Born 12/2/1920 Sanz, Poland (Galicia), d. 11/24/2010 (age 90), Brooklyn, NY
Rabbi Isaac C. Avigdor was born on December 2, 1920, in Sanz, Poland (Galicia) into an unbroken chain of Rabbis traceable to King David in antiquity. He studied at several of the famous yeshivas of Europe, becoming ordained at age 17 and Assistant Rabbi to his father to avoid military service in Poland. He lived in the town of Brohovich, a prominent industrial center whose Jews refined oil they drilled from nearby Carpathian wells, skills he believes allowed the Jewish community there to survive beyond the initial Russian occupation and subsequent Nazi invasion. Avigdor became skilled at forging documents that allowed many Jewish women and girls to survive by passing as non-Jews.
In 1943, Avigdor was transported to Auschwitz and then Mathausen, where he survived until it was liberated by American forces on May 5, 1945. He met General Dwight Eisenhower during his post-liberation hospitalization and because he spoke some English, asked the General to help him locate his father.
Avigdor made his way to Italy where he ran a kibbutz-like organization that helped smuggle Jewish orphans into Palestine. He was reunited there with his father. His mother and two sisters did not survive. The Rabbis Avigdor emigrated to New York in 1948, where Rabbi Isaac worked until 1955 when he moved to Hartford. He became Rabbi of Ateret Knesseth Israel Synagogue on Garden Street, the merged congregation formed from Knesset Israel and Ateres Israel. Ateret Knesset eventually merged with Beth Hamedrash Hagadol (created from Beth Medrash Hagadol and Ohav Zedek, the Garden Street Shul) in 1962 to form United Synagogues. Avigdor would later liken being Rabbi of multiple merged congregations to marrying off several hundred couples at once – there are many adjustments and compromises to be made for quite some time.
The author of 5 books and numerous articles, Avigdor served congregations in Greater Hartford for 52 years before moving back to Brooklyn to retire in 2007. He believed that four fatal errors enabled the Germans to kill more Jews than they might otherwise have. These were:
1. Disbelief that a catastrophe like the Shoah could occur
2. False hope that the world would not allow it to happen
3. Miscalculation of Germany’s strength and how long it would take the Allies to defeat them
4. Allowing family bonds to override self-preservation (staying together rather than escaping).
He emphatically did not blame the Jews, but he cautioned that we should never assume it can’t or won’t happen again.
Rabbi Isaac Avigdor died in Brooklyn on November 24, 2010, at age 90. His legacy continues through those who knew him, studied with him or have read his many publications. Three of his four sons are Rabbis, carrying on the Avigdor’s unbroken legacy.