The International School for Holocaust Studies
The Shofar from Skarzysko-Kamienna
Yad Vashem Collection, Jerusalem, Israel.
Donation, Moshe (Waintreter) Ben-Dov z”l, Bnei Brak, Israel
By Sheryl Silver Ochayon
The shofar shown here brought together the community of Jews in the brutal forced labor camp of Skarzysko-Kamienna four years into the massive oppression, destruction and fear that characterized World War II. It was the product of one man’s dream, and of another man’s hands. Both men were inmates in the camp who took a great risk to fulfill the commandment of blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana 5704 (1943).
The Skarzysko-Kamienna camp, which belonged to the German Hasag concern, was established in August 1942 in the Polish town of the same name, and was liquidated on August 1, 1944. Altogether, 25,000-30,000 Jews were brought to Skarzysko-Kamienna, and between 18,000-23,000 perished there. All of the factories located in the camp had two 12-hour shifts. Men and women, working together, were obliged to fill quotas they could not possibly fill. The sanitary conditions were unspeakable, and there was not nearly enough food. Prisoners were left to wear the same clothes for weeks. There were also terrible epidemics in the camps. Every once in a while there were selections---those prisoners chosen to die were killed by factory police. Right before Skarzysko-Kamienna was to be destroyed in the summer of 1944, the SS forced Jewish inmates to dig up the bodies of those victims and cremate them, in order to conceal evidence of mass murder. In late July many prisoners were massacred, and the 6,000 who remained were sent to Buchenwald and other German camps.
The idea of making a shofar was initiated by the Radoszyce Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak Finkler, who was incarcerated in the camp. He yearned to fulfill the commandment of blowing the shofar at the Jewish New Year. Finding the horn of a ram, as required by Jewish law for the making of a shofar, was far from a simple task. A Polish guard was bribed and brought a horn to the camp but it turned out to be the horn of an ox. Only in exchange for a further bribe did he bring a ram’s horn. The Rabbi approached Moshe (Ben-Dov) Waintreter, whom he knew from Piotrkow, Poland, and asked him to make the shofar. Waintreter worked in the metal workshop of the armaments factory at the camp. He did not at first agree. Preparing an item which was not an armament in the metal workshop, or even carrying something from the workshop to the barracks, carried with it a penalty of immediate death.
In spite of the danger, Moshe Waintreter ultimately carried out the task, and on the eve of the holiday brought the shofar to the Rabbi. Word spread and on the holiday eve the inmates gathered for prayers and to hear the sounds of the shofar.
Moshe Waintreter kept the shofar with him throughout his incarceration in Skarzysko-Kamienna and managed to keep it with him even when he was transferred to the camp at Czestochowa. When he was transferred from there to Buchenwald, the shofar remained in Czestochowa until the camp was liberated. At that time, the shofar was passed on to the local Jewish community and later taken to the United States. Moshe Waintreter immigrated to Israel after the war. In 1977 he assisted in the transfer of the shofar to Yad Vashem for safe-keeping.