Sounding the Shofar in Auschwitz

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via

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4 Responses

  1. Shira Schmidt says:

    After spending the better part of a day abridging, editing and translating the Hebrew, I just discovered that Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer published similar excerpts in the Jewish Observer Sept. 1999 Vol.32:7 !

  2. Sarah Shapiro says:

    An inspiring and touching article.

  3. Yaakov Menken says:

    I wrote the following during the Three Weeks in 2001:

    Just this past week, Baltimore lost a humble hero — Menashe Yosef ben Avraham Yaakov zt”l, Menashe Schamroth. Those who knew this outgoing, witty, scholarly man, or who heard him blow the Shofar each Rosh HaShanah in Congregation Beth Abraham, “Hertzberg’s Shul,” may not have known how he got that job.

    After the war, a survivor told Rav Hertzberg an incredible story. In Auschwitz, he said, he saw a young man blow the shofar on Rosh HaShanah — something which could surely have cost him his life.

    Out of the corner of his eye, Rabbi Hertzberg saw Menashe smiling. “Do you find this funny?” the Rabbi asked.

    “Well, Rebbe,” said Menashe, “that was me.”

    Menashe went on to blow shofar, daven and give Torah classes in Beth Abraham for decades. How many of our children will ever meet someone who risked his life, as Menashe did, in order to live as a Jew?

    On an Internet discussion list not long ago, a Jewish participant denied that there had been acts of spiritual heroism in the camps. These stories, he claimed, were merely invented afterwards. When Menashe was with us, it was simple to say, “you’re mistaken.” But now he is no longer here, and preserving his memory is now our responsibility.

  4. Barry says:

    Actually, this was already translated and printed in a volume by Rabbi Aaron Levine in 1990.

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