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Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust adds shofar to its Auschwitz  exhibit

Dr. Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz holds the shofar her father brought out of the Holocaust. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Jewish Heritage/John Halpern.

NEW YORK CITY– The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust recently added a shofar, a ram’s horn that was hidden and clandestinely used in the Auschwitz concentration camp to its exhibition Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away

The artifact was blown in Auschwitz 75 years ago and has never before been on display. It joins the more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs in the exhibition, which has been visited by more than 100,000 people since opening in early May and is on view until Jan. 3, 2020.

Chaskel Tydor, an Auschwitz and Buchenwald survivor, passed the shofar down to his daughter, Prof. 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.

A Shofar With A Story
“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  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,” 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).

Survivors’ Families Add To Exhibit
Baumel-Schwartz visited the exhibition 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 agreed that her family’s treasured shofar with its powerful story should be part of the exhibition.

“Since the exhibition opened, Holocaust survivors and their children have come forward with amazing Auschwitz-related artifacts and the stories that accompany them,” said van Pelt, “Their enthusiasm and willingness to share what have become treasured family heirlooms show that the exhibition is not only the result of decades of research, but also a catalyst for exciting new discoveries and insights, and an occasion to strengthen and enlarge the community of people dedicated to the future of Auschwitz as memory, as knowledge, and as lesson.”

“This shofar is a powerful example of spiritual resistance, defying the oppressor by insisting on preserving religious integrity,” said Dr. Michael Berenbaum, a scholar and part of the curatorial team. “By tradition, the shofar blasts are intended to storm the heavens and plead for mercy. The shofar is blown: one whole blast is followed by three shattered blasts, and then by nine, short staccato blasts. The final blast, the Tekiyah Gedolah, restores and expands the original shattered wholeness. One must imagine how the prisoners of Auschwitz felt on that most sacred of days, the New Year when life and death hang in the balance. Their world had begun in wholeness, but was shattered, utterly broken apart. If they survived—and that was a big if—they could only dream of wholeness, of restoration.”

Still Used
The museum has arranged for the shofar to be temporarily transported to two Upper East Side synagogues—Edmond J. Safra Synagogue (Congregation Beit Edmond) and Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun—during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to be sounded during religious services over the next few weeks.

Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away traces the development of Nazi ideology and tells the transformation of Auschwitz from an ordinary Polish town known as Oświęcim to the most significant Nazi site of the Holocaust—at which ca. 1 million Jews, and tens of thousands of others, were murdered. Victims included Polish political prisoners, Sinti and Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and those the Nazis deemed “homosexual,” “disabled,” “criminal,” “inferior,” or adversarial in countless other ways. The exhibition tells not only the story of their persecution and murder, but also the myriad ways ordinary people responded to the unfolding genocide, including inspiring stories of resistance, resilience, courage, and altruism. In addition, the exhibition contains artifacts that depict the world of the perpetrators—SS men who created and operated the largest of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camps.

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