ArtScroll spoke with Rabbi Yosef Chaim Golding, who compiled and edited the autobiography of his father-in-law, Reb Yossel Friedenson.
AS: Faith Amid the Flames is a stunning autobiographical portrait of Reb Yossel Friedenson z”l. We get to know him through his writings and speeches, and through interviews conducted with him over the years. How did you go about compiling all these different sources into one work?
RYCG: I viewed about 100 hours of video interviews, editing, compiling, and editing some more … plus I worked from 6 hours of transcribed cassette tape discussions between us. And, of course, I had his extensive writings to draw upon.
AS: Where did Reb Yossel’s incredible moral courage and emunah have its roots?
RYCG: Unquestionably, they were from his father, Rav Eliezer Gershon Friedenson Hy’d, who accomplished so much for Klal Yisrael, all before he was incarcerated in the Warsaw Ghetto at the age of 39.
AS: There is so much suffering in these pages, yet this book is uplifting and, yes, even optimistic. How did you (and Reb Yossel) make that happen?
RYCG: It wasn’t me; it was all him. He always spoke about the positive things that he witnessed; he let the secular historians dwell on the pain and suffering.
AS: Reb Yossel was the unofficial spokesman of the entire generation of survivors. What was the overriding message that Reb Yossel left for the generations that followed?
RYCG: In his own words:
“The first thing I learned is that there is a Hashgachah Elyonah on every one of us, at all times. If I personally survived, it is because there is an Ayin roeh, a watchful Eye, Who kept me alive in spite of the reshaim who wanted to kill me.
“Secondly, I saw how Jews differ from the other nations. We are an am hanivchar. We are rachmanim and gomlei chassadim. Even those who, chalilah, go astray still have in them some of these elevated middos tovos.
“The third, and by far the most important, lesson that I internalized was that Klal Yisrael is truly eternal, indestructible, and will always outlive their oppressors and those who wish to destroy them. The same is true for our eternal Torah.
“The secular world lauds the Jews who physically resisted the Germans. But much greater was the spiritual resistance of those whose faith in Hashem never wavered, even under the most torturous conditions.”