Moshe Goldwaser <mauh2o@...>
I asked him "Where is the original?" He replied that a friend of his, a
pig farmer some 12-15 kilometers away, has the original Torah. Safira
and I kept grilling him about some other points concerning Jewish life
in the area and all his answers were in line with the material that Ms.
Rapoport had with her >from Yad Vashem. Some of the Sieniawa Jews were
taken away to the nearby forests to be shot, others were shot at the
Jewish cemetery. The majority was sent to the Belzec death camp located
70 km away. Forgetting for a moment where I was, I asked him to call the
farmer and arrange a meeting. It turned out that neither one of them had
a phone. Alojzy, who is unemployed, agreed to take us to the pig farmer.
All we had to do was overcome the objection of Yossi, our Israeli
security guy. Yossi concern was with us taking 100 yeshiva girls to an
unknown and an unchecked pig farm in an unknown Polish location. I did
not blame Yossi. After all he was doing his job. Somehow we agreed on a
plan where Alojzy would ride his bike back home and we would meet him in
the Rynek (central market place). Word has spread that "we are going to
a pig farm to see a Torah." After about 15 minutes, entire caravan was
racing towards this unknown destination "some 12-15 km away." Alojzy was
in our bus and was directing our bus driver. The level of excitement was
reaching new heights. Some girls were davening (praying) for the
successes of this mission. All our hearts were beating fast at the
prospect of locating this sefer Torah (Torah scroll). After about ten
kilometers, with still nothing in sight except Polish fields and
forests. Yossi kept insisting that we were being taken for a wild goose
chase. Alojzy kept repeating, "it is just around the corner". After 15
km we were on a very narrow unpaved road and I too started to have my
doubts. We were passing a tiny hamlet called Tryncza, consisting of just
a few houses. When Alojzy pointed to a house that looked like any of the
houses in Fiddler's Anatefka.. "Stop the bus, this is it!" Safira and I
together with Alojzy were about to get off the bus. For security
reasons, Yossi insisted that only Alojzy should enter the house. We gave
in, and Alojzy went into the house alone.
We waited and waited. It seemed like eternity. Our hearts were
beating. Some girls were praying. It kept raining. Then to our total
amazement, out of the house emerged Alojzy followed by another, elderly
Pole. The second Pole's name, we later found out was Jare Biernat. Mr.
Biernat was carrying a one large Torah scroll under one arm and what
looked like a couple of smaller scrolls under the other. Alojzy and Jare
were walking towards the bus. It hit us that these scrolls were exposed
to the rain. So a couple of us jumped out of the bus in order to cover
the scrolls. We hustled both Poles into the bus. You can imagine the
excitement in the bus. There were screams of joy and tears running down
many of the faces. One of the rabbis took a closer look at the main
scroll in order to verify that the sefer contains the portion of the
ktav in the photograph. It did match. If it did not, then it meant that
there were possibly additional scrolls inside the house. Our scribe,
Rabbi Seigal, verified the nuscah (style) of the ktav (writing) as Ari
lettering. The sections appeared to be in relatively good condition and
appeared to be about 80-90 years old. We unrolled the main scroll and
showed it to the girls. You have to visualize the scene in the front of
our bus. Two Poles surrounded by all of us with 50 Midreshet Lindenbaum
(Brovenders) girls peering over our shoulders.
I asked Biernat to explain how got to be in the possession of the Torah?
He started telling us this incredible story that at one point after
Germany and Russia invaded Poland in 1939. The border between the two
occupiers was not too far >from this area. He and his family on a number
of occasions helped Jewish families escape the German side to the
Russian occupied Poland. Some times later, after Germany invaded Russia
there was a large group of Jews being marched out of town by the
Germans. Some of the local population stood by the roadside and watched.
A local rabbi at a great risk to himself broke away >from the procession
and unraveled the Torah >from around his body. He handed over the scroll
to the young 16-17 year Jare Biernat telling him "Please take this Torah
and keep it in a safe place, it will bring you good luck in the future."
The rabbi then rejoined the Jewish procession that was headed either to
be shot in the nearby forest or towards Belzec death camp. In any case
the rabbi was never heard >from again. I should point out that one of
HaRav Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam's grandchildren was Harav Yekutiel
Yehuda Halberstam z"l, the last rabbi of Sieniewa. Whether or not he
was the rabbi has not been established at this time. Back to the story.
At the time that the young Biernat was given the Torah, he had a bicycle
with him. It was very awkward for him to travel with the Torah that
still had the Etz Chaim handles attached. He explained in a very
apologetic way that he broke off the "wooden handles" and threw them
away by the wayside. He apologized to us for this action and seemed very
disturbed by it even now, fifty-eight years later.
I asked him where did he get the other three (smaller) pieces of
parchment? Biernat explained that he bought them off the hands of a
local Pole, who got them >from a Jewish home. I should point out that the
main torah section only had about 40% of the complete sefer. It
consisted >from Parashat Baalotchah till the end. The other three
sections were individual klaf (parchment) pages or a combination of a
few pages. According to Rabbi Nathan Siegal, all four sections were in
relatively in good condition. Back to the front of the bus.
Mr. Biernat explained to us that he is a pig farmer and that he was in
the middle of feeding his hogs when we showed up. He asked who we are?
Since he was told that we would like to "see" the scrolls he was very
happy to oblige by showing them to us and now if we don't mind he would
like to return to his task of feeding the pigs.
I explained to him who we were and what we are doing in Poland. I
thanked him for keeping the Torah in a safe place all these years and
that we would like to obtain the Torah >from him. Only at that point it
hit him that we want to take the scrolls with us.
"No, No, No, the scrolls are not for sale!!. Over the years I had many
offers >from quite a number of speculators and middleman who wanted to
buy the scrolls >from me. I always refused since the Torah was given to
me by a rabbi for safekeeping and luck."
see part three...