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A Hidden Torah Scroll Donated to Yad Vashem's Synagogue Serves as an Everlasting Witness to the Holocaust and the Destruction of Europe's Jewish Communities

First time: Israel's Chief Rabbinate Council to convene at Yad Vashem

21 December 2023

A surviving Torah scroll from before the Holocaust, concealed within the walls of a former synagogue in Wałbrzych that was destroyed during the riots of the November Pogrom of 1938, "Kristallnacht", finds its eternal home at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. The inauguration of the Torah scroll, " Hachnasat Sefer Torah" took place today during a special Meeting of Israel's Chief Rabbinate Council. Both events coincided with the "General Kaddish Day" (Yom Hakaddish Ha'Klalli) observed annually on the Tenth of Tevet.

This cherished Torah Scroll will take its place in the Holy Ark of the Yad Vashem Synagogue, serving as an enduring symbol of memory and faith. It will be available for use in ceremonial and prayer services throughout the year.

The historic event occurred in the presence of respected community leaders including Israel's chief rabbis, Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, as well as former Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan. The Torah was donated by the family of Holocaust survivor Haim Tuvia Gerbowitz, z"l. Mr. Gerbowitz discovered the Torah Scroll together with his sons Mordechai and Moshe, in the attic of a synagogue in the Polish town Wałbrzych after the Holocaust and brought it to Israel when the Gerbowitz made Aliyah in 1956. His daughter Hinda-Rachel, together with the other members of the Gerbowitz family also attended the event at Yad Vashem.

Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan expressed his gratitude, saying,

"We thank the members of the Gerbowitz family for donating the Torah Scroll to Yad Vashem. Here, amidst the other religious artifacts on display, remnants of the once thriving European Jewish communities, the Gerbowitz Torah Scroll will serve as an everlasting witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust for future generations. It will be read from during special religious services throughout the year. Every item entrusted to Yad Vashem tells not only the personal story of an individual, a family, and a community but also completes another piece in the extensive puzzle of the history of the fate of the Jewish people during the Holocaust."

About the Gerbowitz Family and the Torah Scroll

Haim Tuvia Gerbowitz was born in Kolno, Poland. Surviving the Russian invasion of his town, he was conscripted into forced labor in Siberia. He was the sole survivor of his immediate family. After the war, upon returning to his hometown, he discovered the community's destruction and the tragic fate of his family. He also found that his family's home was occupied by a Polish family, and fearing for his safety, he fled the town.

During Haim Tuvia's journey, he met a fellow survivor, Wolfe Steinwortzel. Haim Tuvia was introduced to Wolfe's daughter, Shprinza (Shifra), whom he married shortly thereafter. The couple had three children: Mordechai, Moshe, and Hinda-Rachel. In 1947, the family moved to Wałbrzych, a town located in the southwestern area of Poland that was in fact part of Germany before World War II and called Waldenburg. After the Holocaust, one of the synagogues in Wałbrzych that was destroyed by the Germans during the infamous riots of the November Pogrom in 1938 was partially renovated and served as a Jewish community center. The surviving Jews used this renovated synagogue for regular prayer services. While playing in the attic of the synagogue, Gerbowitz's sons, Mordechai and Moshe, stumbled upon a hidden cache of a Torah scroll, prayer books, prayer shawls (tallit), phylacteries (tefillin), and other religious items that were hidden in a niche behind the wall. Recognizing the importance of this discovery, Haim Tuvia set out to bring the Torah scroll to Eretz Israel.

However, it wasn't until 1956 that the Gerbowitz family was able to leave Poland and immigrate to Israel, bringing the surviving Torah scroll with them. In Israel, Haim Tuvia had two ornate Torah covers made, one for year-round use and another for the high holidays. He had the names of their murdered family members embroidered on the scroll covers.

Rachel Hasidov, Haim Tuvia's daughter, reflects on the significance of this event: "The Torah scroll accompanied my father in every synagogue where he used to pray. Today, we fulfill my father's and brothers' dream to have this Torah scroll, embodying the pain and suffering of our people, serve as an eternal witness to the Holocaust. As we place the Torah scroll in the Holy Ark in Yad Vashem's synagogue, I will be remembering my father's suffering and the tragic fate of my grandparents and family, whose memory will now live on in the hearts and minds of all who use this Torah scroll at Yad Vashem."

About the General Kaddish Day

In Israel, the Tenth of Tevet is also observed as a Yahrzeit, a memorial day, for the six million Jewish men, women, and children who perished in the Holocaust. On this day, the Kaddish (Prayer for the Departed) is recited for those whose date and place of death during the Holocaust is unknown.