Judaism revolves around the observance and celebration of life cycle events and holidays. During the course of the calendar year, Jews observe special days with the purpose of connecting to their cherished heritage. Throughout history, however, surges in antisemitism sometimes forced Jews to mark these occasions at great sacrifice and danger to themselves and their communities. Nevertheless, they often risked their lives in order to maintain their Jewish culture they cherished so dearly.
The Jewish New Year is a period rich in tradition as well as personal introspection. Regardless of religious observance, this period constitutes much of the essence of Jewish culture.
In 1943, Moshe (Ben-Dov) Winterter, from the Polish city of Piotrkow, was an inmate in the German Nazi forced labor camp Skarzysko-Kamienna. There he worked in a metal workshop of a local armaments factory. In anticipation for Rosh Hashanah, he crafted a shofar from a ram's horn in order to usher in the Jewish New Year.
The idea of making a shofar was initiated by the Radoszyce Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak Finkler, who was also incarcerated in the camp. He yearned to fulfill the commandment of blowing the shofar for the 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 Winterter, whom he knew from Piotrkow, and asked him to make the shofar. At first, Winterter refused. Preparing an item that was not an armament in the metal workshop, or even carrying something considered contraband from the workshop to the barracks, carried with it a penalty of immediate death.
In spite of the danger, Winterter soon came around to 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 Winterter kept the shofar with him throughout his incarceration until he was transferred to the labor camp at Czestochowa. When he was taken 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. Winterter immigrated to Israel after the war. In 1977, he assisted in its transfer to Yad Vashem for eternal safekeeping.
Moshe Winterter's shofar is housed at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, alongside tens of thousands of other personal wartime artifacts and the stories behind them. The shofar is now part of a special online exhibition of some of these precious items, which offer a glimpse into some of the ways that Jews marked the New Year before, during and immediately after the Holocaust.