June 3, 2022
The Shavuot holiday will start at sundown tomorrow. To coincide with the holiday, Yad Vashem’s newsletter included an article that featured recollections of Shavuot celebrations during the Holocaust. A photograph shows a gathering of Jewish survivors at the recently liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. Just days away from the most horrendous starvation, it must have been especially remarkable to be able to celebrate a harvest holiday. And even more meaningful to commemorate the handing down to Moses of the Ten Commandments.
The same article features a letter written from Drancy, one of the French detention camps in May 1942. The letter is part of an on-line exhibit “Last Letters from the Holocaust: 1942” organized by Yad Vashem. A father, Siegfried Bodenheimer, writes to his son Ernst who is living at the Montinin home that offered shelter and safety for Jewish children and admonishes him to commemorate Shavuot:
“The giving of the statutes [Torah] was a one-time event, but they will be in force for as long as the world exists. The commandments are so sacred and immutable that we must aspire to observe them under any circumstances.”
In the letter, the father tells of some others at the camp receiving various travel orders, including transports to Auschwitz. Siegfried and his wife Klara will be murdered in Auschwitz in the following weeks. Their children survive the Holocaust.
What is the connection to the article on Shavuot recently translated here? It struck me that Siegfried Bodenheimer was a German veteran of WWI, as status that many believed would protect them from the worst. Rabbi Martin Meir Salomonski, author of the front-page article on Shavuot was also a WWI veteran, a military chaplain at that, and would suffer the same fate in Auschwitz. Rabbi Salomonski wrote a report on what life was like for a Jewish soldier as described in “Martin Salomonski: The Jewish New Year on the Western Front.”
The juxtaposition of the 1921 article on Shavuot about the importance of the Commandments as a principle to unify all Jews regardless of their political party, nationalist opinions, or religious identity with a father’s admonition to his son on the eve of being murdered in Auschwitz is devastating, yet it is an necessary part of uncovering and honoring Jewish cultural history lest all we remember is the transports and murders and not the depth of thought and feeling it embodied.