A Torah for Buchenwald

The film based on Robert Edsel’s story of The Monuments Men opens later this week. For those who haven’t seen the advertising, the film tells the story of art historians, museum curators and artists who served in the Army in World War II in order to protect the cultural heritage of Europe and recover artwork stolen by the Nazis. In his book Edsel refers to the writings of Walker Hancock, a renowned sculptor from St. Louis and a member of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program. When Third Army liberated Buchenwald Concentration Camp in April 1945, Hancock was located in the nearby German city of Weimar. Edsel writes:

A few days later, [Hancock] had a chance meeting with his friend, a Jewish chaplain. The chaplain had recently been to Buchenwald to conduct a service for the survivors, their first since being interned. The story the chaplain told was “heartrending – emotional beyond description,” especially when he mentioned the anguish over the lack of a Torah.

“I have no idea where to get one,” he lamented. “They have all been destroyed.”

“Not all of them,” Hancock said. He had one in his office; it had been brought in that very day from the local SS headquarters.

“A miracle,” the chaplain said, before dashing off to Buchenwald with the scroll.

“He was soon back in my office again,” Hancock wrote, “to tell me how it had been received – the people weeping, reaching for it, kissing it, overcome with joy at the sight of the symbol of their faith.”

pp. 390-391

Thanks to my wife for calling this to my attention.

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These U.S. government photos are not from Edsel’s book, but they illustrate the text. Chaplain Hershel Schaecter is likely the chaplain referenced by Hancock and Edsel. Rabbi Schaecter died in March 2013.

Chaplain Rabbi Hershel Schaecter conducts religious service for Buchenwald survivors. Click to enlarge.
Chaplain Rabbi Hershel Schaecter conducts Shavuot services for Buchenwald survivors in May, 1945. Click to enlarge.

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Chaplain Samuel Blinder examines hundreds of Torahs stolen occupied territories.
In July 1945, Chaplain Samuel Blinder examines one of hundreds of Torahs stolen from occupied territories and stored in Frankfurt. Click to enlarge.