Three Books of Esther kept in the attic of a house in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II have been returned to Jewish hands.
In honor of Purim, the Shem Olam Institute for Holocaust education, documentation and research unveiled the rare holy items which were in Polish possession for dozens of years and were located and brought to Israel in the past year.
The three Books of Esther are said to be at least 77 years old and are part of a collection of Holy Scriptures Passover Haggadot and different prayer books preserved throughout the years in the attic of a building in the ghetto.
The building was one of the only ones to survive the war and was renovated later on. Yet its upper part remained intact, apparently due to the fact that there was a hidden space that had not been discovered.
Book of Esther kept in ghetto (Photo courtesy of Shem Olam Institute)
Several years ago the attic collapsed, and the holy books were found under the rubble. A small and hidden synagogue was also discovered on the premises with many ritual objects.
At first the items were handed over to the Polish police, but Shem Olam officials operating in the country managed to get their hands on them. Most of the books were found burnt, but the three Books of Esther had survived.
"During the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Germans likely passed by the houses with flame-throwers and set fire to the buildings," says Shem Olam Director Rabbi Avraham Krieger. "This building was torched too, and so was part of the attic."
According to Krieger, "One of the books was in a metal cylinder, and may even have been in the center of the fire and nearly melted, and another Book of Esther was found almost intact."
Another collection of Books of Esther obtained by the Shem Olam Institute along with a variety of ritual objects was found in the Łódź Ghetto, in a building used during the war as a conference hall. The hall's wooden floor broke about a year ago, and the treasure was found underneath.
The Shem Olam Institute was founded in 1996 and has more than 800,000 documents and exhibits. It engages in the exposure and analysis of issues of spirit and faith and how individuals and communities coped during the Holocaust.