A ruined, hidden Torah scroll entrusted to Polish shepherds by their Orthodox Jewish neighbors before deportation to Treblinka has finally come home to Israel.
The severely damaged scroll was found by Polish students volunteering for Jewish organization From the Depths on its “Matzeva Project” which recovers Jewish gravestones that were repurposed during or after World War II.
The University of Warsaw students, Joanna Kopacka and Bartek Krzyżewski are coordinators of the Matzeva Project. As part of the team’s tactics, they go door-to-door asking residents if they have or know where there are gravestones in small Polish towns such as this northern village called Filipów.
There, an elderly couple in its late 70s was approached. The husband, Kazimierz Wróblewski, a retired shepherd, denied knowledge. But his wife suggested he show the students the Jewish item they did have.
Wróblewski lifted cushions from a couch and revealed a brown-paper wrapped Torah scroll that had been hidden there since 1939 when the Jewish population of approximately 280 was deported and murdered.
The next door neighbors of the Wróblewski family were religious Jews who before deportation had asked his father to keep the Torah scroll safe. The Jewish patriach was convinced of his safe return from the camps, Wróblewski told From the Depths head Jonny Daniels.
Wróblewski was ashamed of keeping the scroll and only allowed Daniels’ organization to enter and remove it under wraps, through the back door. His wife, upon learning it would be taken to Israel, said she strongly supports the country and asked the organization to send her earth from the Holy Land.
The scroll’s condition is dire: Half of the Torah was used by the family over the past 70 years as rags, including as insoles for shoes. In Israel, From the Depths hopes to have it restored, letter by letter, by Holocaust survivors.
After its repair, Daniels intends to donate the scroll to the Knesset in a gala ceremony attended by politicians and Holocaust survivors from throughout the world.
“The Torah is what binds us as a people, what connects us as Jews from one generation to the next. To find this Torah scroll, even in its current condition, was completely overwhelming. To carry on the final wishes of this Holy Jew murdered so brutally in the Shoah by making sure the scroll is brought back to its proper condition and used, is incredibly significant for me,” said Daniels.
“This is a clear symbol of triumph, showing again the victory of the Jewish spirit over those who try to exterminate us,’ he said.