Rav Avigdor Miller, Rav Shach, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, the Satmar Rav, and others considered much of the Holocaust unfathomable.
However, they also believed aspects of it contained messages for us.
Rav Avigdor Miller wrote a book about this called A Divine Madness. This book has helped many of us by explaining Hashem's messages & answering the existential questions that plagued us. And those messages continue to help us in our personal paths of self-improvement today.
On the other hand, other great rabbanim like the Lubavitcher Rebbe & Rav Hutner considered the Holocaust completely unfathomable and therefore turned away from the kind of analysis & mussar the above-mentioned rabbanim engaged in.
Many people find solace & meaning in this approach too.
Either way, all the above rabbanim were successful in their efforts toward rebuilding the Jewish people with enthusiastic authentic Judaism.
With that said...the following article discusses the messages according to Rav Avigdor Miller's approach.
And this approach may not sit well with people who hold like the Lubavitcher Rebbe & Rav Hutner.
But even though their approach is unquestionably honorable & valid, it doesn't mean the rest of us can't discuss things according to the approach of Rav Miller and others.
To see the view of the Lubavitcher Rebbe: https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/62160/jewish/1939-45-The-Rebbe-on-the-Holocaust-Rebuilding.htm
For Rav Miller's view: https://torasavigdor.org/tag/holocaust/
The Yellow Star
Many memoirs reveal the different responses to this command at that time.
Some did so robotically, feeling helpless against yet another Nazi law. They didn't think to disobey because the slightest upset meant some kind of torment or even death.
And with the yellow star sewn on their coats, some avoided as much as possible going out, so as not to suffer harassment as such an identifiable Jew.
Yet others went out as usual, feeling their obedience provided some kind of protection.
But many others weighed the risks of wearing or not wearing the yellow star.
Some decided, after great deliberation, to wear it. They wore it with pride or with fear—or with both pride & fear.
Many realized the yellow star invited harassment (or worse).
Yet if they went out without the star & others realized they were Jewish, this also invited harassment in the form of a violent arrest and possibly death.
There was no "right" answer because so much depended on mazal & how you looked—and regardless of coloring & facial features, many Jewish eyes during the Holocaust contained a sadness or hunted look, making them stand out from the non-Jewish population.
It depended on whether your former non-Jewish acquaintances would recognize you—and if so, whether they would betray you.
For some Jews, wearing the yellow star worked out; it saved them from arrest or immediate death.
In some areas, the yellow star did not even invite harassment from the locals.
For other Jews, wearing the star brought their downfall, making them a target for random Jew-haters, plus unexpected Nazi round-ups in the street utilized the yellow stars as a pointer from which the star-wearing Jew could not escape.
Furthermore, several Holocaust memoirs report the good deeds of a non-Jew saves a Jew wearing the patch & even encourages the Jew to take it off.
One Girl's Story: Better Off without the Yellow Star
Fortunately, a non-Jewish shopkeeper called them into her store & then insisted the girls remove their yellow stars.
At first, the Jewish girls protested, expressing their fear of the harsh punishment in store for Jews who disobeyed the order to wear the yellow star.
But the non-Jewish shopkeeper related her experience of a similar march, which resulted in the capture of dozens of Jewish youth—young Jews easily identified by the yellow star on their clothing.
Tearfully, the shopkeeper said, "Can't you see? The star is condemning you! Without it, you still have the chance to be overlooked. So please, I implore you, let me cut that yellow emblem from your garments before it spells your doom!" (page 200)
When the girls still hesitated, the shopkeeper took their coats and started removing the yellow stars herself.
After wholeheartedly thanking the kind-hearted courageous shopkeeper, the girls walked home.
To their surprise, the two girls felt "no qualms about parading around without our stars. On the contrary, we felt relieved!" (page 200)
This was clearly Hashem telling them they didn't need to wear the yellow star. For them, life was safer without it.
How One Teenage Jewish Girl Saw the Message
It's like you wanted to be like the goyim around you & blend in to be more goyish? Well, davka now you're going to be FORCED to unassimilate.
Now you're going to look like a Jew whether you want to or not—and now it's not going to be pleasant.
Despite her youth, this lesson was not lost on the teenage Rosalie Lamet.
