When the SS murdered Benzion Halberstam in a forest in eastern Poland in 1941, his son Shlomo had already been groomed to succeed him as rebbe of the Bobover Ḥasidim. Shlomo, immediately recognized by his father’s followers as their new leader, set about trying to provide aid and comfort to his flock while attempting to escape with as many of his family members and fellow Ḥasidim as possible. Samuel Heilman tells his harrowing story:
[In 1941, Shlomo and his own son and presumptive successor Naftali] were hustled to Bochnia in southern Poland, where they hoped to “disappear” in the ghetto there. In January 1942, Shlomo’s wife, younger children, and mother-in-law joined more than 8,000 Jews who flooded into what would become a large labor camp in Bochnia. . . .
Through the skills of one or two of his Ḥasidim with a talent for forging documents, Shlomo acquired false papers as a Hungarian. Identified thus as what Germans called an Ausländer (foreigner), he was able to escape the restrictive boundaries of the Bochnia ghetto, as well as to help others flee by providing them with forged papers or with food. . . .
From outside the ghetto, [thanks to] his forged papers, Shlomo would slip into the ghetto to spend some time with the remaining Bobover Ḥasidim. In secret gatherings at Sabbath’s end, after curfew, when the Ḥasidim would gather together, hold hands, and form a silent circle, as if dancing and singing, he would offer hushed words of Torah, ḥasidic teaching, and spiritual encouragement. At times he stole Naftali, who was eleven years old at the time, in with him, taking the risk that if he were caught on the streets after curfew they would both be punished, if not shot. He wanted the boy to see how a rebbe had to act.
Shlomo . . . argued that the best method to prepare for the imminent coming of the messiah (whose arrival would surely end Jewish suffering, a belief that roared through the hearts of many of those whose belief in God’s redemption rose in the face of horror) was to pave his way by saving Jewish children from death or abandonment at the hands of non-Jews.