Jewish Woman Works to Return 100 Sifrei Torah Ransacked by Nazis


Sibyl SilverA Hungarian rabbi described a colossal post-Holocaust find to a Boca Raton couple visiting Budapest: 113 Sifrei Torah, taken from the Hungarian Jewish community during World War II and plunked in a basement in a Russian city.

The Sun Sentinel reports that Sibyl Silver and her husband, Robert, were deeply moved by the rabbi’s description of the Sifrei Torah, stacked in a heap and decaying in Nizhny Novgorod, 248 miles east of Moscow. They were determined to help save the Sifrei Torahand began developing plans to visit Russia and meet with rabbis on a similar quest.

Sibyl Silver, of Boca Raton, helped bring these Hungarian Sifrei Torah, discovered in storage in a Russian library, to a shul in Moscow. They were taken from Hungary by Nazis during WWII. She hopes to reunite them with descendants of families whose names are inscribed on them.

Robert Silver died in December, but his wife remains resolute. In May, she traveled to Russia with some cousins and boarded a train to Nizhny Novgorod, formerly known as Gorky, where she saw the decrepit Torahs up close.

“Can you imagine what it’s like to see something laying there for 71 years, in cardboard boxes piled up, like in a coffin?” said Silver, a retired teacher. “Words can’t describe it. It was like part of your thread, part of your DNA, is lying there.”

To help pay for their restoration and redistribution, Silver has created The Jewish Heritage Foundation, which also will focus on preserving Judaica in Eastern Europe and offering lessons on the Holocaust. She’s unsure how much it will cost to restore the Torahs.

The Hungarian Sifrei Torah appear to have taken a lengthy journey. The Nazis sent 430,000 Hungarian Jews to concentration camps, mostly Auschwitz, in 1944 and looted their shuls. In 1945, the Soviet army liberated the country. More than 100 Sifrei Torah, some torn and burnt, ended up in the Lenin Scientific Library in Nizhny Novgorod.

Two rabbis discovered the 113 scrolls after the Russians returned a cache of antique books from the same archive to the Hungarian Jewish community in 2006.

“It was a discovery of monumental importance,” said Alan Berger, a Holocaust studies professor at Florida Atlantic University. “It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this find.”

The two rabbis got permission to bring 10 of the Torahs to their shuls in Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow for restoration. But 103 remain, and Silver, through her foundation, hopes to help link the scrolls with descendants of the families who sponsored them or shuls that want to place them in their congregations to be used during worship.

The Sifrei Torahface many obstacles to finding new homes, including permission to export them to foreign countries, finding descendants of the families and whether they can be restored after extensive damage, said Michael Berenbaum, a Jewish studies professor in Los Angeles who is assisting the foundation.

But he said there are precedents for similar projects, including the rescue of more than 1,500 Sifrei Torahfrom the former Czechoslovakia by the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London.

Silver will travel soon to Holocaust museums in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles to research names she found on the Torahs in an effort to find descendants.

“The fact that people had to leave their most sacred possessions behind, and we can reunite them, what a good deed that would be,” Silver said. “I can’t wait to do more.”

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