The Vale of Tears is the Holocaust memoir of R’ Pinchas Hirschprung. Unlike almost all other Holocaust memoirs, The Vale of Tears, was written in 1944, while the war still raged in Europe, and R’ Hirschprung did not yet know the fate of his family who were left behind. The memoir was written in Yiddish and later translated to English.
The book tells the story of R’ Hirschprung as he flees from his idyllic hometown, Dukla, in Galicia, which lay nestled in the Carpathian mountains.
He writes, “Dukla was a quiet little town – 300 Jewish families and 100 Christian families – who lived together peacefully. It seemed as though Dukla was separated from the world around it. The quiet river, the neighboring mountains, the fresh air, the scent of flowers and trees… this enchanting setting was conducive to piety, tranquility, modesty and spiritual contentment, serenity and calm… On weekdays, Dukla was an observant town, and even more so on Shabbos…
“Dukla Jews found solace in telling themselves that there would be no war; that Hitler was conducting a war of nerves; that Hitler was in fact not prepared for war; that he was only making threats to win concessions; that he would end up getting trouble, not concessions!” (The Vale of Tears, p.1-3).
Dukla was a quiet town, until the Nazis came.
This is R’ Hirschprung’s harrowing story of bravery, terror, loss and pain, faith and hope, persistence and determination, as he escapes from town to town, place to place, country to country, as a destitute refugee, until he finds safety in Japan, and then ultimately, in Canada.
R’ Hirschprung was the chief rabbi of Montreal for thirty years after the war. This is his war-time story.