In 1939, the rabbi of the Polish village of Filipów hid a Torah with his non-Jewish neighbours, prior to him being deported to Treblinka.
And some 84 years later, Holocaust survivors in Toronto were invited to contribute letters to the scroll during a Feb. 12 event at Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue.
From the Depths is the name of the organization that goes door-to-door in small Polish towns to ask residents if they know where gravestones can be found.
It was after approaching an elderly couple that the team team uncovered a Torah that originally belonged to religious Jewish neighbours, who were deported in 1939.
The scroll was in dire condition. Half of it had been used by the family as rags, such as soles for shoes.
But instead of burying it in a Jewish cemetery, as per the custom, From the Depths founder Jonny Daniels set out to restore it letter-by-letter, with the participation of Holocaust survivors. It’s a process that has taken him around the world.
Sol Nayman was the first Holocaust survivor in Toronto to write in the Torah at the event—and described it as an opportunity he will treasure for the rest of his life.
Born in Stoczek, Wegrowki County, Poland in 1935, he escaped to the forest with his family four years later, and then to the Soviet Union. They were sent to labour camps, followed by a German Displaced Persons camp when the war ended. Nayman immigrated to Canada with his family in 1948.
Now retired, he is active in Holocaust education, and a four-time participant in March of the Living, an educational program for teenagers that travels to Poland and Israel. He is going on his fifth trip this year.
Nayman said this event was especially important because he speaks about the destruction of Torah books and other holy objects.
“I remind the audience that the Nazis began by banning some books, then burning books, then burning Torah scrolls and finally, burning Jews.”
Nayman chose to trace the letters Dalet and Shin from the Hebrew alphabet. These letters are the initials of his Hebrew name Dovid Shlomo. He was named after his maternal grandfather who was a scribe and would write Torah scrolls and other sacred Jewish texts before the Holocaust.
“To inscribe the name of my zayde in this Torah is something I never ever thought would happen. It’s something I’ve done with great gratitude.”
Daniels will continue to travel the globe to complete the Torah. Once finished, it will be an official Torah for the State of Israel, housed at the residence of the president.
“The responsibility is to continue to tell the story and the dream of this rabbi and his community around the world” said Daniels. “This Torah in itself is a survivor, through the survivors continuing that story, it’s something truly special.
“I feel very proud to do this.”