(You can find the original story in full HERE.)
The German-born son of a particularly psychopathic Nazi (a former member of the Death Head Unit--Totenkopfverbände) recoiled from the revelations of his father's atrocities during the Shoah. As a result, he ended up in Eretz Yisrael and started investigating the very people his own father had hunted down to slaughter.
This journey eventually led to his kosher conversion to Judaism and marriage to a fellow German convert.
Together, they were able to have 3 sons in Eretz Yisrael—which was how Rabbi Wein met them, when he noticed this father with 3 particularly well-behaved sons in shul in Eretz Yisrael one day. (That, and they all had a stereotypically Aryan look to them.)
In speaking with this ger tzedek named Avraham, Rabbi Wein heard an astonishing story.
Avraham understandably did not want anything to do with his father, nor did he ever wish to visit Germany again.
Yet at one point, his elderly father was dying and his wife felt it would be a good idea to go visit the elderly father before his death—and also show him his beautiful Jewish grandchildren.
Eventually, she managed to convince her husband and he made the trip with his 3 sons to see their grandfather.
At first, the Nazi grandfather could barely look at the Hebrew-speaking, tzitzit-and-kippah-wearing children.
But gradually, he got used to them.
Interestingly, after they spoke for a while, the Nazi grandfather expressed approval of how things were turning out for them. (Not that anyone needs his approval, but it is pretty shocking.)
Then the son explained the concept of middah k’neged middah (measure for measure) in Judaism.
After explaining that, he asked the former Death Head member if he could think of anything he had done that would explain how (after all the horrors he committed) this former Death Head member merited such a long life (he was over 90 at that time) and to have 3 fine Jewish grandsons.
Because, really, he deserved to have been executed shortly after WWII, like many other Nazi officials, and he certainly did not deserve any Jewish descendants.
The elderly Nazi thought it over, then said something like, "I can't think of anything outstanding, but once, in Frankfurt, when we were rounding up the Jews, I had the chance to save the lives of three Jewish boys who were hiding in a Catholic Orphanage. For some reason they aroused my sympathy. I was touched by their plight; they were so lost and forlorn I felt pity for them, so I let them flee. I don't know what happened to them. But I didn't kill them."
Avraham pondered this for a moment, taking into account the 3 sons he and his wife managed to have, and said that, according to Judaism, that made sense.
No Good Deed Goes Unrewarded
You can take this as particularly sharp chizuk that Hashem ALWAYS rewards ANY good deed, no matter how evil the deed-doer is.
All the evil deeds in the world cannot nullify the reward earned by the smattering of good deeds.
So yes, this particularly sadistic Nazi merited 3 exceptionally fine Jewish grandsons (likely) middah k’neged middah the 3 Jewish boys upon whom he had mercy. (Probably, there are other metaphysical reasons for this, but just looking at the simplest level, this is a reasonable—if incomplete—conclusion.)
So yes, that is sharp chizuk for us, to encourage us to keep doing good deeds. Many a wise Jewish Sage has pointed out that the reward of the wicked should encourage us, because if that's what they get despite their awfulness, then gosh, think of what we non-wicked can earn!
But there’s another lesson here.
Hashem Can Do ANYTHING
Just looking at him in his uniform, you knew exactly who and what he was, and what he did.
And this was his day job, so to speak.
Think about that for a moment. Think about what an unbelievably heartless & evil person he must have been (and still was--let's be honest).
Completely remorseless and unfathomably evil, he felt good about doing such an “important” job for Nazi Germany.
Yet out of all those years of murdering innocents, he unexpectedly pitied 3 Jewish boys in hiding and spared their lives for reasons even he himself could not understand or explain.
And it’s impossible to explain it away by explaining that the Jewish boys’ situation was simply the most pitiable he’d seen.
That can’t be.
He rounded up for slaughter other Jewish children in similar (if not more pitiable) situations.
Did those 3 boys have zechut avot (merits from illustrious ancestors)? Did Hashem have big plans for them or the offspring they would later have? Was someone davening for them? Was it all of these or was it something else entirely?
We can’t know.
But one thing we do know from exhortations and mussar all through Tanach & Chazal is that Hashem can do ANYTHING He wants.
And Hashem can turn the heart of whomever He wants.
And beyond human comprehension, Hashem can even turn the heart of an unfathomably evil blood-thirsty Death Head Jew-hunter—if Hashem wills it.
To me, THAT is the big lesson of the above story.
How can it be that such an evil person, a true Amalekite, someone so consumed with the annihilation of Jews that he continuously & personally perpetrated horrors on innocent people--how can such a person suddenly be "touched" by the "plight" of 3 Jewish boys?
Where could that astounding blip of "sympathy" possibly come from?
Our Beloved Avinu Sheh B'Shamayim
But the Torah has been telling us for millennia that Jew-hatred is connected to our own avodah. And this mussar is meant for me as much as anyone else.
Wherever we are, we need to turn to our Father in Shamayim, our One True Best Friend, our Yedid Nefesh & Av HaRachaman (Merciful Father) in order to merit the Heavenly Compassion we so desperately need for ourselves and for each other wherever we are.