Herschel Schacter

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Herschel Schacter speaking in 1971
American chaplain Rabbi Herschel Schacter conducts religious services at the liberated Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945.

Herschel Schacter (October 10, 1917 – March 21, 2013) was an American Orthodox rabbi and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,[1][2]


Schacter was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn and the youngest of 10 children. His parents came from Poland. His father, Pincus, was a seventh-generation shochet, or ritual slaughterer; his mother, the former Miriam Schimmelman, was a real estate manager.

Schacter was protege of Chabad rabbi Yisroel Jacobson, and a student of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.[3] He earned a bachelor’s degree from Yeshiva University in New York City in 1938 and semikhah (rabbinic ordination) from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1941. He spent about a year as a pulpit rabbi in Stamford, Connecticut before enlisting in the Army in 1942.

During World War II, he was a chaplain in the Third Army's VIII Corps.[4] and was the first US Army Chaplain to enter and participate in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp on April 11, 1945, barely an hour after it had been liberated by George Patton's troops. Schacter remained at Buchenwald for months, tending to survivors and leading religious services. One of the children whom he personally rescued from the camp was then 7-year old Yisrael Meir Lau, who grew up to become the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel. Later he aided in the resettlement of displaced persons, one of whom was teenaged Elie Wiesel, one of some thousand Jewish orphans liberated that day. He was discharged from the Army with the rank of captain.[5]

Schacter was the rabbi of the Mosholu Jewish Center in the Bronx from 1947 till it closed in 1999.[6]

In 1956, he went to the Soviet Union with an American rabbinic delegation as advocate for the rights of Soviet Jews. He also served as an adviser on the subject to President Richard Nixon.[7]


Schacter lived in the Riverdale, Bronx and died March 21, 2013. He was 95. His wife, the former Pnina Gewirtz, whom he married in 1948, died October 31, 2018. They were survived by a son, Jacob J. Schacter, the former director of the Soloveitchik Institute;[1] a daughter, Miriam Schacter; four grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.[7]


  1. ^ a b "TheRav.net Gallery". Archived from the original on 2007-06-15.
  2. ^ Time Magazine November 06, 1972 Guess Who's for Richard Nixon
  3. ^ Excerpt: The Rebbe and the Rav on YouTube
  5. ^ Fox, MARGALIT (26 March 2013). "Rabbi Herschel Schacter, Who Carried Word of Freedom to Buchenwald, Dies at 95". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
  6. ^ The Jewish Week, April, 2000 by Maxfield, Jennifer A Bronx Icon: Rabbi Herschel Schacter, his Mosholu Jewish Center closed, reflects on more than five decades lifting spirits and helping the downtrodden.
  7. ^ a b "Rabbi Who Cried to the Jews of Buchenwald: 'You Are Free'". NY Times. Retrieved 27 March 2013.