Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Faith during the Holocaust - Rosh HaShanah Prayers in a Forced labor Camp

On Sept., 15, 1944, Rabbi Naftali Stern, an Hungarian Jewish inmate of the Wolfsberg forced-labor camp, finished writing out the Rosh HaShanah service. He wrote it out from memory, writing with a pencil stub on scraps torn from bags of cement he had purchased with bread rations. Rabbi Stern had been a cantor in the city of Szatmar, and wanted to lead a service in the camp, which he did. After the war, he recalled,

"We prayed on Rosh Hashanah and the service was lovely, the service was good - to the extent that one can say that. But on Yom Kippur we were unable to pray; the Germans evidently were ready for it. On Rosh Hashanah they tolerated it; and I received a larger portion of soup in the afternoon, which was worth something, and I prayed. The entire service lasted less time than we do it today."
After liberation, he kept the handwritten pages in his home, stored inside the family maczhor. Every year he would spread out the pages and pray from them. After 43 years , the pages began to crumble and Stern decided to give them to Yad Vashem for safekeeping and preservation.

Rabbi Stern passed away in 1989, and in 2002, Yad Vashem published The Wolfsberg Machzor. It is not a prayer book, but is made up of 5 articles about faith and prayer in the Holocaust and includes 5 pages showing a scanned copy of Stern's handwritten Machzor.

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