Monsey Memories: When Holocaust Remains Were Buried in Monsey
By: Yitzy Fried
For years, the Holocaust Museum and Center for Tolerance and Education, in Suffern, NY, had in storage 75-year-old remains of kedoshim who were killed in the Holocaust—until a series of events brought about their burial l’kever Yisroel on Monsey’s Bais Hachaim at long last.
The saga began when one of the museum’s curators came across an unremarkable container. Inside, was what was presumed to be earth taken from the Chelmno death camp, part of a larger collection of items donated in 2006 by a Holocaust survivor. The majority of artifacts in that particular collection came from the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz. When she took a closer look, she was astonished to see that that the box was labeled "earth/ashes."
The container was taken to a local crematorium, which confirmed suspicions that the contents were not Chelmno dirt, but human remains. The crematorium was also able to determine the type of cremation used. Given that Chelmno was the first in a long line of infamous extermination camps, the unsophisticated crematorium technique used there was more rudimentary than later death camps. This fact matched what was noted by the local crematorium, proving further that the ashes were most likely from Chelmno.
The donor of the ashes had been in the Lodz Ghetto before he was interred in Auschwitz. Many of the residents of the Lodz Ghetto were murdered in Chelmno, and these ashes could have been from his own relatives. The curators immediately understood that these holy remains of the kedoshim must be handled with utmost care—and ultimately be given a Jewish burial.
Working closely with Monsey's chevra kadishas, as well as rabbanim and poskim, they settled upon an appropriate location in the cemetery. Tragically, this was not the first instance in the past century where Yidden were faced with this excruciating need to bury ashes. In the early days of the war, Yidden were murdered al kiddush Hashem, and their ashes were sent back to their families. Teshuvos exist from rabbonim of that time who gave guidance on how to treat these remains, and the rabbonim drew from those responsa 75 years later in Rockland County.
Congregation Sons of Israel in Spring Valley donated a centrally-situated plot in their cemetery section as a place to bury the ashes, and serve as a memorial to all the kedoshim. It is a large, circular area, and people had long suggested that it be allocated as a Holocaust memorial. Finally, this suggestion would come to fruition.
And so it was that, days before Rosh Hashanah of last year, a large group of Yidden came together for an event that they could never imagine: the first and only burial of remains of Holocaust victims, Hashem yikom damam, on American soil—where they will find peace and rest, until they will awaken to the ultimate redemption with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.