The Story

Young Aaron Herskowitz thought he had been called up to the army in 1939 when he left the family farm in the small town of Bilke, Czechoslovakia, but instead he was enslaved to the ruling fascist Hungarian Army, now allied with Nazi Germany. At a tearful goodbye, he promises the love of his life, Helen, that he will return to her one day, as soon as the war is over. As the Nazis and Hungarians attempt to assault the Russian front in 1942, Aaron, unlike most of his fellow Jewish slaves, survives starvation, torture, typhus and assassination attempts on his life by his fiendish captors, thanks to courage, military training and his uncanny ingenuity. Along this torturous journey, Aaron confronts his God, hoping for answers to the brutality and inhumanity he and his fellow Jews are subject to, day after day. Aaron endures the Nazi and Hungarian murders of his fellow Jewish slaves…he witnesses the slaughter of Jewish Russian civilians and the Nazi rapes of Jewish women together with the Nazis’ strange peculiar delight in throwing Jewish babies in the air for “target practice.” With no answer from God forthcoming to Aaron’s pleas, he abandons religious faith and from that moment on, he believes only in himself. He denounces the orthodox rabbis, who not only refused to support his efforts to organize a Jewish military resistance, but who even preached against Jews escaping to Palestine, insisting that the Jewish people must wait for the “Messiah” to descend from the heavens to lead them to the Promised Land. Instead, Aaron relies on his own personal resources and his new friend Ignatz Sax, a hulk of a Hungarian Jewish butcher. Despite his 5′ 2″ size, Aaron demonstrates astounding physical strength and will to survive, inspired by Helen’s image. Aaron and his friend Sax escape and become heroes for the Russians, crossing back over enemy lines, capturing countless Axis spies and soldiers. Because Aaron can speak Russian, German and Hungarian he becomes a master interrogator, harshly exacting valuable intelligence from his captives, helping the Soviet army force the German and Hungarian invaders out of Russia.

Then the unimaginable happens: The Russians appoint Aaron ruler of Gérjen, a conquered Nazi town, and the Russians give him unlimited authority, telling him, “After you interrogate your prisoners and send us the intelligence, just do with your captives whatever you want.” In this incredible reversal of fortune, Aaron realizes he has become master of his former persecutors. He and his lieutenant Sax initiate a violent torrent of revenge, brutally interrogating their captives, executing those they deem the most criminal.

Soon Sax, upon learning that his wife and children were likely murdered at a Nazi death camp, loses all self-control and enacts a new wave of savage brutal revenge on the German and Hungarian captives, ripping off their ears, tearing out their noses, smashing out their teeth. Sax exhorts Aaron to join him in his grotesque actions, but Aaron is repulsed and refuses to participate, as he rediscovers his own humanity and recedes from his own brutality. Instead Aaron confronts Sax, reminding the big man that his monstrous behavior is no better than that of the Nazis. Enraged, Sax angrily threatens to kill Aaron. The ordeal tests Aaron’s capacity for friendship, and he breaks from his comrade, realizing that he must leave Gérjen, especially now that the Russians are backing Sax’s brutal actions.

Before Aaron has a chance to depart, he is taken to the headquarters of the Russian secret police. Aaron turns down the Soviet offer to be promoted to spy for Russia and is arrested and falsely accused of being a spy for the Nazis and is beaten and jailed for weeks. Facing a death sentence, Aaron once again mounts a miraculous escape, running for his life from the pursuing Russians, who fire their guns at him while he dashes away to the safety of a forest.

When Aaron returns to Czechoslovakia as the war ends, he finds his family’s home abandoned and Helen’s home torched. Hearing that they have all perished in the death camps, his heart is broken.

After making a fortune in the black market, Aaron learns that the Russians will soon turn Czechoslovakia into a communist regime. With a Soviet price still on his head, he begins his escape to Palestine. Along the way, in one of the most incredible coincidences of this amazing life, fate reunites him with Helen in a remote village, vaulting them into their happiest, most prosperous days on earth.

Several important skills saved Aaron’s life. One was his military training in the Czech army, and his Zionist paramilitary training in jujitsu before the war, allowing him to remove weapons from an enemy assassin and kill them with his bare hands. Another was his fluency in over ten languages, along with his expert horsemanship, a passion he maintained for the rest of his life.

Aaron faces an impossible task: Pulling a heavy field kitchen, such as the one pictured here, out of a snowdrift. Ignatz Sax, a giant of a man, former butcher and now the camp cook, earns Aaron’s friendship helping him move the wagon.