‘Shema Yisrael’ Pendants Discovered in Former Nazi Death Camp Excavation

Archeologists from Israel, Poland and the Netherlands uncover jewelry belonging to Jewish inmates murdered at the Nazi camp

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
A pendant discovered in a mass grave in Sobibor, with the inscription "To a faithful king, O Israel, the Lord our God is one."
A pendant discovered in a mass grave in Sobibor, with the inscription "To a faithful king, O Israel, the Lord our God is one."Credit: Yoram Haimi/Israel Antiquities Authority
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Three pendants with an image of Moses holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments and on the other side the Hebrew prayer “Shema Yisrael” (“Hear O Israel”) were found by archeologists at a site in Poland that once housed the Sobibor extermination camp, the Israel Antiquities Authority said on Thursday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The authority said the metal pendants were handmade, originated in Eastern Europe – Lviv in Ukraine, Poland and Czechoslovakia. “Little is known about the stories behind the pendants, which are heartbreaking,” said Yoram Haimi of the Israel Antiquities Authority, one of three archeologists heading the dig.

“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 pendants was discovered by archeologists at a shack where women undressed before they were sent to the gas chambers. The area also revealed scores of pieces of women's jewelry and hairpins.

Another pendant, which showed Roman numbers 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 remains intact, was discovered next to a mass grave.

Figure of Moses and the Tablets of the Covenant on a pendant found in the expansion plaza before entering the gas chambers, in Camp II in Sobibor.Credit: Wojciech Mazurek

The excavations have been directed over the last decade by Haimi, Wojciech Mazurek from Poland and Ivar Schute from Holland, assisted by local residents.

The Sobibor camp was established in March 1942 together with the Treblinka and Belzec extermination camps. Some 250,000 Jews, most of them from Poland, the Netherlands and Slovokia, were murdered in Sobibor between April 1942 and October 1943. Following a prisoner revolt in October 1943, during which half the inmate succeeded in escaping, the camp was completely demolished by the Nazis to destroy any evidence of its existence.

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