Rabbi Ben Zion Halberstam (1874-1941)
The Second Bobover Rebbe, Rabbi Ben Zion bar Shlomo Halberstam, was born in 1874 (5634) in the village of Bikofsk, Galicia. His family moved to Bobov and, following the death of his father, Grand Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, Rabbi Ben Zion was elected Grand Rabbi by his chassidim.
During the First World War, Rabbi Ben Zion fled to Austria, returning to Poland when the war was over. He established the “Etz Haim” Yeshiva in Bobov, attracting vast numbers of students, as well as other branches of the Yeshiva across Galicia.
Rabbi Ben Zion resided in Trzebinia from 1932-1937, and thousands of his disciples streamed to his court, mostly on the Sabbath and festival days. Many of the town’s residents, including those who lived there during those years, made their livelihood through their proximity to the court of the Rebbe.
When the Germans exiled the Polish Jews living in Germany in October 1938, Rabbi Ben Zion wrote an open letter to the Jews of Poland, asking them to help the refugees, who had arrived with nothing. He even tried to explain the dreadful situation befalling the entire Jewish people at the time.
With the outbreak of WWII, Rabbi Ben Zion fled to Lwów, then under Soviet control according to the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. He hid in the house of one of his disciples. A group of his chassidim tried to get him to the United States, but they were unsuccessful.
On 30 June 1941, the Germans occupied Lwów. At the end of July, local farmers, with the help of Ukrainian police, instigated a pogrom against the Jews of the town. On the afternoon of 25 July, they broke into the house where Rabbi Ben Zion was staying, and ordered him to come with them. His son, Rabbi Moshe Aaron, accompanied him, and, together with other Jews, they were gathered at the corner of a street. On the orders of the policemen, they began to march. Rabbi Ben Zion was weak, and could not keep up with the fast pace of the march. When he fell to the back of the column, the policemen whipped him and shouted at him to move faster. The march continued until the prisoners arrived at the Gestapo headquarters. Rabbi Ben Zion’s family tried everything to win their release, but after three days, he was executed at the Yanover forest together with his son, three sons-in-law and the other prisoners.