A Mezuzah Imprint, A Chance Encounter, And A JCRC Holocaust Education Trip In Warsaw

Photo: Lev Gringauz – TC Jewfolk

This blog was written on JCRC’s Power of Place educators institute in Europe – an experiential professional development for teachers where learning unfolds as they tour historical sites across Europe in order to transform their understanding of the Holocaust, WWII, antisemitism, and Jewish life today. Power of Place is planned and co-led by Humanus Network on behalf of JCRC and generously supported by the Minnesota Vikings, the Tankenoff Families Foundation, and Allianz of America Corporation.

by Lev Gringauz in TC Jewfolk | June 19, 2024

WARSAW, Poland — Kristin Thompson wasn’t expecting to encounter the story of her close friend, Holocaust survivor Aaron Elster, mere hours after landing in Warsaw on Tuesday.

But late afternoon, during a tour of the Warsaw Ghetto, Thompson and the jetlagged group she is helping to lead — 16 K-12 teachers from Minnesota and other parts of the country, two other trip leaders, two daughters of trip leaders, one tour guide, and one TC Jewfolk associate editor — shuffled through a residential alleyway to enter a small basement apartment.

Inside was a makeshift headquarters for Mi Polin, a Polish Judaica producer with a unique centerpiece project: Finding old doorposts with the telltale indents of having once held mezuzot (Jewish ritual scroll holders), and making bronze casts of those indents for new mezuzot.

A display of Mi Polin’s mezuzot, made from casts of mezuzah indents in doorposts from pre-WWII Jewish homes (Lev Gringauz/TC Jewfolk)


“So far we were able to find 117 mezuzah traces across Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Hungary and Romania,” said Aleksander Prugar, a co-founder of Mi Polin. “The traces are very, very rare,” and are becoming even harder to find as people renovate homes built before World War II and dispose of old door frames.

But sometimes, miracles happen — as they did with this meeting with Prugar and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas’ second-ever Power of Place trip, in which the JCRC brings teachers to Europe for hands-on Holocaust education.

One of the doorposts Prugar happened to have on display was from the childhood home of Aaron Elster, a Polish Jew who was hidden in an attic with his older sister to survive the Holocaust. Elster, who later became a prominent member of the Illinois Jewish community, wrote a book about his experience and publicly shared his Holocaust story — including, for many years, to Kristin Thompson’s classes.


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