Underground Secret: A Jewish treasure found in Sanz leaves tantalizing clues

By Shira Schmidt

It took King Casimir III the Great of Poland a decade, from 1350 to 1360, to renovate and fortify a castle in the Polish town of Nowy Sacz (New Sanz). Little did he suspect that some six centuries down the road, a treasure chest containing 103 silver Jewish ritual objects would be discovered buried on the grounds of his castle. When and how did they get there? To whom do they belong? And why weren’t they discovered until now?
Discovery of the Treasure
Recently, the municipality of Nowy Sacz decided to renovate Casimir Castle as a historic site and tourist attraction. As is required in Israel and elsewhere, before construction begins, archaeologists must first check the grounds for anything of importance. Accordingly, a team of Polish experts began to comb the lawns of Castle Hill systematically. Metal detector expert Stanisław Pustułka described the thrill of the moment of discovery:
“We started to extract a piece of paper, which was the first thing to appear, very delicately. It was in very poor condition, but we could make out the words ‘Moshe Halberstam Rabin’ or ‘Rubin.’ After a while, we saw silver. A lot of silver.” The inventory of unmistakably Jewish treasures included precious silver goblets, cutlery, candelabras, tableware, signature stamps and vases.
I spoke with archaeologist Bartłomiej “Bartek” Urbanski, who elaborated, “It is Judaica, connected to Jewish ritual, probably from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and probably buried during World War II.” Although Bartek is limited by protocol from revealing too many details, he shared two hypotheses that are now under consideration: “Is this find connected to the buildings that used to be in this part of the city? Or was it stolen by the Germans, who were then unable to take the treasures with them?”
Clues about the provenance of the treasure require knowledge of the history of the Jewish community of Nowy Sacz. In his book The Vanished City of Tsanz, published by Feldheim in 1997, Shlomo Zalman Lehrer explains that as someone who grew up with the great rabbis of Sanz, and as one of the few Jews of the town to survive the Holocaust, he felt impelled to memorialize the vibrancy of Jewish life in Nowy Sacz before the Holocaust caused the entire community to “vanish.”
“There is very little left of the Jewish area itself,” he writes. “The Germans had stored their weapons in a castle situated directly behind the saintly Divrei Chaim’s house. Shortly before the war’s end, partisans blew up the castle. The castle collapsed, and with it, the entire Jewish Street. The Talmud Torah, the mikvah, the batei midrash, and the home and beis midrash of the Divrei Chaim—everything was blown to bits. Today the entire area is covered with grass. The sole remaining building that is still standing is the shul, which has stood for over 200 years. It is said that the Divrei Chaim used to daven there sometimes.”
Of course, one cannot write about the town of Nowy Sacz without mentioning its most illustrious son, Rav Chaim Halberstam (1797-1876), known as the Divrei Chaim. Let’s examine the growth of Jewish life there from the time of King Casimir’s reign until the advent of the Divrei Chaim.
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