A Polish Jew on the banning of Jewish worship (1940)

Chaim Kaplan, a Jewish teacher living in Nazi-occupied Poland, wrote in his diary about the banning of Jewish worship by the Schutzstaffel (SS):

“Public prayer in these dangerous times is a forbidden act. Anyone caught in this crime is doomed to severe punishment. If you will, it is even sabotage, and anyone engaging in sabotage is subject to execution. But this does not deter us. Jews come to pray in a group in some inside room facing the courtyard, with drawn blinds on the windows.

Even for the high holy days, there was no permission for communal worship. I don’t know whether the Judenrat made any attempt to obtain it, but if it didn’t try it was only because everyone knew in advance that the request would be turned down. Even in the darkest days of our exile, we were not tested with this trial. Never before was there a government so evil that it would forbid an entire people to pray. Everything is forbidden to us. The wonder is that we are still alive and that we do everything.

And this is true of public prayer too. Secret minyanim by the hundreds throughout Warsaw organise services and do not skip over even the most difficult hymns in the liturgy. There is not even a shortage of sermons. Everything is in accordance with the ancient customs of Israel… They pick some inside room whose windows look out onto the courtyard and pour out their supplications before the God of Israel in whispers. This time there are no cantors and choirs, only whispered prayers. But the prayers are heartfelt; it is possible to weep in secret, too, and the gates of tears are not locked.”