This is a true story about Jewish prisoners in a labor camp in Poland celebrating Rosh Hashanah during World War II. Because some details of their story are unknown, we have imagined how several events might have unfolded.
Rabbi Yitzhak Finkler walked quickly into the weapons factory, his hands buried deep in his pockets. He kept his head bowed and his eyes downcast. If the guards recognized him, the consequences would be... Rabbi Finkler pushed the thought out of his mind. "Trust God and do what needs to be done," he repeated to himself. His stomach churned, but his feet kept moving.
The comforting thought about trusting God had filled his mind the night he bribed a young, freckle-faced guard to smuggle a ram's horn into the labor camp. And later, when the rabbi discovered that the soldier had deceived him and brought an ox's horn instead, Rabbi Finkler had calmed his pounding heart by silently reciting those same reassuring words. The boy, he demanded, must bring a ram's horn!
Now that the proper horn was delivered and safely hid, Rabbi Finkler was looking for the one person who could make a shofar- Moshe Winterter. The grinding noise of the factory was deafening, but it didn't overshadow the rabbi's doubts: Could he find Moshe without getting caught, and would the craftsman agree to help?
The answer came quickly- no. Moshe told the rabbi that working on the shofar would be too dangerous. Rabbi Finkler's dream of sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashanah 5704 seemed doomed.
But Moshe's decision plagued him, and ultimately, despite the personal danger, Moshe agreed to make the shofar. When he finished it just prior to erev Rosh Hashanah, word spread quickly. A group of inmates slipped into Rabbi Finkler's barracks and huddled around the ba'al tekiah (the person who blows the shofar). The lookout gave the "all-clear."
"Tekiah," whispered the ba'al koreh (the person calling the shofar notes). The first sound from the secret shofar began as a deep, sorrowful note- much like the lives of the prisoners. But it continued and climaxed in a majestic high note. Rabbi Finkler expected the congregation to disperse quickly, but no one moved; instead, the prisoners stood taller and more defiant. Completing 100 blasts- the traditional number of notes sounded on Rosh Hashanah- was out of the question, but the rabbi nodded to the ba'al koreh to continue. "Shevarim," he called. The shofar wailed three mournful times. "Teruah," the ba'al koreh announced, his voice gaining strength. Nine short, energetic blasts burst from the secret shofar. The prisoners' muscles instinctively tightened. They eyed each other hopefully as they waited for the final, great blast. "Tekiah Gedolah." A long, steady note filled the room with hope and the promise of redemption. "They cry out and God hears," Rabbi Finkler prayed, reciting a verse from Psalms 34.
Moshe Winterter survived the Holocaust and made aliyah to Israel. You can see his shofar at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem.