Sho­far, im­prob­a­ble relic of Auschwitz, is a sym­bol of strength

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News | Tributes | Services | Announceme­nts - BY RALPH BLUMENTHAL

For years there have been frag­men­tary re­ports of al­most un­be­liev­able acts of faith at the Nazi death camps dur­ing World War II: the sound­ing of sho­fars, the ram’s horn trum­pets tra­di­tion­ally blown by Jews to welcome the High Holy Days.

These sto­ries of the per­sis­tence of hope even in mankind’s dark­est mo­ments have been passed down de­spite lim­ited ev­i­dence and eye­wit­ness de­tail.

But could camp pris­on­ers have found ways to sound these horns, pierc­ing the heav­ens with sob­like wails and stac­cato blasts, with­out putting them­selves in im­me­di­ate mor­tal dan­ger?

Now a new ac­count that ad­dresses that ques­tion, and is em­braced by sev­eral his­to­ri­ans as re­li­able, has emerged from the daugh­ter of an Auschwitz sur­vivor, along with one of the se­creted sho­fars it­self.

Ju­dith Ty­dor BaumelSchw­artz, an expert on the Holo­caust, said her fa­ther, Chaskel Ty­dor, a long­time pris­oner en­trusted as work dis­patcher at one of the more than 40 Auschwitz sub­camps, con­trived on Rosh Hashana 1944 to send fel­low pris­on­ers on a dis­tant de­tail where they might safely, and pri­vately, pray.

He did not know that they car­ried some­thing with them. But when they re­turned, she said, one con­fided to her fa­ther that a sho­far had been pro­duced and blown.

What is more, ac­cord­ing to the ac­count of BaumelSchw­artz, who di­rects Holo­caust re­search at Bar-Ilan Uni­ver­sity in Ra­mat Gan, Is­rael, her fa­ther was given the sho­far for safe­keep­ing in 1945 by a fel­low pris­oner as the Nazis emp­tied the camp and fled ad­vanc­ing Rus­sians.

On Mon­day, a week be­fore Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year 5780 and 75 Rosh Hashanas since that clan­des­tine act of faith, that cer­e­mo­nial ram’s horn, about 10 inches long with a right-an­gled curve like a smok­ing pipe, will be in­stalled at the Mu­seum of Jewish Her­itage near Bat­tery Park in Man­hat­tan, New York. It is part of “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away,” a trav­el­ing ex­hi­bi­tion from Poland.

While it may never be pos­si­ble to fully cor­rob­o­rate the story of the mu­seum’s sho­far, Holo­caust his­to­ri­ans said it is cred­i­ble, and re­sem­bles other wit­ness ac­counts of con­cen­tra­tion camp sho­fars and is more de­tailed.

Baumel-Schwartz said she was loan­ing the sho­far as ad­di­tional ev­i­dence of the lengths to which im­pris­oned Jews went to prac­tice their re­li­gion in the face of their Ger­man tor­men­tors.

Their ef­forts in­cluded the mouthing of bless­ings dur­ing beat­ings and the trad­ing away of bread ra­tions dur­ing Passover when leav­ened prod­ucts are for­bid­den. Aban­doned oil drums at Auschwitz, the com­plex of ex­ter­mi­na­tion and forced la­bor camps in Ger­man-oc­cu­pied Poland where about 1.1 mil­lion vic­tims per­ished, were used in place of tra­di­tional huts for con­tem­pla­tion dur­ing the har­vest fes­ti­val of Sukkot. Rab­bis in the camp de­creed that even one minute spent inside was a suf­fi­cient mitz­vah, or good deed.

And then there were sho­fars whose bleats are meant to var­i­ously evoke Abra­ham’s sac­ri­fice of a ram in place of his son Isaac, the sum­mon­ing of the Is­raelites to Si­nai for Moses’ giv­ing of the law, and the most fer­vent ex­pres­sion of Jewish hope – “next year in Jerusalem.”

An in­stal­la­tion opened last sum­mer, “Through the Lens of Faith,” at the Auschwitz-Birke­nau State Mu­seum in Oswiecim, Poland, cites a 14-year-old pris­oner, Wolf Green­baum, who saw a rabbi vis­it­ing a doomed bar­rack at Birke­nau on Rosh Hashana 1944 and blow­ing a smug­gled sho­far there.

Yad Vashem in Jerusalem dis­plays a sho­far fab­ri­cated in 1943 in the Nazi la­bor camp of Skarzysko-Kami­enna. In Auschwitz, said Robert Jan van Pelt, a Holo­caust scholar and chief cu­ra­tor of the Mu­seum of Jewish Her­itage’s ex­hi­bi­tion, “We know from a num­ber of eye­wit­ness tes­ti­monies that sho­fars were blown.”


Ju­dith Ty­dor Baumel-Schwartz holds her fa­ther’s sho­far, or cer­e­mo­nial ram’s horn.

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