A Torah scroll hidden in the attic of a synagogue in Poland that was ransacked on Kristallnacht was placed in the Holy Ark at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust remembrance center on Thursday.
The event was part of the General Kaddish Day, held by the Council of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel on the 10th of Tevet, during which the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust without a clear date of death is honored by reciting the Jewish prayer of the dead.
Israel’s Chief Rabbis, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Rabbi David Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan and the family of Holocaust survivor Haim Tuvia Gerbowitz, who had brought the Torah scroll to Israel, attended the event.
During the ceremony, a special prayer was recited for the safe return of hostages and the well-being of IDF soldiers fighting in the Gaza war.
“We thank the Gerbowitz family for donating the Torah scroll to Yad Vashem’s synagogue, where it will be preserved for future generations and serve congregants,” said Dayan. “Every item entrusted to us not only tells the personal story of the donor, their family, or community but also completes another piece in the vast puzzle of the history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust.”
Gerbowitz was born in the town of Kolno, Poland. After the Russian invasion of the town, he was taken along with other youths from the town for forced labor in Siberia, which is how he was the only one from his family to have survived.
At the end of the war, he was released, and on his way back to his town in Poland he heard about the tragedy that had occurred and the dire fate of his parents and eight sisters. When he arrived, he discovered that his family home had been taken over by Poles, and an acquaintance warned him it would be best for him to leave so as not to be murdered.
Mordechai and Rachel Hasidov, the children of Haim Tuvia Gerbowitz, with the Torah scroll. Courtesy of Mordechai and Rachel Hasidov.
Gerbowitz left the town and wandered in search of other Jews and a livelihood. In a small village where he settled, he met Shprinza (Shifra) Steinwortzel, and they married. The couple had three children: Mordechai, Moshe, and Hinda-Rachel. At this point, the couple wanted to immigrate to Israel but were denied approval by Communist-ruled Poland.
In 1947, the family moved to the city of Wałbrzych in Poland, which before the war was part of Germany. After the renovation of a synagogue in the city, which had been ransacked by Nazis on Kristallnacht, the few remaining Jews returned to pray there, including Gerbowitz and his sons.
One day, while the children were playing in the attic, Gerbowitz ‘s son Mordechai noticed a niche in the wall. Out of curiosity he crawled inside and found a Torah scroll, prayer books, prayer shawls, and phylacteries (tefillin).
He called his brother Moshe and they immediately ran to their father and told him what they found. Gerbowitz went up to the attic and was stunned. He took off his prayer shawl, wrapped the Torah scroll and swore on that day to bring the Torah scroll to Israel.
In 1956 the family was allowed to leave Poland and immigrate to Israel, bringing the Torah scroll with them. In Israel, Gerbowitz ordered Torah mantles and on them were embroidered the names of his murdered family members—his sisters and parents.
“The Torah scroll accompanied my father in every synagogue he attended,” related Rachel Hasidov, Gerbowitz ‘s daughter. “For us today, this means closure—that same Torah scroll that my brothers found in a synagogue in Poland, which itself survived the Holocaust, is being placed in the Holy Ark in Yad Vashem’s synagogue.
“After my father passed away and before my brother passed away, we decided Yad Vashem was the right place for the Torah scroll, where it will serve the public and also preserve my father’s story and the memory of his family who was murdered in the Holocaust,” said Hasidov.
Originally published by Israel Hayom.