that survived the concentration camps and now lives on in space

It was World War II.

utch Chief Rabbi Simon Dasberg was imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen, a German concentration camp. There he met Joachim Joseph, a young Jewish boy. In secret, the Rabbi and Joachim prepared for Joachim's Bar Mitzvah.

In March 1944, in the middle of the night, by candles “borrowed” from somewhere, the Rabbi unrolled a tiny Torah scroll, the five books of Moses written on a strip of parchment less than 12 centimeters tall. As the Rabbi had taught him and as 13 year old Jewish boys have done thru the centuries, Joachim chanted the blessings and his Torah portion.

Joachim, now a 71-year-old Israeli astrophysicist, remembers that there were people listening in the beds, the triple decker bunks, all around.  Others were holding whatever they had over the windows and doors to block the guards from seeing.

There was no party and no real gifts. Afterwards, the men went out to prisoner check and work. But ... the Rabbi gave Joachim the miniature Torah scroll in a small green box. When Joachim tried to refuse this treasure, the Rabbi explained that he himself would not survive the camps; but that G-d willing Joachim would and must promise to tell the Torah’s story.

Joachim told the story to an Israeli newspaper in the early 1950s; and then packed it and his memories of the horrors of the holocaust away. He only brought out the Torah when his granchildren were old enough to hear its story.  After that, he kept it in his study where Ilan Ramon saw it. Moved by its history, Ilan asked to take it on Columbia.

It was January 21, 2003. 

The first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, held up the Torah during a live teleconference from the space shuttle Columbia. He told it’s story — once more fulfilling the promise a scared 13 year old had made to his Rabbi.

Columbia, it’s valiant crew and the Torah scroll disintegrated in space only 11 days later; but their stories and the Torah’s story of survival in the depths of the Holocaust live on in the people who hear and share them.

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