CONDOLENCES: Holocaust survivor David “Dugo” Leitner was born in Nyíregyháza, Hungary in 1930. He was just 14 when the Nazis invaded his hometown and sent him and his family to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Dugo was assigned sewage duty and narrowly escaped the gas chamber numerous times, including on Simchat Torah when he was among 50 children removed from the crematorium to perform labor.
On January 18, 1945, Dugo, along with 60,000 other Auschwitz prisoners, was forced on a Death March to Mauthausen and Gunskirchen. Exhausted, freezing, and starving, Dugo dreamt of “bilkelach,” or mini challah rolls. His mother, who did not survive, always told him that they would go live in Eretz Yisrael where “bilkelach” grew on trees. After the war, Dugo immigrated to Israel in 1949, and on his first visit to the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, he encountered a local delicacy that reminded him of the “bilkelach” – falafel balls. For him, the falafel became a symbol of his survival.
So, every year on January 18th, the anniversary of the day he was forced on the Death March, Dugo would eat falafel as a way to commemorate his family and the millions of other Holocaust victims. He invited everyone to join him in this ritual and hold up a sign that says “Am Yisrael Chai.” Dugo passed away today at the age of 93, but people around the world will continue to eat falafel each year in his honor.
May his memory be a blessing.
Contributor: Jill G. Mundinger