Hear the Ten Commandments read from historic Kristallnacht Torah

Scroll rescued from synagogue set ablaze in November 1938


A Torah scroll rescued from one of the 1,400 synagogues set ablaze on the night of Nov. 9, 1938, will make an appearance in Colorado as part of a tour that includes hundreds of Jewish communities worldwide.

“The Torah is about knowledge, life, history and law, but this particular one is also about survival,” Rabbi Avraham Mintz, director of Chabad Jewish Center of South Metro Denver, said in a news release.

The community is invited to join Chabad Jewish Center at 11 a.m. May 20 for the Shavuot Holiday Torah reading of the Ten Commandments from the Kristallnacht Torah. The reading is followed by a Shavuot Holiday lunch.

The blue velvet cover of the Kristallnacht Torah is embroidered in gold lettering, dating the scroll to the Jewish year 5699. That translates to late 1938, which, for the Jews of Europe, marked the beginning of the end for most.

The night of Nov. 9, 1938, was when a wave of pogroms engulfed Germany and Austria. That night’s infamous name was taken from the smashed glass of Jewish shops and homes that littered streets. Torah scrolls were thrown into bonfires, sometimes by Jews who were forced to comply at gunpoint, while Nazis danced around the flames and cheered.

While witnessing this madness, a 14-year-old boy named Isaac Schwartz risked his life and bolted into the main synagogue in Hamburg and grabbed a Torah scroll from a smoldering pile of holy texts and other sacred items. He quickly buried it in his family’s yard. The family escaped to Venezuela, but returned to Hamburg following World War II to unearth the scroll. It was in poor shape, with holes, soiling and tears in the parchment. It had survived the Nazis, but not the elements, and sat in disrepair for decades.

It stayed in the family until recently, when a friend of Mintz’s bought it from the Schwartz family.

Leonard Wien is a businessman and philanthropist who has made it his mission to restore destroyed German Torah scrolls as a homage to his family members and the millions of others who perished in the Holocaust. 

Wien hired two scribes who spent 18 months rewriting the faded letters in black ink and replacing the parts of the parchment that were beyond repair.

Barely visible now are expertly patched holes and what appear to be light singe marks on the edges of the parchment. Only the cover and wooden finials are new.

“This Torah truly captures the essence of our people,” Mintz said in the release. “Many have sought to destroy the Jewish people, but we’ve miraculously survived and we must continue our mission of repairing this world and revealing the light within it. The fact that this Torah will be with us on the Holiday of Shavuot celebrating the giving of the at Sinai captures this message of light, of hope and the promise of even a brighter tomorrow.”

Chabad Jewish Center of South Metro Denver is at 9950 Lone Tree Parkway, Lone Tree. RSVP or get more information about this free event at www.DenverJewishCenter.com or by calling 303-792-7222.


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