Our story takes us back 100 years to Dusseldorf, Germany.

Shlomo Pfeiffer had recently been discharged from the Kaiser’s army. Thank G‑d, he had survived the heavy fighting of World War I, and was now back with his family.

Two years earlier, during the High Holiday season of 1916, just before going off to fight, he had made a vow in the presence of his wife and children: “If I come home safe and sound, I will donate a Sefer Torah of the highest quality to be used by our community.”

Now alive and well, and full of gratitude to G‑d, he turned to his friend Rabbi Dr. Emanuel Carlebach, who lived in the city of Cologne, and asked him to help arrange the procurement of the new Torah scroll from Poland.

A year later, the long-awaited scroll was welcomed to its new home.

It was exceptionally beautiful, made of the best parchment with the clearest writing. The atzei chayim (handles) were made of pure silver. Indeed, the Torah was to become known to all as the “Silver Sefer Torah.”

Housed in the Adas Israel synagogue in Dusseldorf, the Torah was treated with deference, and was read only on Shabbat and the holidays. During the week, other Torahs (four of which were donated by the Pfeiffers) were used.

A year after the Torah was donated, Shlomo’s son, Julius (Yoel), had his bar mitzvah, and of course read the entire portion from the Silver Torah.

Years passed, and the dark cloud of Nazism began descending on Europe. Although Julius had graduated from law school, and even ascended to the bench of the Superior Court in Dusseldorf, as a Jew in 1933 Germany he was forced to resign from his position.

Reading the writing on the wall, Julius left for Holland. Instead of being an established public servant in the city where his family had lived for generations, Julius found himself an unknown and penniless refugee.

In 1936 he married his life partner, Flora, who joined him in Holland, where they would have two sons.

In 1937, Julius could not fathom just how terrible it would be for Jews in Germany, but he was concerned for his parents’ property. In his parents’ home there was a safe filled with valuable gold coins. He sent a trusted courier to his parents with a note: “Give this man the most valuable items.”

A few days passed, and the messenger returned with the Silver Torah. His parents’ concept of what was valuable was visibly different from his own.

Then came November 9, 1938. Known as Kristallnacht, that night saw the destruction of Jewish businesses and places of worship all over Germany. The Adas Israel synagogue was destroyed, and the other Torah scrolls there were burnt. Because of the misunderstood letter (or, better said, by Divine Providence), the Silver Torah was safe.

A few months later, Julius was joined by his parents and father-in-law (his mother-in-law was no longer alive). But their tranquility did not last long. On May 10, 1940, the Nazis invaded Holland. Julius escaped to England four days later, not expecting that his family would be trapped on the continent. His parents and in-laws were deported to unknown destinations. Considered an enemy prisoner of war, Julius was soon sent off to Canada with a group of Jewish men. He lost all communication with his wife and children.

Meanwhile, Flora hid her older son with non-Jews, and went into hiding with her baby. They were discovered and sent to Westerbork, and then to Bergen-Belsen. With G‑d’s help, they survived.

In Westerbork, Flora was once standing near the entrance of the camp and recognized Shlomo, her father-in-law, as he was being marched to his death. (Westerbork served as a way station for Jews being shipped to the death camps in Poland.) Seeing his daughter-in-law, Shlomo discreetly whispered, “The Torah is with a craftsman in South Amsterdam.” Before he could share any more details, he was whisked away by a Nazi guard, and she never saw him again.

After liberation, Flora went to Amsterdam and was reunited with her son. She then set about searching for the Silver Torah. Days and weeks passed, and she trudged between shops in Southern Amsterdam. There was almost no craftsman in the vicinity she did not visit. But she could not find the Torah.

Ready to give up, she decided to give it one more day.

She knocked on the door of a skilled craftsman, hoping that he would be the one. A gentleman with graying hair greeted her. After she explained the reason for her visit, he became thoughtful, and then said, “I don’t know if this is what you are looking for; however, a while back a German Jew entrusted me with a ‘Jewish Bible.’”

He left for a moment and returned with a large, wrapped package. She did not need to remove the wrapping to ascertain that this was the Sefer Torah.

When she joined her husband in Canada, Flora came with the precious Silver Torah.

It was with a mixture of joy and sadness that Julius Pfeiffer witnessed his grandsons read from the Silver Torah at their bar mitzvahs, as did his numerous great-grandchildren.

Julius passed away in 1997 and Flora passed away in 1998, but the scroll, which tells the story of a family’s devotion to Torah, is still read on a regular basis in the Agudath Israel synagogue in Montreal.

The Silver Torah in its home in Montreal. The velvet mantel was dedicated in honor of the 50th wedding anniversary of Julius and Flora Pfeiffer by their children (credit: Yehuda Pfeiffer).
The Silver Torah in its home in Montreal. The velvet mantel was dedicated in honor of the 50th wedding anniversary of Julius and Flora Pfeiffer by their children (credit: Yehuda Pfeiffer).

The story was adapted from Julius’s firsthand account as published in the Jewish Observer (Oct. 1976), as well as a telling in Sichat Hashavua (#409, 1996) with information submitted by Mrs. Leah Neubauer.