A centuries-old Torah scroll was found not long ago in a church in the village of Hallstatt near the town of Colmar in northeastern France. A Holocaust survivor living in France purchased the Torah scroll from the church for hundreds of euros and brought it to Israel a few months ago.
N. was a baby of a few months when her parents fled with her and her three older brothers from their home in the town of Narbonne in the south of France in 1943. “All I know about the war are things I’ve been told. The authorities in the area where we lived cooperated with Nazi Germany and my parents realized that we had to flee quickly. The Jews were attacked by locals and part of my mother’s family was transferred to concentration camps in France and Germany. There was great fear among the Jews in France and my parents fled with me and my brothers to a small village in the south of France where we were hidden along with other Jews, for the remainder of the war, by Righteous Gentiles, and thanks to them we survived.”
N. and her family survived the war and remained in France. She started a family and settled in Strasbourg. A few years ago, she learned from a local antiques dealer that there was an ancient Torah scroll hidden in a church in the village of Hallstatt since the time of the war. The Jews at the time had suffered violence and looting. The German takeover of Jewish villages and communities expanded and they would harm both body and property. The Jews were afraid that the Torah scrolls would be burned or otherwise desecrated, so they went to the church and asked them to hide a Torah scroll there. For decades after, the Torah scroll was hidden in the church. “When I heard about it, I was very excited. I asked the antiquities merchant to find out what needed to be done to get the Torah scroll out of the church. He checked with the church leaders who named a sum of money. It was not a small amount, but I had no doubt at all that I was going to redeem this Torah scroll. My husband and I purchased the Torah scroll and kept it in our home until we decided to immigrate to Israel.”
About two months ago, N. immigrated to Israel with the Torah scroll, which had been written sometime around 1750. She contacted Rabbi Krieger and asked for it to be placed at the Shem Olam International Center at Kfar HaRoeh in the center of the country.
Rabbi Krieger, chairman of Shem Olam, met N. and was excited to receive the Torah scroll from her hands: “This Torah scroll, that survived the Holocaust thanks to the Jews who sacrificed their lives to protect it, has finally arrived in Israel. After years of being kept in a church, it has arrived at its home, and on Simchat Torah. Despite the extreme age of the Torah scroll, it is well preserved except for a few letters erased on the parchment. This Torah scroll tells the story of entire communities in France that were destroyed during the war and that sacrificed their lives to preserve their heritage and to preserve what sets Jews apart in every generation and everywhere.”