Marking the New Year

From Our Collections

A Shofar Blast in the Ghetto

Avraham Hellmann’s Shofar that was used on the High Holy Days in Theresienstadt
The Hellmann family, Brno, Czechoslovakia, 1939. From left to right: Avraham, Lilly, Max, Edith, Charlotte

Avraham-Adolf and Charlotte Hellman were deported on December 2nd, 1941, along with their daughter Lilly to Theresienstadt. Their eldest son and younger daughter had managed to leave and settle in Eretz Israel.

In Theresienstadt an internal Jewish administration managed to maintain order despite the tight supervision of the Nazis. The Nazi propaganda machine exploited the well-run functioning of the ghetto in order to cynically present it as a model resettlement of Jews, thus using it as part of the camouflage for the Nazis' mass murder policy.

From his arrival at Theresienstadt, Avraham Hellmann became involved in community affairs, as he had done before the war. He served as a cantor for services held in the Sudetenkaserne Synagogue and the Shofar that he brought with him served those who prayed there.

In Charlotte Hellman’s testimony there is a moving account of the Kol Nidre prayers that Avraham Hellmann led on the eve of Yom Kippur 1944 as he stood with two thousand other men on the ramp waiting for the transport that was to take them to Auschwitz – for most it was to be their final journey. Not only Avraham Hellmann was among the deportees, but also the cantor Asher Berlinger.

“It was Kol Nidre eve. My husband said: “It's time to pray”. He placed two suitcases one on top of the other and covered them with a Tallit; He stood with Levin and his son from Komotau in Bohemia and the three put their prayer shawls over their heads and when my husband began to pray out loud, a bitter cry rose from the throats of all the men and women. One who was not there cannot even imagine it. It is necessary to understand that most of the Czech Jews were not religious… So things continued until the next day - Yom Kippur… for two days with no sleep. People sat on their cases. During Yom Kippur whoever wanted joined the prayers. My husband chanted the “U’Netane Tokef” and an old man, apparently a Rabbi from Slovakia, removed his shoes and recited in a fearful cry - Vidui (confession)...
The women returned to their rooms but we couldn’t sleep. We waited for the sound of the train’s departure. At 6 a.m. we heard the train’s whistle."

On 28 September 1944, Avraham Hellmann was deported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz, where he was murdered. After his deportation Charlotte kept his belongings, among them the Shofar that he had brought with him to Theresienstadt and that had served the community of Jews in the ghetto.

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