Rockville, MD - Washington Post: Doubts About Thrilling Tales By Menachem Youlus And His Save A Torah Mission
Rockville, MD - In October of 2001, Robert Kushner of Pittsburgh received an e-mail that got his heart racing. His nephew had come across a notice in a Jewish genealogical newsletter about a mass grave discovered outside the Ukrainian town of Kamenets-Podolsk. Along with the remains of Jews killed in the Holocaust, the grave contained two sacred Torah scrolls, one of them wrapped in a “Gestapo body bag.” A Maryland man had bought one Torah, the newsletter said, but the second scroll needed a home.
Kamenets-Podolsk was the town from which Kushner’s father had emigrated in 1920. One of his father’s sisters never left, and Kushner, 74, wondered, “Could her body be one of those buried in that mass grave?” He contacted the man who had made this horrific yet miraculous find: Rabbi Menachem Youlus , co-owner of the Jewish Bookstore of Greater Washington. Kushner and his wife traveled to the bookstore in Wheaton and found themselves charmed by the slightly built, chatty Orthodox rabbi.
“We literally fell in love with him,” Kushner says. “He exudes honesty, integrity. He’s as pleasant as could be.”
Youlus showed the Kushners the antique scroll and recounted his adventure: While traveling in Ukraine, Youlus was approached by an unnamed farmer who offered to sell him a handwritten map. As Kushner remembers the story, the farmer said he had been told by his father that if he ever encountered anyone wearing a skullcap, he should show him the map. The farmer led Youlus to his land, which had a pigsty built on a foundation of Jewish gravestones. Seeing Hebrew writing on the map, Youlus bought it and went off with the farmer to a spot marked on it. The rabbi started digging and uncovered a mass grave containing the bones of more than 200 people, as well as two relatively intact Torahs. He and his driver reburied the human remains and marked each individual grave with verses from the Book of Psalms. Months later, Youlus—who is also a Torah scribe—restored the Torahs to kosher condition so they could once again be read in synagogues.
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