Thursday, July 13, 2006

A young boy's experience with Nazi hatred of the Talmud

Great article in Yated R. Yosef Friedensohn about Nazis and sepharim and book burning. Read especially the last paragraph I quote here--but also read the first ones, and the whole article!
There was nothing there that should have interested them, and I was surprised to see them eye them with interest studying the Hebrew lettering on the backs of the seforim which they surely could not read. A few moments passed before one of them fixed his sight upon my father's new Vilna Shas which he had bought that summer. The outsized volumes must have aroused their curiosity, for suddenly, one of them removed one and shouted at me, "Come here, you!"

Terrified, I approached. "Can you read this?" he asked me.

I nodded affirmatively, stuttering the information that it was the Talmud.

At the sound of these words, both officers leaped back, as if they had been scalded with boiling water. The first one began screaming at the top of his lungs, his face crimson, his feet stomping the ground. He threw the volume to the ground, trampling it in rage. The two began removing all the volumes and throwing them violently to the ground and stamping on them with their hobnailed boots, attempting to rip them apart.

This activity did not satisfy their blood lust for when they saw that they could not tear them with their feet, they slung their bayonets off their shoulders and began puncturing them. The points and blades were very sharp and succeeded in ripping most of the volumes. But this did not yet assuage their rage for they took the remaining ones and flung them out the window down to the courtyard.

I don't recall how long this terrible scene played itself out, perhaps during the space of half-an-hour. When they finally tired of the exertion of piercing the texts and trampling them underfoot, they turned their attention to the smaller volumes in the bookcase. They selected the ones with the more ornate bindings which my father had purchased together with the Shas, a few weeks before the outbreak of the war.

To this day, I am baffled by the fact that they did not force me, a young lad standing by, to help them in their destructive project. Perhaps they wanted to reserve the pleasure all for themselves. At any rate, after having succeeded in emptying half of the bookcase of its contents, one of them shouted, "Enough for today."

They took a few volumes along with them, perhaps to boast to their friends and, with a vociferous promise of, "We'll be back!" they finally left.


Abba continued and said to me, "Why are you so surprised about the pogrom which they perpetrated on our seforim? You read newspapers I know, and you must be aware that the Nazis began their political career by burning books. Not only our seforim, but also those that downgrade war and praise peace. They despise them and torched them all, including their own revered classics. They cast them into huge bonfires and removed them all from their libraries.
While the Nazi persecution was on a much worse scale, I'm reminded of the papal decree banning the Talmud in the 1553. A later pope decided to reallow the Talmud in 1564 but required that the name Talmud not be printed on the books! The very word 'talmud' was like a red flag before an angry bull. Acceptable options included 'gemara,' 'shas,' and 'limud.' But definitely not 'talmud,' so hated was that word.

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