By COLlive reporter
Rabbi Yitzchak Vorst, the Senior Chabad Shliach in the Netherlands who survived the horrors of the Holocaust, passed away on Wednesday, 27 Elul, 5783.
He was 85.
Rabbi Vorst, whose father served as the Chief Rabbi of Rotterdam, was sent to the concentration camps with his family during WW II at the age of 5.
He told how he, his parents, his older sister and his two brothers survived the horrors of the Westerbork and Bergen Belsen concentration camps. His mother did not make it to the end of the war: she perished in a German freight train car just before they were liberated by the Russians.
Shortly before the end of the Second World War, 6,800 prisoners were removed from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 3 freight trains in the so-called ‘Lost Transport’ between April 6 and 11, 1945. Their destination was Theresienstadt concentration camp, where they would be murdered in a newly built gas chamber. The last of these three trains, which also included the Vorst family, made a thirteen-day wandering of more than six hundred kilometers through parts of Germany that had not yet been liberated by the Allies. The transport eventually came to a stop in the town of Tröbitz, in eastern Germany.
In a speech at a memorial in 2021 marking the day the Westerbork Camp was released, Rabbi Vorst told:
“I was 5 years old when we were taken away. With my father, mother – who was pregnant with another Jewish child – a sister and two brothers. To Westerbork where the Jewish Dutch were rounded up. To be further transported to the Nazi extermination camps. To be gassed. Killed in some other way. Or to perform forced labor, under conditions that often result in death.
“After eight months in Westerbork – the baby was born and died – we were transported as prisoners to the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. Near Hannover on the Luneberger Heide.
“Clara Asscher-Pinkhof writes in her book Sterrekinderen about the arrival there:
“‘The train from Westerbork has arrived at Bergen Belsen. The concentration camp itself is a two-hour walk away. The small children and their mothers are transported by truck. There isn’t a single light in the car. Mothers shout that there is a small child here who should not be stepped on. They have the babies in their arms and the toddlers between their knees. The children are screaming in fear and horror.’
“Then, through the tangle of cries of despair, suddenly a mother, with three of her own children with her, begins to sing a children’s song:
“‘Three little toddlers
They were sitting on a fence
On top of a fence…’
“There is a brief silence in the screams. Then more mothers sing along, and then the children, clearly and unapologetically. When the song is over, another one comes along, always a different one.’
“Those singing children… I was one of those children. That singing mother… was my mother. A photo is the only thing I have of her. Always carried on my heart. And in my heart.”
In the 1960s, Rabbi Vorst emigrated to Israel to work as an engineer to help build the new port of Ashdod. There he came into contact with Chabad.
In 1964, he and his wife Dobba founded Chabad of the Netherlands to help build up the Jewish community.
Together they have served as the Jewish community leaders of greater Amsterdam for nearly 6 decades. The couple founded many of the Jewish institutions that serve Holland’s Jewish community. Rabbi Vorst served as the Rov for the local Jewish community.
After suffering the loss of his son in a car accident, Rabbi Vorst put his thoughts, feelings, and conclusions based on Chassidus into writing. “The Loss Of A Loved one – A Chassidic Perspective,” originally written in Dutch, has since been translated into Hebrew, English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. It has brought great comfort and solace to many in the days when they were mourning the loss of a loved one.
For the past ten years, Rabbi Vorst gave hundreds of Shiurim on video.
He is survived by his wife, Dobba and children, Chana Kalmenson – Aubervilliers, France; Reb Dovid Vorst, Brunoy, France; Rabbi Yehuda Vorst – Rotterdam; Mrs. Sarah Katzman – The Hague; Menucha Romano– Israel; Nechama Cohen – Yerushalayim; Rabbi Menachem Vorst – Charlotte, NC; Bracha Leah Weingarten – Lansing, Michigan; Chaya Benjaminson – Crown Heights; Rivkah Galperin – Windsor, Ontario; Devorah Esther Levin – Nijmegen; and Mushky Lent – Manchester, England.
Baruch Dayan Ha’emes.