NEW YORK - Three sifrei Torah held in a Russian library since the end of World War II were the centerpiece of a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht at Manhattan’s Congregation Ohab Zedek.
Their release is the work of Sibyl Silver, president of the Jewish Heritage Foundation, who has been working with authorities in Russia to have these and many other Torah scrolls released.
“These Torahs are being used to promote Holocaust education and strengthen Jewish communities,” she told Hamodia.
The sifrei Torah are part of a group of 118 such Torah scrolls that were captured by Soviet troops in Budapest in 1944. They had been placed on a Nazi train headed for Berlin together with other valuable items. Since then they have been kept in a library in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod. They were not displayed, but were piled in cardboard boxes in a storage area.
Mrs. Silver first heard of the sifrei Torah while vacationing in Budapest in 2011 and decided to take on the project. She enlisted the help of several European Rabbanim, particularly Rabbi Berel Lazar and Rabbi Shimon Bergman of Nizhny Novgorod, to navigate diplomatic channels. Ten Torah scrolls were turned over this past summer; they remain in Russia. These additional three were released only recently.
“They are in great condition and we think they can all be restored and can be used,” said Mrs. Silver.
This past Sunday, the three sifrei Torah served as the emotional focus of Ohab Zedek’s Kristallnacht commemoration.
“The last time these were used was before the Shoah, and now they will be used again,” Rabbi Allen Schwartz, the shul’s Rabbi, told his congregation and a large crowd of guests. “The return of the Torahs is only part of the story. The real story is the return of those who are upholding the Torah.”
Harry Ettinger, the last surviving member of the “Monument Men,” a special unit dedicated to retrieving valuable art and ritual items in the wake of World War II, was honored with placing the Torah scrolls in the aron kodesh.
Mrs. Silver is continuing her campaign to secure the release of the remaining 105 Torah scrolls, which she hopes will all be restored and made kosher for use once again.
“It was beautiful,” she said, regarding the ceremony. “We hope that in due time we will get everything out.”