Marking the New Year

From Our Collections

A Calendar for the Jewish Year 5704 (1943-44) from the Theresienstadt Ghetto

A calendar for the Jewish Year 5704 (1943-44) that was made and reproduced by Asher Berlinger in Theresienstadt
The inside back cover of the calendar with Avraham Hellmann’s signature and the watercolor drawing of a synagogue interior in Theresienstadt
A calendar for the Jewish Year 5704 (1943-44) that was made and reproduced by Asher Berlinger in Theresienstadt
A page from the calendar with an illustration of a cantor praying from a lectern signed by Berlinger

In Yad Vashem’s early years, a copy of a Jewish calendar for 5704 (1943-44) from Theresienstadt was received into the collection. The pocket-sized calendar was created using a blueprint technique that enabled copies to be made. Written in German and Hebrew, the calendar includes the times of the onset of the Sabbath and the holidays, and the calculated times of sunrise and sunset throughout the year. The creation of such an item is a complicated enterprise that requires extensive knowledge, so it is reasonable to assume that a number of individuals cooperated in its creation.

The cover includes a depiction of the astrological signs of the months of the Jewish calendar, each entitled with its Hebrew name. The back cover of the calendar depicts the interior of a synagogue. On the back cover of the calendar there is also a handwritten signature in Hebrew: “Avraham Hellmann, Theresienstadt”. Inside the calendar are a number of illustrations, including one of a man (perhaps a cantor) praying at a lectern inside a synagogue whose walls and ceiling are decorated. In the corner of the illustration is the artist’s signature: “A. Berlinger”.

Asher Berlinger is familiar to us from drawings he drew in Theresienstadt, one of which is preserved in the Yad Vashem Art Collection.

Before the war, Asher Berlinger was active in the Jewish community of Schweinfurt, Germany both as a cantor and as a teacher of art and music. He was also a craftsman of Judaica. Asher and his wife Bertha did not survive the Holocaust but their daughters, Senta and Rosalie, whom they had managed to send to England on the Kindertransport before the outbreak of war, survived.

From a comparison of Berlinger’s drawings with photographs taken of the interior of a synagogue discovered in recent years on the grounds of Theresienstadt inside a private home, it is clear that this synagogue was Berlinger’s model.

This is apparent not only from the star-painted ceiling, but in particular, from the lit candles that are painted onto the spans of the arched ceiling visible in the drawing of the cantor praying at the lectern. (See accompanying illustrations). Still visible on the walls of the former synagogue are remnants of Hebrew phrases. It is quite possible that they too were painted on the walls by Berlinger. The passages chosen tell us much about the pervading mood of the worshippers. In addition to passages commonly found in synagogue decorations, the walls of “The Hidden Synagogue” in Theresienstadt are unique in their inclusion of passages from the Tachanun, an ancient part of the morning prayer liturgy that is chillingly appropriate in light of the Jews' reality during the Holocaust:

“God, relent from the evil meant for your people… Look from Heaven and perceive that we have become an object of scorn and derision among the nations; we are regarded as sheep to slaughter, to be killed, destroyed, beaten and humiliated. But despite all this we have not forgotten Your Name – we beg you not to forget us."

On 28 September 1944, Asher Berlinger was deported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz, where he was murdered. His wife Bertha Berlinger née Braunold was deported to Auschwitz a week later on 6 October 1944. She too was murdered in Auschwitz.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that Theresienstadt was only a way-station on the path to annihilation. It remains for us to be impressed by the steadfast faith of those who, even in the face of the pitiful reality of the ghetto, tried at all costs to preserve the structures of religious life – to prepare calendars that enabled them to observe the holidays at their appointed times and to set aside places for prayer, using art to express their innermost feelings.

Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection
Gift of Charlotte Hellmann-Lederer, Tel Aviv