On page 190, she recalls:
The first time Mama and I walked down the street wearing our yellow stars, I felt everyone's eyes upon us.
The words of the prophet Balaam crossed my mind: "The Hebrew people shall stand alone among the nations," words he had intended as a curse but had been transformed into a blessing.
She decided then:
Right now, that slip of yellow material was a badge of shame and disgrace, but I prayed that one day soon it would be reinstated to its rightful place — a place of honor, beauty, and holiness.
Then the Jewish star would shine like a blessing for all to see!
Eighteen-year-old Rosalie got it.
And she wasn't the only one.
Yes, the Jews needed to pay attention to the world around them and the consequences for their actions (consequences often impossible to predict with any certainty—as noted above, mazal decided more than anything else).
Rosalie was raised in a religious Jewish home, but one not very different than a lot of highly Americanized mainstream Orthodox Jews. As committed as her family was to mitzvot, Rosalie also describes them as culturally very Belgian (though 2 of her brothers chose to become very yeshivish).
Rosalie describes herself as brought up strictly religious, but her Jewish education had been "neglected," meaning that by 18 years of age, she knew only the basics of Jewish history & how to read Hebrew.
Yet even amid all the terror & stress & lack of the deeper Torah hashkafah some Jews received, Rosalie still managed to notice the spiritual message within the terrible nisayon.
Looking Objectively (But NOT Atheistically) at the Yellow Star Law
It was a factor. But not the only one.
Yes, it often proved to be a life-and-death decision—but not the only one & not outside of Hashem's Plan.
For instance, while neither Rosalie nor Helene suffered any harsh consequences for not wearing the yellow star, only Rosalie survived Holocaust.
Helene, despite her innovation & dynamism, was caught in a Nazi raid on her own home.
The yellow star was only ONE factor in a whole web of factors—as is always true in life.
It hurts to say it when discussing horrific events, but Hashem is orchestrating everything.
HE decides—and ONLY He decides.
(And here, I'm reminding myself as much as—or maybe even more than—I'm reminding you.)
Either way, they knew they were making a life-and-death decision.
And some people who wore the yellow star died.
And some people who wore the yellow star lived.
And some people who refused to wear the yellow star died.
And some who refused to wear the yellow star lived.
It was individual; some could get away with not wearing it.
But mostly, it was a matter of mazal (Divinely orchestrated "luck")—while wearing or not wearing the yellow star factored into their mazal, it didn't decide their mazal.
Other factors & other unknowable cheshbonot played a vital part in survival (or not).
Either way, the message of the yellow star (as intended by Hashem) remained & still remains for us today.
(Some, like Rosalie, immediately sensed the message in the Nazi order to wear a yellow star. It isn't impossible to sense a message in such an event.)
It all goes together.
Dealing with the Natural World while Absorbing the Divine Message
It even had a documented name: "The Final Solution to the Jewish Question"—the official term used by January 1942 at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin.
(The term "the Jewish Question" has been around since the 1800s.)
Horrifically evil people wielding great power took over and, in a "war of nerves" (their name for an aspect of their "Final Solution" conspiracy), gradually imposed laws on the societies they conquered, all leading up to genocide.
During that time, it was hard not to notice anything else but how to survive.
And it's unfair to judge people for the decisions and responses they made at that time. Things weren't as clear as people now like to think and people who weren't there cannot say they would know better.
But the messages (according to Rav Miller, Rav Wasserman, the Satmar Rav, Rav Shach, and other Gedolim) were definitely there.
Sitting there in the Slabodka yeshivah in Lithuania with the Nazis nearly upon them, the young Rav Miller and all the others in yeshivah understood what was happening & they davened their hearts out to avoid it.
But as Rav Miller often emphasizes, the awareness & heartfelt davening was primarily just them in the yeshivah, not the rest of the town.
So even if great evil really is overtaking the world & even if the conspiracy theorists are right, we still should not lose our focus on the messages behind the actions.
Those messages are from Hashem trying to wake us up.
He wants to help us.
He wants to give us tons of chances & lots of time to both understand & incorporate into our lives His Messages to the best of our ability, each according to his or her own level.
We can't ignore the actual ordinances & events in our lives. They exist & we must deal with them however we see best.
At the same time, we must not ignore the messages contained within the events.
Just a reminder regarding the new non-comment policy: