Ancient Torah Scroll Found Hidden in Poland Restored by Holocaust Survivors in New York
Politicians and Jewish leaders gathered in New York on Wednesday to commemorate the restoration of a recently rediscovered Torah scroll that was hidden for more than 70 years by a family in northern Poland.
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council Jewish Caucus and Jewish community leaders were joined by nearly 100 Holocaust survivors to fill in outlined letters in the restored Torah scroll.
The event was part of a worldwide effort to have Holocaust survivors complete the Torah’s lettering.
The ceremony also celebrated the launch of the City Council’s new $1.5 million Survivor Initiative, to support the 30,000 Holocaust survivors living at or below the poverty line in New York City.
The Torah scroll was rediscovered in September 2014 by Polish students volunteering for From the Depths, a non-profit organization dedicated to Holocaust commemoration. The University of Warsaw students were participating in the organization’s “Matzeva Project” — focused on recovering Jewish gravestones that had been re-purposed during or after World War II — when they encountered a non-Jewish couple in the village of Filipów, who revealed they had been hiding a Torah scroll in their home for more than 70 years.
The volunteers contacted From the Depths founder and chairman Jonny Daniels, who then traveled to meet the family. Kazimierz Wróblewski, a retired shepherd, brought Daniels into his home and lifted cushions from his couch to reveal the Torah scroll, wrapped in brown paper.
He then recounted the tale of how he had come to be in possession of the scroll: When the Jews of Filipów were being rounded up by the Nazis for deportation to the Treblinka death camp in 1939, the village’s rabbi ran to his neighbor, Wróblewski‘s father. Wróblewski remembers the rabbi giving his father the Torah scroll and asking him, “Please hide this for me. I’ll be back. If not, give it to a Jew who will know what to do with it.”
The rabbi was murdered in Treblinka, along with the rest of the Jewish community of Filipów, and the Torah scroll was left lying under the sofa in Wróblewski’s home for the next seven decades.
Daniels told The Algemeiner that after he came into Wróblewski’s home, the shepherd turned to him “with tears in his eyes” and said, “You’re the Jew they were talking about. You’re the Jew the rabbi was referring to.”
“I felt a responsibility to bring the Torah back to life,” Daniels said.
The family hadn’t revealed to anyone that they had hidden the Torah scroll, and Daniels said they are still anxious about their neighbors finding out. “Even when I came to their home, I came and left through the back entrance,” Daniels told The Algemeiner.
“They wanted no reward or honor,” Daniels said. “He [Wróblewski] simply did this because he wanted to do the right thing.”
Daniels said the Torah scroll was recovered in extremely poor condition, having been cut up and used for various purposes over the years, when the family suffered financial hardship. Parts of the parchment were used as rags and insoles for shoes, according to Daniels. Only about 20 percent of the original scroll remained intact by the time it was discovered.
From the Depths is working with Rabbi Aaron Raskin, a scribe from Brooklyn, to restore the text, letter by letter, in honor of Holocaust survivors. Following an event hosted by the British government last spring, Wednesday’s ceremony in New York City was one of many stops the scroll will be making around the world, Daniels said.
“We want to get to every survivor possible to allow them to have an opportunity to write in this Torah,” he said. “And for that we need communities to come forward and help host events within their communities.”
He continued,”This [T orah scroll] is the last survivor of this village. The whole village was wiped out. The only memorial of survival is this Torah scroll, and being rewritten through survivors of the Holocaust, it will stand as a memorial for many generations to come.”
After the Torah’s text is fully restored, Daniels said it will be taken to Israel to become the official Torah of the Jewish state. It will be kept in the Knesset, but will travel around the country for people to read from. Daniels hopes Jews can use the iconic scroll to “educate their children about the important and crucial story connected to it.”