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Holocaust Remembrance Day: Service honors Nazis' victims

SNELLVILLE - When it was found in Czechoslovakia after the Holocaust, this Torah was tattered and in pieces.

Nazis made drums and lamp shades out of Torah parchment, Temple Beth David Rabbi Ronald Bluming said. He did not know if that would have been the fate of these scrolls, but knows the holy text is lucky to have been saved.

"It was really torn up," he said. "It's very well preserved, given what it's been through."

This Friday, the scroll - which was written in 1890 and found in Brno, Czechoslovakia, after World War II - will be rededicated and receive a crown and breastplate in honor of today's Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Snellville synagogue, which Bluming said is the only one in the county, is commemorating 11 million people who died at the hands of the Nazis, 6 million of them Jews.

Now, the Torah wears a blue velvet cover with the words "In Memory of Loved Ones" stitched into it. The silver crown with bells and breastplate with the Ten Commandments on it indicate the importance of the scrolls, which are the most visible sign of God in a Jewish service.

"It's clothed in vestments you would give to a king or queen. When you're in the presence of the Torah, you stand," Bluming said. "You give it the same kind of respect you would give to a king or queen."

More than 50 years after the end of the Holocaust, Bluming said it is becoming even more important to commemorate the deaths of millions. Holocaust survivors are aging and dying, he said, and people need reminders of the atrocities that humans can commit.

Scott Levenstein, the president of the congregation, said the Holocaust becomes far-removed for people who were not living during the era. But if history is not remembered, it may be repeated.

"There is still so much hatred, so much possibility for bad things to happen," he said. "These kind of events help bring people back to basics."

Bluming said Temple Beth David is grateful to have the Torah, which it got from a congregation in Gloversville, N.Y. He said he would like this week's activities to open a dialogue between Jews and non-Jews about the holiday's importance and the communities' shared struggles.

The synagogue is holding its rededication ceremony on Adolf Hitler's birthday, a fact that was not lost on Bluming.

"I'm sure he's turning over in his grave, recognizing that the Jews still survived," he said. "It becomes an obligation of a generation, to keep the spark of the Holocaust alive in history, so it's more than a piece of history on a page."

The Torah is one very visible link to that past, he said.

"I don't think any words can express how the congregation feels about having it," Bluming said. "It means so much to have it in our possession."