A Shofar Blown in Auschwitz
Above: Rabbi Eli Babich (Fifth Avenue Synagogue) blows the shofar in the Museum’s Garden of Stones before the shofar was placed on view in the exhibition.
On September 23, 2019, the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust today revealed a historic artifact—a shofar, a ram’s horn that is made into a special wind instrument used during Jewish High Holiday religious services and that was hidden and clandestinely used in the Auschwitz concentration camp—as part of its acclaimed exhibition Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. The exhibition is coproduced by the international exhibition firm Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland.
The artifact was blown in Auschwitz 75 years ago and has never before been on display anywhere. It joins the more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs in the groundbreaking exhibition, which has been visited by more than 100,000 people since opening in early May and is on view until August 30, 2020.
The shofar, a Jewish ritual object made out of a ram’s horn, is an integral part of the Jewish High Holidays, sounded on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and at the final moment of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Until now, this artifact has only been used privately.
Chaskel Tydor, an Auschwitz and Buchenwald survivor, passed the shofar down to his daughter, Professor Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz. She is Director of The Arnold and Leona Finkler Institute of Holocaust Research and Professor in the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry at Bar-Ilan University, Israel.
“My modest five-foot-two father was a giant of a man who, because of his position as work dispatcher, managed to save hundreds of lives, and possibly more, in Auschwitz III-Monowitz during his years in Nazi camps,” said Prof. Baumel-Schwartz. “The shofar was a symbol of his powerful belief which he never lost throughout his years in Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and his spiritual resistance. He always looked forward, never backward. He helped, encouraged and supported everyone he could, giving them hope for the future.”
The shofar was ostensibly unavailable in any Nazi concentration camp, and possession of a religious artifact could be punished by death. That did not deter a group of observant Jews in the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp from trying to obtain one to use during High Holiday prayer services. Tydor was one of the prisoners responsible for organizing the camp’s work details; and during Rosh Hashanah, he arranged for many of his comrades to be transferred to a work detail that was far removed from the center of the camp, where the sound of the shofar could be heard without attracting undue attention. He could not attend the clandestine service they were planning as he had to remain at his position or risk arousing suspicion.
He later told his daughter, “When I approached the Jewish prisoner who was supposed to have the shofar, he denied it. He was probably afraid to tell anyone as having it in his possession meant death.”
Tydor only saw the shofar four months later, in late January 1945, as he and thousands of other prisoners were forced by the SS guards to set out from Auschwitz on the infamous Death March. An emaciated prisoner approached him, handed him an object wrapped in a rag, and said, “Take it… I’m too sick to survive. Maybe you will make it. Take the shofar. Show them that we had a shofar in Auschwitz,” Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz recalled her father saying.
Tydor survived the Death March through the snow to the town of Gleiwitz, which contained sub-camps of Auschwitz. From there, the shofar accompanied him to Buchenwald. Realizing that they were losing the war, the Nazi administrators of the camp became more lax, leaving much of the inner organization to the prisoners. Consequently, it was possible for Tydor to hide the shofar in the small rag bag he carried, with his tin cup and spoon. It remained with him until he was liberated on April 11, 1945 by the U.S. Army.
After liberation, Tydor was able to forge a new life. On Rosh Hashanah 1945, he was on a boat to Palestine. In view of the Carmel mountain range, Tydor blew the shofar for a group of young survivors—many, like him, from Auschwitz. They were about to reach the Promised Land.
Chaskel Tydor passed away in 1993. He is survived by three children, nine grandchildren, numerous great-grandchildren, and a great-great- grandson (named after him).
The shofar has remained with the family since the Holocaust and has never been displayed in a museum or institution. Prof. Baumel-Schwartz visited the Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage this past spring, and she mentioned having a shofar from Auschwitz to the exhibition’s chief curator, Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt. He asked if she would be willing to have it exhibited in the Auschwitz exhibition on long-term loan. She immediately agreed that her family’s treasured shofar with its powerful story should be part of the exhibition.
Above: Cantor Joseph Malovany (Fifth Avenue Syngagogue) recites El Maleh Rachamim in Garden of Stones. (Read a translation of El Maleh Rachamim.)