07 April 2010
The American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants has called on authorities in the US state of Maryland to launch an investigation into the sale of Holocaust-era Torah scrolls. The non-profit foundation Save A Torah Inc. of Rabbi Menachem Youlus claims it is purchasing and restoring European Torah scrolls, and four Maryland synagogues have recently bought scrolls from Youlus. A ‘Washington Post’ article published in January suggested that the dramatic stories told by the rabbi of the scrolls' origins were false.
An independent investigation by two scribes commissioned by Save A Torah found that eight of the 11 scrolls restored and sold by Youlus were “suitable for ritual use in the synagogue,” according to a statement and report issued by foundation president Rick Zitelman. All of the Torahs examined were found to be written in pre-Holocaust years in eastern Europe.
Youlus has claimed that he found the scrolls in monastery basements, buried in the ground, and in former Nazi concentration camps. Whilst smuggling Torahs out of some countries, Youlus claimed he was beaten up and threatened.
Last week, the New York-based American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants – which represents 80,000 survivors of the Shoah – filed a request for a criminal inquiry. The complaint was written by historian and attorney Menachem Rosensaft, vice president of the group, and filed with Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler and Maryland Secretary of State John McDonough.
Rosensaft said the request for an official inquiry reflects "disturbing information" indicating that Save A Torah, a tax-exempt organization, may have raised charitable contributions based on "incredible and, in some instances, demonstrably false representations" regarding the origin of some of the scrolls.
Rosensaft, the son of survivors of the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp in Germany, said in an interview last week that evidence of misrepresentation was drawn from the Post story as well as his independent investigation.
In one of the claims which Rosensaft has disputed, Youlus said he discovered a Torah scroll in 2002 beneath the floorboards of a barracks at Bergen-Belsen. Rosensaft said his late mother had told him that she and other inmates helped burn down the barracks and other buildings at Bergen-Belsen in May 1945 to combat a typhus epidemic. "I know for a fact that no barracks at Bergen-Belsen existed after May 1945," Rosensaft said, adding that he had visited the Bergen-Belsen site several times. "Any statement that he discovered anything, let alone a Torah, at the barracks at Bergen-Belsen is an absolute lie."
Rosensaft also rejected other claims made by Youlus, including that he had recovered two Holocaust scrolls from a mass grave in western Ukraine and one from a cemetery adjacent to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.
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