When Raizel Berger was sent to Auschwitz from her home in Transylvania, she brought a siddur with her, hidden in her stockings. Raizel’s granddaughter, Sarah Rindner, reflects on this object, which survived the war along with its owner, and remains in her family’s possession:
The young women in [Raizel’s] bunker, mostly ḥasidic Jews from Romania and Hungary, took turns praying from [the siddur] each night. One of the girls worked in the kitchen and snuck out a potato sack to use as a cover for the siddur, onto which she used a rough yarn to embroider a beautiful star of David in the center. The pages of the siddur are delicate with age, but the section containing the Psalms is particularly worn from repeated use.
After the war, my grandmother married my grandfather, a Holocaust survivor from Poland. They moved to the United States and had four daughters in quick succession. The siddur continued to be used on a daily basis in their brownstone home in Brooklyn. . . . In unsentimental fashion typical of Jews of my grandparents’ type, the siddur was not treated as a talisman. At some point, someone even scrawled a phone number on the inside cover.
Since the Shoah, much has been written about the place of the Holocaust in Jewish memory and theology. This discussion, understandably, often focuses on the Holocaust as a kind of inflection point in the relationship and covenant between God and the Jewish people. Yet, for some Jews like my grandmother who lived through the horror itself, there is perhaps more continuity between the pre- and post-Holocaust eras than those abstract discussions assume. Like her siddur—smuggled into Auschwitz, but also consistently and faithfully prayed from in a Brooklyn home long after the events of the war receded into history.