Bergen-Belsen rabbinical ledger will not be sold

Close to 85 rulings permitting Holocaust survivors to remarry provides first-hand record of destruction of European Jewry during Holocaust.

Mordechai Sones ,

Rare historical artifact
Rare historical artifact
Kedem Auction House

The ledger from a Rabbinical Court in Bergen-Belsen for releasing agunot and agunim (those forcefully "chained" to a spouse) in the wake of the Holocaust was revealed, containing close to 85 rulings permitting Holocaust survivors to remarry. The ledger, written at the end of the war, provides a first-hand record of the destruction of European Jewry during the Holocaust. It was to go on sale next week at the Kedem auction house in Jerusalem at an opening price of $4,000, but Kedem removed the book from its auction list following a call from city residents.

"We were able to reach an agreement with the seller. Our ambition is that the historical items that pass our way will reach national or cultural institutions for the public, even when this is contrary to our economic interest," said the sales house.

To release the agunot and agunim, the rabbis had to thoroughly investigate the mass murder methods used, and to carefully ascertain the chances of being rescued from the various events. The rabbis were the first to collect testimonies from Holocaust survivors very close to the end of the war, while the memory was fresh and painful.

The testimonies mention all the events of the Holocaust and its horrors: the Aktionen and Selections, the liquidation of the ghetto and the death marches, the gas chambers and the crematorium, starvation, shootings, and more. One of the testimonies tells of fictitious marriages in the ghetto in an attempt to avoid being sent to camps. Elsewhere, it was said that no one survived the quarantine at Auschwitz. One testimony describes how a husband announced shortly before he was killed his name and place of origin to another prisoner, saying he had a wife and two children. Another testimony describes a man who died during a march and could not be buried because they had to move on, and other shocking cases tell the bitter fate of the Jews in death camps. Testimonies document Jews from various cities and regions in Poland and Lithuania sent to Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen Belsen, and more.

The ledger was written on a German technical book, used by the rabbis for this important purpose, with the name at the top of each page. First they collected the testimony, signed by the witnesses, and then they issued a marriage permit and signed it. Among signatory rabbis are Rabbi Yoel Heilpern, Rabbi Yisrael Arie Zalmanowitz, Rabbi Issachar Berish Rubin and Rabbi Yitzchak Glickman.

The rabbis worked in conjunction with Rabbi Shlomo David Kahana, who was in Jerusalem and immediately after the outbreak of World War II began preparing for the releasing of agunot and agunim from the countries where the war took place. He formulated a principled permit that could be used in many cases, and began to collect testimonies and release Agunot. He dealt with some 3,000 cases from World War II and it never occurred that he permitted an Aguna and the husband returned.

Meron Eren, owner of Kedem auction house, notes that "this is a rare historical item of outstanding value that has come to our possession. It is a unique document that represents the important and great efforts in observing the law of releasing agunot throughout history, as well as a symbol of the people who survived the most difficult inferno and moved on with all their might."

Rabbi Yoel Heilpern of Islau, whose three children were murdered in the Holocaust, served as a rabbi in the Bergen-Belsen camp and acted extensively there on the releasing of agunot. He immigrated to the United States in 1948 and served on the rabbinate in Brownsville. He authored the book Collection of Agunot Regulations.

Rabbi Yitzchak Glickman also served as a rabbi in the Bergen-Belsen camp, and after immigrating to Israel served as a rabbi in the city of Holon. In his book Resisei Torah, he printed responsa by Rabbi Kahana on agunot, from his time at the tribunal in Bergen Belsen. In his book Shoah UtKuma- Holocaust and Resurrection he published lectures and seminars on the Holocaust period, and in his book Birkat Emunah he extensively discusses the commandments of Kiddush Hashem during Holocaust and the events of the time.