It is with great sadness that Matzav.com reports the passing of Rabbi Menashe Tzvi Winkler, z'l. He was 102 years old.
Reb Menashe Tzvi grew up in Copenhagen, Denmark, where his father was the rov of Machzikei Hadas.
He was one of two children – he had one brother, Efraim – and was named after his two zeides
His father, amazingly, was fifty years old when he got married. A Yerushalmi who had learnt under Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, Reb Menashe Tzvi’s father was a choshuve talmid chochom and community leader who knew Shas, both Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, as well as Sifri, Sifra and Tosefta. He was also a member of the Moetzes Gedolai Hatorah.
Reb Menashe Tzvi’s father lived in Germany as a single man. He studied in college and became a Doktor de Philosophe. He wrote his doctorate on arei miklat. It was called “Das Asylrecht Im Judentum” (The Right to Refuge in Judaism). As a community leader, his father was one of the first rabbonim to support the idea of chinuch habanos. He spoke about it at the Knessia Gedolah, trying to convince other leaders to support the idea. Among his many other responsibilities, Reb Menashe Tzvi’s father wrote a column on parshas hashovua for the Israelite, the weekly German-Jewish paper published in Frankfurt-on-Maine.
At the time of Reb Menashe Tzvi’s childhood, there were five thousand Jewish people living in Copenhagen. The kehillah, Machzikei Hadas, had three hundred to four hundred people. His father taught his limudei kodesh and also established a cheder with a rebbi he brought in from Pressburg, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Knoepfelmacher, who had been one of the best bochurim in the Pressburg Yeshiva. The rebbi taught Reb Menashe Tzvi at home as well from when he was seven years old until he was fourteen. Reb Menashe Tzvi’s parents hired a frum girl to teach him limudei chol twice a week, since they didn’t want to send him to public school. When he reached the fifth grade, however, he had to attend school, which he did through the eighth grade.
The last time Reb Menashe Tzvi saw his father, he was twelve years old. His father was traveling to America on a mission for Keren Hatorah, the organization of Agudas Yisrael for yeshivos worldwide. His father was an eloquent speaker who spoke a beautiful German. He went to raise money among German Jews in Washington Heights. One Shabbos, while in America, his father had a heart attack. They sent Reb Menashe Tzvi’s mother a telegram saying that he was “hingeshiden,” meaning niftar. Reb Menashe Tzvi was thirteen at that time and his brother was eleven.
When Reb Menashe Tzvi was fourteen years old, his mother allowed him to go to Radin to join the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva. Why did she choose Radin? Whenever meshulachim for yeshivos came to Copenhagen, they usually stayed at the Winkler house. When Rav Yitzchok Grozalsky, a big talmid chochom who was a meshulach from the Radin Yeshiva, stayed at their home, he suggested to Reb Menashe Tzvi’s mother that she send him to Radin.
Reb Menashe Tzvi traveled to meet the Chofetz Chaim where he was staying in a village in the middle of a pine tree forest close to Radin. This was three weeks before the Chofetz Chaim was niftar and he was very weak. Reb Menashe Tzvi shook hands with him. He was sitting in a beach chair covered with netting to protect him from the flies. The Chofetz Chaim greeted Reb Menashe Tzvi and bentched him: “Shalom Aleichem. Zei gezunt… Shteigen in lernen…” Reb Hershel Geier, from the town of Kamenitz, was with him.
There were about two hundred talmidim in the Radin Yeshiva at the time. Rav Mendel Zaks was there, and the mashgiach was Rav Eliezer Kaplan. There was Rav Moshe Londinski and Rav Yehoshua Lenenson and the menahel was Rav Hillel Ginsburg.
Later, Reb Menashe Tzvi went to learn by Rav Elchonon Wasserman in Baranovitch, where he stayed for one-and-a-half years. He then learnt in Kamenitz under Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz zt”l. Reb Menashe Tzvi once recalled, “Rav Boruch Ber was a very impressive personality. He only knew Torah. His entire being was so concentrated on the Gemara that he almost wasn’t aware of anything else. I saw him take his hat off, put it down under the Gemara, and stick the Gemara on top of it! He was so detached from everything, only concentrating on Torah. I eventually went to the Mir. I remember mainly Rav Chatzkel Levenstein’s mussar shmuessen, the way he emphasized bein adam lachaveiro, consideration for one’s fellow man.”
Reb Menashe Tzvi’s close friends during his yeshiva years were Rav Yisroel Kanarek, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, and, in the Mir, Rav Leib Bakst.
Reb Menashe Tzvi’s wife, Esther Rivka Bezbroda, was part of the kehillah in Copenhagen. Her parents were Polish Jews who fled to Sweden to escape conscription in Czar Nicholai’s army. The family subsequently moved to Copenhagen to be part of our Machzikei Hadas kehillah.
The Nazis entered Copenhagen on April 9, 1940. For the first three-and-a-half years of occupation, they didn’t touch a Yid, because there was big resistance from the Danish regarding hurting the Jews. The Germans wanted calm. They got dairy products from the Danish and they didn’t want any revolts. That was until October 1, 1943, when the Nazis planned on surprising the Yidden with widespread deportation. It was Rosh Hashanah. One of the German high officers, however, leaked the information to the Danish government who told our chief rabbi. He told all of the Jews to go into hiding: the German ships were waiting and ready to deport us all.
Reb Menashe Tzvi and Esther Rivka’s wedding took place under the German occupation of Copenhagen when they had already heard news that there was going to be deportations of Jews. The wedding was quick, short and simple, and they only invited our closest friends.
Most of the Yidden found hiding places with gentile acquaintances. Reb Menashe Tzvi hid with his wife, mother and mother-in-law with somebody his brother-in-law knew. His brother hid with another gentile. They hid for ten days while the Danish found fishing boats for them. They were smuggled on to boats and they left to Sweden on Erev Yom Kippur. When Reb Menashe Tzvi got close to Sweden, he saw Swedish soldiers waiting for them in their boats, welcoming them to Sweden. They landed in Lanskrona, a shore town with a Jewish community and later moved to Malmoe. They brought nothing, but the Yidden there helped them, as did the Swedish government.
The first job Reb Menashe Tzvi got in Sweden was to clean rugs. He shlepped carpets outside and banged the dirt out of them with a stick. He later got a job as a bookkeeper.
Reb Menashe Tzvi stayed in Sweden for a year and a half until May 1945, when he went back to Copenhagen.
Right after the war, most people went back to Copenhagen, but as the years passed, many of the Jews moved away – to Eretz Yisroel, America, Belgium, Switzerland, and other countries. Reb Menashe Tzvi and his wife and their children moved to America ten years after the war. His wife already had a brother here and he knew that chinuch would be easier here for the children.
Reb Menashe Tzvi raised his family in Brooklyn, where he worked as an accountant for many years. He retired at age 92.
Reb Menashe Tzvi attributed his arichus yomim to the bracha from the Chofetz Chaim of “Zei gezunt.”
Reb Menashe Tzvi passed away this morning in Lakewood, where he settled over a decade ago, living in Lakewood Commons.
The levayah will take place at 4:30 p.m. at the Lakewood Commons Shul, located at 44 Coles Way, in Lakewood, NJ.
Yehi zichro boruch.