Apr 22, 2009

93 Beis Yaakov girls committed suicide.. or did they?

I just read an article last night that was shocking to me. I was wondering if anybody else had heard such a thing before.

NRG posted an article about the 93 Beis Yaakov girls who committed suicide rather than let the Nazi soldiers defile them.

The article describes how the incident depicting gevurah, purity and tzniyus came to be known - via a letter that was somehow smuggled out of the ghetto and mailed to rabbonim in NY describing the events and requesting that this group of women/girls be davened for and remembered.

The story has gone on to become famous, as articles, books, poems, liturgical prayers, conferences, etc. have been held focusing on this story.

Holocaust researchers have investigated the story and come to the conclusion that it is a piece of fiction - it never happened.

They base the conclusion on lack of any evidence of it ever happening, along with a number of questions they have been unable to answer that put the whole story in doubt.

Questions such as:
How did the letter get out of a closed room in a closed ghetto and end up by rabbonim in NY?
How did they get hold of so much poison - enough for so many people?
How did none of the survivors from the area know about such a story that happened in such a small ghetto?
Why was the letter written in a Hungarian style of Yiddish, when it supposedly came out of Poland?
Just the sheer number - 93 - puts the whole story in doubt. How could this have happened to such a large group and go unknown?
Even from the side of the nazis it does not make sense - While in private with an individual perhaps a Nazi soldier would have raped her and broken the racial laws, but so many soldiers with such a large group of women? Such things were unheard of.

The conclusion of the researchers is that this is a made up story.

This shocked me. Have you heard of this before? Did it really not happen?


  1. http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/2007_09_01_archive.html

  2. I've heard it before and have never believed it. when questioned, the response is always, "how dare you!".

  3. There's a street with that name a block from my house.Some people call it 93rd St. :)

  4. http://beta.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/729538/Rabbi_Aaron_Rakeffet-Rothkoff/2008-11-30_YU_connection_to_the_93

    This is a lecture by Aharon Rakeffet a YU rav as well as a PhD. in history in a course on responsa and the holocaust which while long is interesting.
    You need time but it's interesting.

  5. I know that secular Israelis idolise the Masada martyrs but why do the charedim idolize these 93 kedoshot? Assuming the story is true, was suicide the right thing to do? Since when is rape Yeherag ve'al ya'avor? Of course I'm not judging I'm just wondering why the idolisation?

  6. RAFI:

    i learned about the story (and its doubts) a few years ago. i was writing a book for a museum exhibit. at one point the curator questioned something i wrote about a group of survivor girls. she asked if i was true it was true because she didn't want it to turn out like the 93 beis yaakov girls.


    we idolize martyrs who've died for much less (like eating treif or bowing , etc.)

    "was suicide the right thing to do"

    aside from any halakhic issues, i can imagine (or rather i can't imagine) how hard it would be for a girl to know that rape is about the become a part of daily lifestyle. in that context suicide seems mighty palatable.

    "Israelis idolise the Masada martyrs"

    trude weiss-rosmarin has cast doubts on the suicide narrative of massada. she argues (iirc) that suicide is not a jewish value and the soldiers died fighting. of course (as you intimate) this view is soundly rejected both popularly and academically.

  7. For one halachic perspective on suicide martyrdom, you might want to look at Rav Goren's article on the martyrdom at M'tzada.

  8. as rabbi wein says-it's the fact that they tell the story.
    Joel Rich

  9. as shimon brings up: in yeshiva, many people were anti even visiting masada for fear of "maras eyin", as if visiting would appear that they condone the suicides. yet they idolized both these 93 girls nd the story of the girls and boys captured by the romans and killed themselves. I think the basic answer is people pick and choose their stories and don't care about logic or contradictions.

  10. just to second risa's link about rav rakefet's shiurim. i believe that he deals with the issue in a 3-shiur package. he deals with both the nay-sayers and the supporters.

    in the end, his conclusion is that even if it didn't happen, the message can still be strong and valuable.

    just out of curiosity, which part had you not heard of, the original story or that people suggest that it was fiction?

  11. Rafi,
    i recently heard a shiur from a Rabbi Dr Shnayer Lieman. He is a professor at YU and Brooklyn College and lives in Queens. He is a historian, and quite authoritative on some subjects. He discussed this story and another one, and basically disproves it quite authoritatively. I have the mp3 if you want, i can send it to you.

  12. it looks like I am the only one who did not know it was made up....

  13. No Rafi G, you're not the only one who never heard about the fiction part. I've heard/read this story before, and quite honestly, it never entered my mind that it wasn't true. Shaya G makes a good point...why is the story about the 400 children considered positive? I can't imagine that there is no discussion about it in the mefarshim or wherever.


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