Hidden Bunker Discovered in Warsaw Ghetto; Pairs of Tefillin Found

The pairs of tefillin found in the bunker in the Warsaw ghetto. (Shem Olam Faith and the Holocaust Institute)

A bunker containing 100-year-old tefillin hidden from the Nazis in Holocaust has been discovered in the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto, the Shem Olam Institute reported.

In recent years, Polish authorities have begun to demolish buildings inside the Warsaw ghetto to turn them into residential buildings in a process of urban renewal. Following one building’s demolition, construction workers discovered an entrance to a bunker dug in preparation for the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising. One of the Polish construction workers on the site who entered the bunker to clear it out discovered 10 pairs of tefillin that had been hidden behind books and other items.

Hearing of the sensational discovery from their local contacts, European emissaries of the Shem Olam Faith and the Holocaust Institute for Education, Documentation, and Research secretly contacted the construction workers. Following lengthy negotiations and a commitment to keep the transaction secret from Polish authorities, the tefillin were handed over to the emissaries. They recently arrived in Israel, where they were transferred to the institute for disinfection and conservation.

Shem Olam announced it had the tefillin in an announcement ahead of a conference it is set to hold to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, later this week. The virtual conference, which will be open to the public, will include panels on the memory of the Holocaust from an international perspective and will be attended by politicians, spiritual leaders and historians from around the world.

According to Shem Olam Director Rabbi Avraham Krieger, “The discovery of 10 pairs of tefillin in one place testifies to the Jewish lifestyle they maintained in the ghetto. Despite the horrors and the cruel reality in which they lived, they continued to observe the customs and tradition they grew up with.”

He noted that “the amount of tefillin points to the underground minyanim they succeeded in holding inside the bunker, underground and under the Nazis’ noses. The tefillin were hidden alongside weapons and hunting tools that served the Warsaw ghetto rebels, which testifies to their importance in the eyes of the Jews.”

Many other bunkers were also used by Chassidic bachurim in the Warsaw ghetto, where they gathered together in spite of the Nazis, to daven and to learn.