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oct

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Torah of the Holocaust

steven korda

 

It was 1977. We were recently married and decided to take a trip and visit Gerry’s Aunt Rozsi from her father’s side, living under Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, in the city of Kosice. A town with rich Jewish history and population before the war.

 

Aunt Rozsi lost her husband and two sons during the Holocaust. Remarried to another survivor who passed away after 15 years of marriage, she met Zoltan.  He was also a widower with a similar background having lost his wife and much of his family in the war.

 

Zoltan was a retired Supreme Court Justice in Kosice with impressive knowledge of the law, philosophy and history.  A true Renaissance man.  They were both very excited by our visit but Zoltan was particularly excited to meet his ‘new’ nephew and to be able to discuss international law (although we did have to whisper so that the neighbors would not hear).

 

We spent three wonderful days together constantly talking about wide ranging subjects as well as the past, present and his fears and aspirations of a bleak future behind the Iron Curtain.

 

On our last day, Zoltan took out a small Torah he was hiding in their apartment and relayed its sad story.

 

During the war Zoltan became a prisoner of war and worked in a forced labour camp with many other Jews. They were present when the Germans decided to burn down a synagogue. On an impulse, Zoltan ran into the burning structure and took a small Torah and hid it inside his coat; then ran out before the building collapsed.  He became inseparable from the Torah, he used it as a pillow and had it with him constantly.  Zoltan ended up on the front lines of the battlefield and as the bullets were flying between the German and Russian lines, he ran as fast as he could to the Russian side, with hailing bullets all around him, but constantly holding the Torah close to his chest.

 

While Zoltan originally wanted to save the Torah from destruction, he became convinced that, in fact, the Torah saved his life.

 

Then, on the last day of our visit, he asked us to take the Torah with us in order to rescue it from destruction upon his eventual passing.

 

Regardless of the fact that owning a Torah and taking it out of the country was illegal and against all regulations at that time behind the Iron Curtain, we decided to risk it.

 

We put the Torah on one side of our largest suitcase while filling it to its rim with clothing and photographs of our trip.  We were travelling from Czechoslovakia to Hungary in a rented car.

 

As we approached the border crossing with trepidation, the guard asked to see the luggage in the trunk.  Since I speak Hungarian, I was able to distract him with a lot of questions and nonsense talking about our travels.  The guard ignored me and stuck his hand in the middle of the clothing right to the bottom, somehow missing the Torah.  I took a deep breath and obliged him when he asked me to pack it up and move since I’m holding up the line.

 

Thus we managed to bring the Torah to Montreal.  Upon examination we were told that either serious repairs were required to make it Kosher or we must give it an appropriate burial.  It took over two years to make the Torah kosher and usable, as it was before the war.  It has been used by the Shaar Hashomayim ever since.

 

Three years ago in 2016 we were told that some of the letters were chipping and therefore we had to either bury it, put it in a museum or, alternatively, put it through extensive repairs of reconstruction.

 

We took the Torah to Israel in order to do everything possible to make the Torah Kosher once again. We found a wonderful scribe, Mr. Jamie Shear, an Ex-Montrealer living in Israel. He and his team undertook to reconstruct and repair our Torah.

 

Almost 3 years later, the Friday before the ninth of Av of this year, our son Justin and daughter-in-law Yael, along with their 3 children living in Israel, came to visit and brought the finished Torah with them.

 

Our daughter Andrea and our son-in-law Jonathan, and their daughter also came in from Edmonton in order for our family to be together.

 

On Tisha B’Av, the Torah was returned to its rightful place at the Shaar Hashomayim, with its red cover and six stripes signifying the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust.  I had the privilege to get the first Aliyah on that Sunday morning, the saddest day of the history of our people.

Thursday, November 14, 2019 16 Cheshvan 5780