MONSEY – Nearly 75 years after the destruction of the Chelmno death camp, the remains of an unknown number of Holocaust victims will be brought to kever yisroel at a Monsey cemetery.
The remains were part of a donation of Holocaust artifacts gifted to the Holocaust Muesum and Center for Tolerance and Education, located within Rockland Community College, several years ago.
According to curator Julie Golding, the museum has received many Holocaust related items over the years, some of which were dropped off anonymously. An effort to catalog and digitize the museum’s artifacts led to the discovery of a box of what was believed to be dirt this past January, but a forensic analysis revealed that human bone fragments were mixed in with ashes that had been collected at Chelmno by a Holocaust survivor.
“His mother and sisters were murdered in Chelmno in 1942 and he went back to Poland twice, bringing back the ashes on one of those trips,” explained Golding. “He felt like he was bringing his family home and he brought the ashes to us along with artifacts from Auschwitz, Warsaw and Lodz.”
Several of the donated items were placed on display, with the box of ashes stored away by the museum. After discovering that the box contained human remains, Golding reached out to the Polish government, the Chelmno memorial museum and several rabbonim, including Rav Reuven Feinstein and Rabbi Elchonon Zohn. A determination was made that the remains should be buried, with the chevra kadisha wrapping them in a tallis with a full set of tachrichim.
“They were placed in a full sized aron, something we were told to do by the rabbonim as a sign of kavod,” noted Golding. “We don’t know how many people are there – it could be five or it could be 50.”
A levaya will be held on Thursday at 4:30 PM at the Monsey Jewish Cemetery on Brick Church Road in New Hempstead. Congregation Sons of Israel donated a large area for the burial, with a memorial to be created for one of only a handful of locations in the United States that house the remains of Holocaust victims.
Members of the Jewish community are asked to attend the funeral to pay kavod acharon to the victims. Hespedim will be offered by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, general editor of Artscroll/Mesorah Publications, and Rabbi Yosef Chaim Golding, author of Faith Amid the Flames, among others. Chazan Asher Scharf will make the Kel Maley Rachamim, with Kadish to be said by long time Monsey resident, Rabbi Moshe Gross, a child survivor of Bergen Belsen and a great grandson of Reb Shayale Kerestir.
Scharf noted that while he has been involved in many funerals for people from all segments of the Jewish community, this levaya is truly unique.
“Usually the family of the meis is present, or in the case of a meis mitzvah, people know they are coming to pay their respects to someone who has no family,” said Scharf. “But in this case, we don’t even know who may be related to those whose remains are being buried. It is incredible to see how so many years later, so many people will be coming out to ensure that these kedoshim get a proper kevura.”
By: Sandy Eller