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 sob-like 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.
Dr. Judith Tydor Schwartz, an expert on the Holocaust, says 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 Dr. Schwartz, 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 the 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. 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 say it is credible, and resembles other witness accounts of concentration camp shofars and is more detailed.