With the onset of the Nazi occupation, humiliation and abuse of the Jews and their holy artifacts commenced. As the Nazis occupied each new territory, they began by destroying synagogues and desecrating holy books. Before long the degradation and destruction included locally instigated acts of wanton destruction and looting.
The local population realized that Torah scrolls provided raw material for making purses, wallets, musical instruments and other leather products, but these were not only local manifestations of spontaneous theft. The Nazis efficiently organized the “industrialization” of this practice, which included the transformation of Torah scrolls into other items. In the Yad Vashem Collection, there is a letter from the owner of a paper goods factory who offered Torah scroll parchments as raw material. He sent a small Torah scroll sample, and wrote the following to the manager of a purse and leather goods plant:
“A Nazi party office has given me a large quantity of parchment, instructing me to store it . . . This merchandise is genuine... Although it has writing on one side, we have experimented and determined that the writing can be washed off… If you are interested in purchasing this parchment, please let me know. I currently have about 600-700 kg in stock.”
Augsburg, Germany, August 13, 1940
Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection, Gift of Margaret Rosenthal, Elmhurst, N.Y., USA
The Yad Vashem Collection contains many artifacts that testify to the use made of desecrated Torah scrolls, including shoe soles, musical instruments, purses, wallets and paintings.