Rabbi Yaakov Friedrich, zekan hachassidim – the eldest Chabad chossid, who miraculously survived the Holocaust and went on to take part in rebuilding the Jewish community in Holland, passed away.
By Anash.org reporter
Rabbi Yaakov Friedrich, zekan hachassidim – the eldest Chabad chossid, who miraculously survived the Holocaust and went on to take part in rebuilding the Jewish community in Holland, passed away on Wednesday, 12 Tishrei, 5784.
He was 101 years old.
Born on 11 Cheshvan 5682, Reb Yaakov’s life story is an intriguing one, even before the tumultuous years of World War II. His childhood was far from typical, with his father abandoning Yiddishkeit shortly before he was born, and then abandoning his wife and children a few short years later.
Through a series of events that can only be described as clear hashgacha protis, Reb Yaakov ended up being adopted by a frum family in Antwerp, instead of remaining by the Catholic family where his father had left him.
He quickly grew into a budding talmid chochom, only to be forced to become an apprentice to a goldsmith by the Jewish community council who would no longer fund his yeshiva studies.
As his life slowly began to settle, the winds of World War II began to blow. After his attempt to escape from Belgium failed, Yaakov found himself back in Nazi-occupied Antwerp, and witnessed the beginnings of the deportation and extermination of Dutch Jewry.
Yet, as the majority of the community followed the Nazi’s instructions, ultimately leading to their murder, Yaakov ran his own system. Having heard of the horrors perpetrated on Polish Jewry from the Nazis themselves, he did not follow any instructions given by the occupiers or the Judenrat, thereby allowing himself to remain hiding in plain sight as thousands of others were rounded up.
A series of miracles allowed Reb Yaakov to survive the years of horror, and live with his new wife in the center of the city as the Nazis attempted to make the country Judenrein.
After the war concluded, Reb Yaakov immediately began working on rebuilding the Jewish community in Antwerp. During that time, he was introduced to Chabad chassidus and became a chossid of the Frierdiker Rebbe.
Never satisfied with simply resting, Reb Yaakov established numerous mosdos over the years, helping rebuild the community devastated by the Germans. He also helped establish the Chabad cheder in Amsterdam and would hold farbrengens and shiurim to bring young men closer to Chassidus.
In recent years, he published books in Hebrew, Yiddish and English telling the story of his miraculous survival during WWII and his later life in Antwerp. The book also relates some of the stories and encounters he had with the Frierdiker Rebbe and Rebbe, including a miracle he experienced with the Rebbe after a doctor gave him the wrong medicine.
Baruch Dayan Ha’emes