Reflections from Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner on Yom HaShoah, the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day.
On my desk in my office there is a small bag which contains a rock – an orange piece of brick which comes from the Great Synagogue of Plungyan. This piece of brick is from the synagogue from my great grandparent’s home in Lithuania that was occupied by the Germans on June 25th, 1941. The Jews of thisshtetl were rounded up and locked in the Great Synagogue. For a period of two weeks they were not given anything to eat or drink. Those who died were not taken out of the synagogue. The doors and windows remained shut. If people tried to escape, they were shot.
The courtyard outside of the synagogue was enclosed by a fence. A hole was dug and the siddurim (prayer books) and sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) were thrown in it and then set on fire. A well known photographer of Plungyan, named Berkowitz, was forced to stir the embers with a stick to make the fire burn quicker.
On 15th of July 1941, the Jews were driven out of the synagogue and taken to mass graves and shot, one group after the other. More than 2,200 Jews of Plungyan were murdered by the Nazis.
The synagogue was partly destroyed by the Germans and the remains were demolished by Soviet authorities between 1955 and 1957.
The tiny Jewish Museum in Plungyan now sells fragments of bricks from the destroyed synagogue.
My grandfather came to Britain aged three – had his parents not left Lithuania and Plungyan, they would have been in that synagogue.
As I look at the small orange piece of brick, I count my blessings and ache.
Zichronam livracha – may God bless the memory of those who were murdered.