Shofar, Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah in Auschwitz
In the year 1944 a group of ragged Jewish prisoners gathered for yet another very tiring work assignment in concentration camp Auschwitz. Jews were starved, tortured and murdered everywhere. The least expression of Jewish faith was strictly prohibited, reasons for execution by Nazi guards. But on that Rosh HaShanah, a group of courageous Jews managed to pray with a minjan. Miraculously, they were even capable of blowing a shofar and not being discovered.
Prof. Judy Tydor Schwartz, the director of Holocaust research at Bar Ilan University in Israel, is the daughter of the man who made this amazing achievement possible. In an exclusive interview with Aish.com, she described her remarkable father, Chaskel Tydor and his shofar: “He had done everything to save lives and help as many people as possible to preserve their minds and religious beliefs, and he sent friends mishloach manot (gifts of food) with Purim, which meant that he himself had no food.
He lit Hanukkah candles secretly. He taught Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) in secret in Buchenwald and later in Auschwitz. “Chaskel became block secretary and he arranged labor contracts for his fellow Jews. He used that position to help others by sending groups of prisoners to distant locations where they could pray together as a group. On Rosh HaShanah 1944 he planned for a group of more than ten Jewish prisoners to work in a remote location.
It was clear that they would pray at least part of the Rosh HaShanah service. When the men returned, they told Chaskel an amazing secret: one of them had succeeded in smuggling a shofar. The idea that Jews had succeeded in fulfilling the mitzvah of blowing a shofar, intended to awaken us from our spiritual sleep with its penetrating sound, seemed impossible.
Yet the men had done it, the Rosh HaShanah shofar in the shadow of the Auschwitz crematoria was heard. Prof. Tydor Schwartz speculates that the shofar was smuggled into the camp after mid-1944, when 440,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz. Their possessions were stored in a large area known as “Canada,” and some Jewish prisoners managed to smuggle objects from there to Auschwitz, including religious objects.
In her research, Prof. Tydor Schwartz has come across many other stories about Jews defying Nazi guards and performing Jewish mitzvot and prayers during the Holocaust. “Of course they would have been killed if they were caught,” she said. “Even standing for a moment to daven (pray) was dangerous.” In early 1945, when the Allied forces advanced, the Nazis began to blow up the Auschwitz extermination camp and satellite labor camps.
Chaskel Tydor and about 60,000 other Jewish prisoners were sent on a death march to another camp thirty kilometers away. The night before they left, a fellow prisoner approached him and handed him a bundle of dirty rags: the precious shofar who had sounded on Rosh HaSjanah. If Chaskel survived the death march, the man said, he should tell the world that Jews have blown the shofar in Auschwitz.
Chaskel survived the war and moved to the land of Israel, then under British rule. When his ship approached the coast of Haifa on Rosh HaShanah in 1945, Chase again blew the Auschwitz shofar in honor of the Jewish New Year in sight of the Israeli city of Haifa. His daughter hopes that his legacy and the story of the shofar will give people hope and bring the message that we must all look inside ourselves to find the inner strength to do good in this world, under all circumstances.