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This question is fairly technical, but I've run into a dead-end and the historians whom I have asked have been unable to help me. If anybody can direct me to something on this subject, I would very much appreciate it.

I’m trying to find out some more information about the infamous synagogue scene in Der Ewige Jüde: the 1940 propaganda movie directed by Fritz Hippler. According to Shimon Huberband, it was filmed in the Vilker shul in Lodz, and the cantor was Oszer Winograd. All of that was fairly easy to verify, with the aid of online sources. What I have been unable to verify is Huberband’s claim that the Torah reader started by calling out, “Today is Tuesday!” While the day of the week is sometimes called out in this fashion, the Torah gets read on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays only, and this was supposedly a subtle way of indicating to any Jews who might be watching that the scene was filmed under duress.

My source for the foregoing is Shimon Huberband, Kiddush Hashem: Jewish Religious and Cultural Life in Poland During the Holocaust (trans. David Fishman; New York, 1987), 322-323. This claim, that the reader called out "Today is Tuesday!", gets repeated now by other historians – most notably Saul Friedländer, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 (New York, 2007), 21-22.

Having watched the scene a dozen-or-so times, I can verify that nobody says this line. Maybe it got cut, or maybe it is drowned out by the German audio-commentary, … or maybe Huberband was wrong? He was in Warsaw at the time, and he doesn’t say who told him. Yehoshua Moshe Aronson, on the other hand, was present in the synagogue and he doesn’t seem to mention it – instead, he claims that his suggestion at the time was that the reader read from the “curses”: a section of text, found in either Leviticus or Deuteronomy, that speaks of violent calamity brought by God against the Israelites. Aronson does not say whether or not the reader did this, and due to the poor quality of the recording it is impossible to verify from the film itself.

Aronson wrote a book about his experiences called Alei Merorot. I have thus far been unable to get my hands on it, so my source for the foregoing information is Esther Farbstein, Hidden in Thunder: Perspectives on Faith, Halachah and Leadership During the Holocaust (2 vols; trans. Deborah Stern; Jerusalem, 2007), 31-32.

I would very much like to know if either of these subtleties was actually adopted by any of the people officiating at this faux-service. Any further information that could be provided as regards the production of this scene would be much appreciated. Thank you.

  • I would go with no it's not true... but that's just a guess based on the fact that wishful thinking often imputes these things to the victims of genocide. The people forced to participate in these films must have been terrified... they probably had no fight in them at all. – Ne Mo Dec 8 '16 at 12:50
  • I can access a copy of Aronson's book for you. Do you have a specific page number? – Felix Goldberg Dec 8 '16 at 17:59
  • @FelixGoldberg - yes please! It's pages 44-45. That would be wonderful. – Shimon bM Dec 8 '16 at 22:41
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The Torah is read Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays; but it is also read on Rosh Hodesh (the first day of the new month), which could come any day of the week. It is also read on festivals and fast days. However, the Torah readings for Mondays and Thursdays are previews of the coming Saturday's full reading. Rosh Hodesh, festivals and fast days have their own Torah readings. A knowledgeable Jew would be able to tell by the specific Torah section that was read whether it was a weekly Torah reading or a special one, the latter of which could occur on Tuesday. Source: E.g. Art Scroll Chumash; Hirtz Chumash; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch; and more.

It is quite odd that the cantor, at the beginning of the Torah reading would announce the day (or more likely, have the psalm for the day read). Depending upon tradition, the psalm for the day of the week is read either at the end of the services (common in Ashkenazi synagogues) or close to the beginning of services (more common in Sephardi and Chassidic congregations).

There are two readings of the "curses" (aka the "warnings" or the tochacha), one at Leviticus 25:18-53 (within the reading called "Behar"), and Deuteronomy 28:15-68 (within the reading of "Ki Tavo"), each of which are followed by a description of how Israel can avoid or pull itself out from the curses by returning to God. These verses, however, are only read on the Sabbath. In 1940, Behar would have been read on May 18th. Ki Tavo would have been read on Sept. 21, 1940, or Sept. 2, 1939 (assuming that the filming was done earlier than the film's release).

Having not heard the recording or seen the film, I cannot verify any of this. I do think it unlikely that the Torah reader would call out the day of the week before the Torah reading. And I would think it fitting, but unlikely, that the Germans would just happen to bring their cameras when the tochacha was read on the Sabbath. If the whole thing was staged, and the director just asked them to read the Torah, then the selection of that reading would have been perfect.

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    I appreciate the time that you've put into this response, which might provide useful background to this custom for some people, but it doesn't address any part of my question. I asked whether or not one of these things was said during a particular scene, and for more information about that scene's production. By your own admission, you've never even watched it. – Shimon bM Apr 4 '17 at 20:36
  • @ShimonbM Is the movie on YouTube? If so, a link would have helped. – Bruce James Apr 5 '17 at 13:39

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