When Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf visits Holocaust memorials in Lithuania and Poland, he will carry the mezuzah that was on the office door of Rabbi Jeffrey Myers when a gunman burst into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last year and killed 11 people.
Wolf said Friday that he called Myers ahead of his trip to the two countries, told him he planned to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp memorial in Poland and asked him how he could honor the shooting victims.
At Myers’ suggestion, Wolf said he will carry the ornate mezuzah and sign the victims’ names in commemoration books at the Paneriai Holocaust Memorial, in the forests outside Vilnius, where many of the Lithuanian capital’s Jews were executed, and at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial.
“What I’m hoping for is that this act will bring solace, some solace to the survivors, and will remind them that we Pennsylvanians will never forget their loved ones,” Wolf said at a news conference in his Capitol offices.
Mezuzahs are cases that are typically several inches long that hold a scroll of verses from the Torah and are mounted by Jews in their doorframes. Myers’ mezuzah is in two pieces, snapped when police swarming the synagogue broke down the door during their rescue effort.
During his trip, Wolf will visit about 600 Pennsylvania National Guard troops deployed in the two counties, speak to the American Chamber of Commerce in Lithuania and meet with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda. He also has a full slate of cultural exchange and business development meetings, he said.
Wolf, a Democrat, said he plans to pay his own air travel and lodging costs, and to travel with three aides. He leaves Sunday on the eight-day trip, which includes travel.
Pennsylvania’s military partnership with Lithuania involves training and collaboration, said Anthony Carrelli, the Pennsylvania National Guard’s adjutant general.
The relationship goes back 26 years to the end of the Cold War, when the U.S. Department of Defense sought to forge relationships with ex-Soviet satellites, Carrelli said.
Pennsylvania troops rotate there through the year, visiting for two or three weeks, he said. Lithuanian troops have also served alongside Pennsylvania troops 13 times in deployments to Afghanistan, Carrelli said.
Another 560 Pennsylvania troops are in Poland on a year-long mission as part of a NATO battlegroup, Carrelli said.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Pittsburgh is seeking the death penalty against 46-year-old Robert Bowers in last year’s attack. Police have said Bowers expressed hatred of Jews during and after what was the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history. Bowers has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.
This story has been corrected to show that the governor’s trip is to last eight days, including travel, not through Thursday.