||Rabbi Chaim Kreiswirth (1918-2001) was an Orthodox rabbi who served as the longtime Chief Rabbi of Antwerp, Belgium. He was the founder and rosh yeshiva of the Mercaz HaTorah yeshiva in Jerusalem. He was a highly regarded Torah scholar. R. Kreiswirth was born in Wojnicz, Poland in 1918, the son of R. Avrohom Yosef Schermann and Perla Kreiswirth . In his youth, he was well-known for his brilliance, excellent character traits and geniality, dubbed the "Cracower Illui" at age 15 in recognition of his prodigious powers of Talmudic analysis.
R. Chaim plunged into his Torah studies, spending many years in the famous Torah centers of Poland and Lithuania. Indeed, when the young R. Chaim applied to the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva, he was tested by its Rosh Yeshiva of Daf Yomi fame, R. Meir Shapiro. The latter was astounded by R. Chaim's vast proficiency in all aspects of Torah, knowing the entire Talmud by heart.
The world-renowned R.Chaim Ozer Grodzinski was very fond of him and gave his sefer on Tractate Zevachim a warm recommendation (unfortunately the manuscript was lost during the World War II).
R. Kreiswirth was fortunate to meet and speak in learning with many other Torah luminaries, among them R.Shimon Shkop, the Rogatchover Gaon, R. Elchonon Wasserman, the Imrei Emes of Gur, R. Menachem Zemba and R.Aharon Rokeach of Belz. He received Semicha from the Marcheset, R. Chanoch Henich Eigess.
With the 1939 German invasion of Poland, R. Chaim was forced to flee. Miraculously, he was saved from a German soldier's bullet when the soldier told him to run off as he shot into the air. He attributed this extraordinary occurrence to the merit of attending to a blind scholar.
Reaching Lithuania, he married the daughter of the Slabodka Mashgiach, R. Avrohom Grodzinski. The couple fled via Vilna to Palestine, where he settled into the yeshiva world and became friendly with many famous personalities, including the Brisker Rav, the Chazon Ish, the Steipler, R.Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and R.Yosef Sholom Eliashiv.
At the end of World War II, R. Kreiswirth returned to Poland at great personal risk in an attempt to rescue Jewish children who had been sheltered by the Catholic Church for the war's duration, but over whom the church wanted to retain custody.
In 1947, R. Kreiswirth moved to the United States to serve as Rosh Yeshiva in Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, where he quickly established a rapport with his students, many of whom would rise to prominence in the burgeoning Orthodox community.
In 1953 he returned to rebuild the struggling community in Antwerp, despite concerns that his exceptional talents could be better used on the American continent instead of an insignificant post-holocaust European Kehilla. Among those who at first agonized over this apparent waste were the Chazon Ish, and the AmshinoverRebbe.
With vision, determination and inexhaustible energy, R.Kreiswirth devoted the rest of his life to the Belgian community and became the driving force and inspiration behind its growth. He served as Av Beth Din and Posek in Antwerp and was active in Agudath Israel, revered and consulted by thousands.
R. Chaim Kreiswirth died on Sunday 30 December 2001 (16 Tevet 5762 on the Hebrew calendar) shortly before midnight, aged 82, after suffering from an illness.
Continental European Jewry were especially rocked by the death of their foremost scholar and leader, with thousands coming from all over Europe to participate in the funeral of the man who had served as Rabbi of the distinguished Antwerp community for almost fifty years.