austria

The Looming Storm
Rabbi Mordechai Yaakov Breisch writes of a prewar question posed to him:

Someone was informed, well over a month after it happened, that his father had been murdered and cremated by the Germans: The Germans had stored the ashes in an urn, as it was their practice at the start of the war to send the ashes for burial to the family of the victim. He asked me, in light of this, when does his year of mourning begin. I replied that it begins from the moment when it became known to him that his father had passed away.

Death and Burial

Cremation is forbidden by Jewish law, which inculcates a deep respect for the dead. When the Nazis would send ashes they claimed belonged to murdered Jews to their relatives, this raised painful questions about Jewish burial. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Kirschenbaum writes of the laws concerning the ashes of victims, January 1939:

1. It is not necessary for one to guard the ashes so that they are not disturbed by rodents, unlike the rule concerning a recently deceased human body.

2. If someone is informed by the government offices of the death of a relative, he must begin shivah [the traditional seven days of mourning] immediately.

3. The urn containing the ashes should be carried on a stretcher for the honor of the deceased.

4. The urn should be buried in a regular coffin, or at least in a small chest. If this is not possible, it should be buried in the packaging in which the family received it.

5. The urn should be wrapped in a tallis [prayer shawl] and draped with regular shrouds.

6. When there is no coffin available and the urn is being buried in the package in which it arrived, the shrouds too should be placed in the package. Some board or stone should be placed over the shrouds so that they will not become soiled.

7. The family members must sit in mourning for the duration of the day of the funeral, although in these circumstances the burial takes place almost invariably after the week of shivah and usually after the entire month of mourning.

8. If the family members already rent their clothing when they were informed of the tragedy, they do not need to do so again on the day of the funeral.

9. At the funeral, the passages of Tzidduk Ha-din [a sacred text] should be recited. Those attending should line up for the mourners to pass by, just as is done at every funeral.

10. It is not necessary to have a special meal for seudas havra´ah [traditional post-funeral repast] after such a funeral.

11. The mourners must don tefillin [phylacteries] even on the day of the funeral, unless the mourner learned of his relative´s passing on that very day. In that case, he is subject to the halachah [Jewish law] of someone who learned of his relative´s passing more than thirty days after it happened, in which case he would not don tefillin on that day.

12. The yahrtzeit [anniversary of the death] is reckoned according to the actual day of the passing.