The waves crashing into the spectacular beaches of Normandy do not reveal the historic battles that took place there, 73 years ago, during the “D-Day” invasion of Nazi-occupied France. It was in this setting that a Siyum Sefer Torah was held for the Chabad Center of Caen, with hundreds of local Jewish residents emotionally singing “Ani Maamin” inside a German Army bunker, their thoughts on the soldiers who sacrificed their lives to end WWII and the Holocaust.
The Chabad emissary to Caen, France, Rabbi Mordechai Levin, explained: “What cannot be found in the hundreds of museums in the area, the grandchildren of the soldiers can find at the Chabad House.”
With strong feelings, letters were written in the Torah scroll for the memory of these Jewish soldiers.
Tens of thousands of soldiers from the Allied armies landed here in a historic operation whose aim was to liberate Europe from the Nazi occupation and their collaborators. The invasion of the Normandy coast, which was accompanied by many casualties, was the beginning of the end of Nazi evil and the beginning of the liberation of European countries from the terrible war, the terrible threat to eliminate the Jewish people.
The many museums scattered throughout the region attract hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world every year, hardly telling the tragedy of the Jewish people, nor the heroism of the thousands of Jewish soldiers who came to help save their brethren in Europe. The emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who have opened a series of Chabad houses in various cities along the shores of Normandy, plan to establish a Museum for the hundreds of Jewish soldiers that lost their lives here on the shores, most of them young and without children.
On Sunday, June 4, 2017, many Jews from communities in nearby cities gathered to commemorate the new Torah, as well as a large delegation from Paris, the capital of France. The event opened with a memorial ceremony in the Canadian cemetery, where many Jewish soldiers are buried, some of whom are identified by name and some remain anonymous. Representatives of the local government, including mayors of several surrounding cities and presidents of memorial and commemoration organizations, came to show their support and show their respect for the Jewish soldiers. In the crowd one could see older Jews who had been living in Normandy for decades, some of whom had not left this region since the Allied forces invaded the city on their way to liberate occupied Europe.
Rabbi Mordechai Levin and Rabbi Yossef Yitzchok Gorodetsky spoke of the self-sacrifice of the fallen soldiers and how they gave their lives in order to save Europe and the rest of the world from the Nazi barbarism, 73 years ago to the day. The governor of the region, Mr. Dallalond, was honored to speak; as well as Mr. Christoph Wilhelm, a well-known and successful Jewish lawyer from Paris. “Kaddish” and the prayer of “El Malei Rachamim” was recited by the Chief Rabbi of the region, Rabbi Meir Malka.
The violin that shook strings
The second part was especially emotional for the hundreds of participants. Below ground level, in a well-fortified bunker, built and used by the German army, the assembled crowd listened to the violin strings that played the music of faith that accompanied Jews to their death in the terrible holocaust that swept the continent. The “Ani Mamin” and several other songs of faith were song accompanied by more joyous songs in honor of the new Sefer Torah that was being written. Later on, the men were honored with writing letters in the unique Torah scroll written in the memory of the Jewish soldiers. The Sefer Torah is being written by the Shliach and Rabbi of Le Havre, Normandy, Rabbi Dov Levin.
Many of the participants have family members buried there and come to visit the site every year and are in touch with local shluchim. The soft but very meaningful music of the violin was played with great emotion by Menachem Mendel Alush who came especially from the Holy Land for the occasion.
The German bunker at “Point du Oak” is located between the beach head of Utah in the west and the beach head of Omaha in the east, and is about 30 meters above sea level. During the invasion of Normandy, the German positions on the cliff were eventually taken over by an elite unit of the US Army after a difficult and bloody battle. For the first time in history, the writing of a Sefer Torah took place inside the bunker that had been kept intact since those battles 73 years ago.
Later on during the evening, the hundreds of guests gathered for a diner, which was offered to celebrate the beginning of the new Sefer Torah and for the yortzeit of the soldiers who gave their lives 73 years ago to the day. The audience listened attentively to the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s emissary and director of the Chabad House in Caen and the beaches of the invasion, Rabbi Mordechai Levin, who, together with his wife, Rebetzin Zlata, have been running an active and successful Chabad House for the past three years. A major part of their activities focuses, of course, on serving the local communities along the coast of Normandy and a University in Caen. In addition they are occupied with the extensive Jewish tourism all year round. Organized groups, schools from all over France, organizations, families of the fallen, visit the area from time to time, and are assisted by the staff of the Chabad House.
The event was organized by Rabbi Mordechai Levin, director of the Chabad House in Caen and the beaches of the invasion, in cooperation with two other Chabad Houses in the Normandy region, headed by the Shluchim: Rabbi Dov Levin, Shliach and Rabbi in Le Havre and Rabbi Shmuel Levin, director of the Chabad House and educational institutions in the city of Deauville. Also participating were Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Gorodetsky, Director of the European Lubavitch Bureau, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Levin and Rabbi Eliezer Nisalewitz, parents of the local shluchim in Caen, who are veteran educators at the Chne-Or – Chabad Jewish Day School in the city of Aubervilliers France.
For more information, or to organize a visit to the sites of D-Day – Normandy, you may contact the Chabad House of Caen: firstname.lastname@example.org.