Even when Reuben Gross was still so young that his head hardly reached the Omed (the podium) where he stood as accompanist to the Chazzan, his sweet, velvety voice enchanted the entire congregation. "A matonoh from Hashem, a Divine gift," murmured the people as they walked out of the Shul, still under the spell that had been cast over them by Reuben's melodies. The years passed and the young boy sang his way Pro the hearts of thousands of Jews and brought faith and joy into many souls whose divine spark had been buried inside their hearts.
Reuben used his talent only for prayer or for the spiritual uplifting of his people. He realized that it was G-d's gift and he therefore consecrated it to His service. He later became chief Chazzan of the largest Shul in Cracow. He had often been offered tempting positions in the most famous opera houses of Europe, but Reuben refused them all. He did not wish to abandon his studies in the Beth Hamidrash for monetary remuneration or fame. "A fool!" said the managers of the opera and shrugged their shoulders in dismay over the obstinate refusal of the gifted young man to step out of his so-called "narrow-mindedness" into the enlightened world of art and fame. But Reuben paid no attention to their scorn. He was more than content with what he had. He was happy to be able to support his parents and enjoy a life of peaceful study.
Hitler's hordes invaded Poland and murdered the Jews by the thousands. Poland, once one of the greatest centers of Jewish life, became one huge graveyard and torture-chamber. Cracow was one of the first major cities to fall before the storming German Army. Reuben was immersed in the Gemarah study at the Beth Hamidrash when one of his friends came running to tell him to flee the city forthwith for the Germans would be there momentarily. Soon, the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) began bombing the city. Reuben was offered a seat in a car that was headed for Warsaw, but he declined the invitation and instead hurried home to his parents who were dependent upon him. Carrying a bag filled with their most indispensable belongings, he left Cracow on foot several hours later with his father and mother, in the midst of a large number of other people who were trying to escape the onslaught of the Nazi armies.
Reuben's magic voice lifted the spirits of his companions when they became tired and depressed. The weary Jews could not even stop for a short respite for the roar of the hostile planes indicated that the Germans were approaching ever nearer. Many of the older people succumbed to the strains of the journey. Those who did not, owed their vitality to Reuben who sang all the way. Only about one-fourth of those who had set out together with him reached the forest where they would be comparatively safe from 'the Nazis.
There was little to eat in the dense forest, and the starving little group was forced to send out people to search for food in the surrounding villages. Sometimes they did find some food. Sometimes they returned empty-handed. And sometimes they did nor return at all. The Nazis had gotten wind of their existence and were trying to find their exact location. Some of the farmers had been questioned. But, so far the Nazis had been unable to track them down. Their spies had infiltrated the entire region and many of those hunting for food were shot on sight.
Then, it was Reuben's turn to go out for food. He served as Chazzan a last time before the slowly-dwindling group who were moved to tears by his hears-rending Maariv prayer that evening. They felt as if the very heavens had opened their gates and the Angels sang along with his golden voice. A feeling of nearness to G-d permeated each one of them. A few hours later, Reuben left together with another young man. The people accompanied him as far as it was safe, as if unwilling to take leave from him. Indeed, this was the last time they were to see him. But not the last time they heard his voice!
Reuben and his companion had hardly left the security of the dense forest when they were caught in the closely webbed net of Nazi soldiers which surrounded the forest hideout. Reuben envied his companion who was killed instantly when he tried to escape. Reuben was taken to the Gestapo headquarters. For days and days they tortured him to extricate the secret of the hideout from him. But Reuben's lips were tightly sealed. He did not utter a word even under the severest pain. Finally, when the officer in charge saw that he could accomplish nothing with the half-dead young Jew, he decided to try one last ruse. He told his men to make Reuben believe that they were releasing him since he was of no use to them. When he would return to the forest, they were to follow him, until they tracked down the hidden band of Jews.
Reuben hardly knew what was happening to him. Only the thought of his comrades in their hideout kept him alive. When he was set free, he sensed that the Nazis did not do it out of the goodness of their hearts. He waited several days, wandering from place to place, before he entered the forest in the belief that he was no longer being observed. Apparently, he reasoned, the Nazis were certain that he would die anyway and did not wish to waste a bullet on him. Had he been his normal self, he would have discovered the soldiers who surreptitiously followed him wherever he went. But in his confused state of mind, he was not careful enough. He entered the forest one night to return to the hideout, his pockets stuffed with bread which he had begged from some merciful farmers. His heart was light, although his tired limbs were barely able to drag him forward. He was already close to the ravine where his friends were hiding when he heard a suspicious noise. He turned and saw some German soldiers hiding behind the trees. As soon as he moved on, they moved 'too. Concern for the safety of his companions made Reuben forget all his pains. He became suddenly alert, and racked his brain for a way to save his friends from the trap which he himself had sprung on them.
He kept walking in order not to indicate that he had discovered his pursuers. He had a sudden inspiration how to save his friends. He walked on determinedly; the soldiers followed, certain that they were close to the hideout of the band of Jews. Otherwise, that wretched fellow would not walk so confidently. Shortly after Reuben began his new pace, he began to sing. His voice reverberated through the forest.
Reuben's friends had already given him up for dead. Suddenly, in their gloom, they heard that magic voice once more. They were electrified and wanted to rush out to meet him. But the less impetuous among them prevailed upon them to weir and listen. Soon it was apparent that Reuben was singing a warning to them in Hebrew that they should remain hidden while he passed and should then follow his pursuers to the cliff. The sweet voice kept singing the warning as if it was the happiest song he knew. He led his pursuers past the ravine where his friends were waiting breathlessly, until the group of German soldiers was far enough past not to discover them any longer. Then the strongest among the refugees armed themselves with heavy branches and followed Reuben and his pursuers up the steep mountain side. Reuben slowed down as he came closer to a cliff. His song of warning changed into Shema Yisroel. When Reuben sensed that his pursuers were close behind him, he plunged over the cliff in a fall that ended thousands of feet below. His glorious voice intrigued his evil pursuers to follow him in his plunge to his death. When the screams of some of the Nazi soldiers warned their comrades of the danger, they stopped short. But the Jews who followed them pushed them down the cliff from behind to suffer the same fate as Reuben. Even while falling, Reuben's voice rose in song, thanking G-d for the rare gift He had bestowed upon him during his short life on earth and for the opportunity he had to use it to save his fellow-Jews.