Judaic Treasures of the
This project they proposed to the recently arrived American Advisor on Jewish Affairs, Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein. Their argument and plea was that, true, yeshivot had been established in the American Zone, but there were no books to study from. None could be found in the makeshift synagogues serving the survivors. If one was found, a hundred hands stretched out to it. In a moving memorandum to commanding General Joseph McNarney, Rabbi Bernstein described the Talmud as one of the source springs of Jewish religion and tradition over which Jews have pored in every land and age. Hitler's hordes, the rabbi explained, had tried to destroy the Talmud by ordering Jews, upon pain of death, to carry their copies of the Talmud to the Nazi bonfires and personally consign them to the flames. Would it not be in the best tradition of American democracy, the rabbi urged, for the army which liberated the survivors to now help restore their spirits by participating in rebuilding their religious culture, which the Nazis had sought to obliterate. "A 1947 edition [of the Talmud] published in Germany under the auspices of the American Army of Occupation," Rabbi Bernstein proclaimed, "would be an historic work." General McNarney read the memorandum, heard the impassioned plea of the rabbis, and was persuaded.
There followed a heroic effort on the part of all. Everything was in short supply, if available at all-paper, offset facilities, binding materials, and, not least of all, a complete set of the Talmud. A few volumes were found in a Munich cemetery, a half dozen more were obtained from France and Switzerland, but two complete sets had to be brought from New York. The number of volumes projected to complete the set was nineteen, and the number of sets the army was ready to publish was fifty. By 1950, when the edition was completed, many more volumes had come off the presses, but complete sets are a rarity. It is most appropriate that among the treasures of the Library of Congress's Hebraic Section is such a complete set.
The illustrated title pages of each volume have at the top a drawing of a Holy Land vista and the inscription, "From bondage to redemption; from deep darkness to a great light" (The Passover Haggadah). At the bottom, a depiction of a slave labor camp and a verse from Psalms (119:87): "They all but obliterated me from the earth; but 1, 1 forsook not Thy precepts." On the reverse side, Rabbis Snieg and Rosen tell the story of its publication:
Through the mercies of the Blessed One, we have been enabled to publish this edition of the Talmud, a work of beauty and splendor... Engraved in our memories is that bitter day in the ghetto, when the decree came from the Nazis, may their memory be blotted out, to gather up all the books into one place to destroy them. The peril of death hung over those who would dare hide a book.... All our holy books were taken from us for abuse and set afire. Now, because of the Lord's great mercies, a remnant of His people remains, saved from the sword of their accursed destroyers, but without a book in their hands.... We therefore turned to the American Army Command in Germany to help us, and through the intercession of Dr. Rabbi Philip Bernstein, our desire was with God's help fulfilled.... During our overlong exile, our holy books were burned once and again by monarchs and governments. This is the first time in the long history of the Jewish people, that a government has helped us to publish the books of the Talmud, which are our life and length of days. Armies of the United States brought us from death to life, and they now protect us in this land. Through their aid the Talmud now appears again in Germany.
The page is in Hebrew, the Dedication, in English:
This edition of the Talmud is dedicated to the United States Army. This Army played a major role in the rescue of the Jewish people from total annihilation, and after the defeat of Hitler bore the major burden of sustaining the DPs of the Jewish faith. This special edition of the Talmud published in the very land where, but a short time ago, everything Jewish and of Jewish inspiration was anathema, will remain a symbol of the indestructibility of the Torah. The Jewish DPs [Displaced Persons] will never forget the generous impulses and the unprecedented humanitarianism of the American forces, to whom they owe so much.
The publication date is 1948, just three years after the cessation of hostilities and the liberation of Shearit Hapleta, the "surviving remnant."