‘Shema Yisrael’ Pendants Discovered During Excavations in Sobibor Death Camp

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Photo by Yoram Haimi/Israel Antiquities Authority on 27 January, 2022
By TPS • 27 January, 2022

Jerusalem, 27 January, 2022 (TPS) — Over the past decade, archaeological excavations in the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland have uncovered three pendants bearing depictions of Moses and the tablets of the Law on one side and the Hebrew prayer “Shema Yisrael,” (“Hear O Israel”) in the other.

The excavations were directed by Wojciech Mazurek from Poland, Yoram Haimi from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ivar Schute from Holland, who were assisted by local residents.

The metal pendants are different from one another and they were inscribed by hand. Over the past year, researchers have identified their origin in Eastern Europe: from Lviv in Ukraine, and from Poland and Czechoslovakia.

IAA archaeologist Yoram Haimi said that “little is known about the stories behind the pendants, which are heartbreaking. It has been possible to identify a kind of tradition or fashion among the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe with pendants that were inscribed with ‘Shema Yisrael’ on one side and a depiction of Moses and the tablets of the Law on the opposite side. But were they distributed in synagogues by local Jewish communities or possibly produced for individual orders? Research of the pendants is ongoing and we invite the public to provide us with details concerning them.”

One of the three pendants was discovered in the archaeological excavations in the remains of the building where victims were undressed before being led to the gas chambers: over the floor of the building were scattered dozens of women’s hairpins and jewelry and also a pendant.

Another pendant, on which Latin numbers were inscribed on the tablets of the Law, was uncovered in the area where victims were undressed in Camp II. A third pendant, on which only the side with the inscribed prayer survived, was discovered next to a mass grave.

Eli Eskozido, Director of the IAA, stated Thursday that “the personal and human aspect of the discovery of these pendants is chilling. They represent a thread running between generations of Jews – actually a thick thread, thousands of years old, of prayer and faith.”

Sobibor was an extermination camp was located in the forest near the village of Sobibór in the General Government region of German-occupied Poland.

As an extermination camp rather than a concentration camp, Sobibor existed for the sole purpose of killing Jews. The vast majority of prisoners were gassed within a few hours of their arrival.

Those not gassed were forced to assist in the operation of the camp, and few survived more than a few months.

Some 170,000 to 250,000 Jews were murdered at Sobibor.

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