Jews rejoice at emotional ceremony near Auschwitz

"It was an extremely emotional ceremony, very emotional for us all," said Daniel Eisenstadt, executive director of the New York-based Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation.

The specially commissioned Torah was brought to Oswiecim by about three dozen members of the Orthodox Cherry Lane Minyan of Great Neck, N.Y., which donated it to the foundation.

The foundation is sponsoring the transformation of the synagogue and an adjoining house into a Jewish study and prayer center.

The Lomdei Mishnaot Synagogue, a small, compact building with arched windows, was built around 1900 and — as one of about a dozen prewar synagogues in Oswiecim — was used until 1939.

World War II was triggered by the German invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939.

The Nazis brought thousands of Jews to the synagogue before sending them to ghettos in 1941. After World War II, the synagogue was seized by the communists and used as a warehouse and in March 1998 it became the first building returned to the Jewish community under Poland's restitution law.

Among those taking part in the ceremony was Moshe Klueger, a Holocaust survivor from Oswiecim now living on Long Island, who had become a bar mitzvah in the synagogue. Klueger's brother, Shimon, is the only Jew still living in Oswiecim, which before the war had about 7,000 Jews making up more than half the local population.

Moshe Klueger broke down in tears, but also danced joyously with the Torah.

"The last time he had been there was before the war, praying with his father," Eisenstadt said.

Several adult children and teenage grandchildren of Holocaust survivors also took part, as well as about 50 members of Poland's current Jewish community, which has seen a revival in the decade since the fall of communism.

People involved in the ceremony stressed the symbolic meaning of bringing a new Torah to the town whose name has become the symbol of the Holocaust.

"The chimneys of Auschwitz-Birkenau spewed out ashes that blew across the globe," said Fred Schwartz, founder and president of the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation. "Now these ashes have returned and reformed as the words of this Torah. Indeed, this scroll truly exemplifies the rebirth and continuity of the Jewish people."