
The Story of R' Yona Tiefenbrunner and the Hundreds He Saved
By Malky Weinstock
A Targum Press Book, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-56871-512-4

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - January 7, 2010

When the Nazis invaded Belgium, they immediately ordered that Jews turn themselves in for 'compulsory labor service' in the East. This was a euphemism for transportation to the Death Camps. In an attempt to placate and fool the people of Belgium about the fate of the Jews being sent East, the Nazis provided the means by which hundreds of children and elderly Belgium Jews survived the Holocaust. This little known aspect of Holocaust history fortunately intersected with the life of a remarkable young man, R' Yona Tiefenbrunner. Both the means by which these Jews were saved, and the legacy of R' Yona are chronicled in Angel of Orphans: The Story of R' Yona Tiefenbrunner and the Hundreds He Saved, by Malky Weinstock. This is a book written with compassion and clarity, and it is enhanced by the inclusion of countless photos.

In 1938, as a German refugee who had found sanctuary in Belgium, Tiefenbrunner was selected to start a youth home for religious Jewish boys who had come to Belgium from Germany and Austria as part of the Kindertransport program. R' Yona and his young wife worked tirelessly for their boys, providing them with as much of a family atmosphere as possible, and infusing their lives with Yiddishkeit.

After the Nazis invaded Belgium and began to round-up and deport all Jews 'east', the country was left with hundreds of Jewish 'orphans' that need to be cared for. While the Nazis did at one point consider deporting the children as well, pleas from the Catholic Church and Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, among others, compelled the Nazis to formalize a policy that Jews under the age of sixteen and the elderly would be allowed to remain in Belgium. To house these homeless Jews, a series of orphanages and old-age homes, under the auspices of the Association des Juifs en Belgique (Association of Jews of Belgium - AJB), were quickly organized - with the ok of the Nazis. R' Yona was to take a leading role in caring for hundreds of religious youths throughout the war years. Even after, he remained a father figure to 'his kids' seeing to their well-being and education, and keeping in contact with 'his kids' long after they had set up households of their own.

Gripping and moving, this book serves as both a biography of R' Yona, and also of the numerous children that came into his care. This book also looks at the tremendous work that he, and those like him, did to save as many Jewish children as possible and to see to it that they had as normal a life as possible during grossly abnormal times. In defense of his 'children' R' Yona risked his life more than once. As well, he and his wife Ruth willingly sacrificed to provide for the spiritual and physical needs of their charges.

In all there were seven Jewish orphanages which operated under the auspices of the AJB. Of the seven, only the Tiefenbrunner Home, officially known as Orphelinat Israelite de Bruxells (The Jewish Orphanage of Brussels), adhered to Torah principles and provided a religious upbringing for 'its' children.

The story does not end with the war. When the war ended, there where about two thousand Jewish orphans in Belgium, and more arrived every day as children came out of hiding or returned home from concentration camps and worse. Many of these new arrivals had witnessed unspeakable horrors, and had scars both physical and mental. Many of these children were directed to R' Yona, and in response, he opened his arms and opened a new children's home in Mariaburg that was dedicated to caring for and rehabilitating these living victims of the war! This book also examines R' Yona's life since the Mariaburg House closed in 1960 and the continuing role that he plays in the lives of his 'children' even to this day. R' Yona was only forty-eight when he passed away in 1962, but his legacy will endure for all time!

Angel of Orphans is a fascinating book. Despite the horrors of Holocaust that surround this story, it is an uplifting book that allows you to see that even in the darkest time, HaShem's hand is visible! Monsieur, as the children called him, did the impossible. He gave his children a home life and a Torah education when everything around them had been rent asunder. He not only assumed the role of father to hundreds of traumatized orphans, but in so doing, he became a role model for all that knew him, and for all that know his story. In short, Angel of Orphans is a remarkable story about a remarkable man, and a unique aspect of Jewish history.


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