Marking the New Year

From Our Collections

Prayers for the New Year

Prayers for the New Year in the Wolfsberg Forced Labor Camp

Prayers for the new year written in pencil on cement bags by Naftali Stern on the eve of the Jewish year 5705 – 1944 in the forced labor camp Wolfsberg in Germany.

Naftali Stern from Satu Mare, N. Transylvania, Rumania, was deported along with his family to Auschwitz where he was separated from his wife and four young children. His family was murdered and he was sent to the forced labor camp Wolfsberg. He wrote down the New Year prayers from memory with the stub of a pencil on pieces of a cement bag which he acquired in exchange for valuable bread rations.

The Germans allowed the inmates of the camp to gather together and hold prayers for the New Year. Stern, who by virtue of his sweet voice had been a cantor in Satu Mare, led the prayers which survivors remember as a special event in the life of the camp.

Naftali Stern hid the pages on his body until his liberation in 1945 and continued to pray from them each New Year. After the war he established a new family and immigrated to Israel.

Forty years after his liberation, when Stern saw that the paper the prayers was written on was beginning to disintegrate, he donated them for safekeeping to Yad Vashem where they underwent restoration.

The pages and their story are presented in a book which was published by Yad Vashem in 2000. The book also includes articles concerning the Wolfsberg forced labor camp and articles on questions of faith in the Holocaust, as well as artistic expressions of prayer created by artists in the camps.

Yad Vashem Archives Gift of Naftali Stern (z”l), Bnei Brak, Israel