An Improbable Relic of Auschwitz: a Shofar That Defied the Nazis

The Auschwitz exhibition opened last May and has so far drawn about 95,000 visitors. It is set to move out in January unless extended.

Dr. Schwartz’s story came to light after she visited the newly opened exhibition and mentioned her father’s account to the curator, Dr. van Pelt. She said she still had the shofar. Had it ever before occurred to her to offer it to a museum? “Oh, God no,” she said, “we used it.”

Her father, a modest man, never revealed much in interviews she conducted with him before he died in 1993 at 89. But until the end of his life, she said, “the Auschwitz shofar accompanied his wanderings.” He ran a travel agency in Manhattan, married his secretary, Shirley Kraus, who became the mother of Dr. Schwartz, managed uranium mines in Montana and South Dakota, and eventually moved back to Israel.

Born in 1903 in Bochnia, Poland, near Krakow, her father and his Hasidic family fled to Germany during World War I. Living in Frankfurt as Hitler rose to power and war loomed in 1939, he and his wife, Bertha, sent their young son and daughter to safety on a Kindertransport to Belgium. Mr. Tydor was arrested later that year and imprisoned in Buchenwald, one of the first and largest concentration camps, near Weimar in central Germany. From there in October 1942 he was transported to Auschwitz III, the forced labor camp also known as Monowitz/Buna where the authors Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were also held. Within several miles stood the gas chambers and crematories of Auschwitz II, Birkenau.

In the camp he learned that Bertha, fleeing Germany for Poland, had been caught and murdered in Auschwitz, along with other family members. In despair, he was restrained from killing himself on the camp’s electrified wire. He was initially assigned to a construction detail carrying large sacks of cement, leaving him with a permanently disabled shoulder. But as an older prisoner with experience in the camps, he was designated a block secretary, responsible for assigning work details. By attaching names of the dead to some assignments, he was able to afford others relief in the sick bay, “enabling him to save hundreds of Jewish prisoners,” Dr. Schwartz said.

Around Rosh Hashana 1944, she said, he arranged to send some religious prisoners out where they might constitute a minyan, or quorum of 10 adults to conduct a prayer service. When they returned, he learned about the shofar’s sounding.

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