Czech Memorial Holocaust Torah Scroll
The Holocaust and Hollywood Temple Beth El
Hollywood Temple Beth El has counted many Holocaust survivors amongst our congregation. Our congregations Gabai is a Holocaust survivor. He rarely misses a Shabbat, organizing the flow of the service and the Torah reading. When he does miss a Shabbat he is often out speaking in schools and community centers about his experience in Nazi concentration camps.
About The Scroll
The Nazis invaded Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939, causing little destruction, possibly as they wished to benefit from the Czech armaments industry. However, the Nazis immediately took over Jewish businesses and property, forcing the congregations to close, and, as elsewhere, using the Jewish community administration to enforce their demands and decrees.
Following instructions from the Nazi Zentralstelle in 1942 for all communities in Bohemia and Moravia to send their “historically valuable” items to the Jewish Museum in Prague, some members of Prague’s Jewish community persuaded the Nazis to allow them to bring other religious treasures from the deserted communities and destroyed synagogues to the comparative safety of Prague. More than 212,000 artifacts were brought to the Museum. Among them were about 1,800 Torah scrolls. Each item was meticulously recorded. labelled and entered on a card index by the Museum’s staff with a description and the place it had come from. The Nazis’ interest in the museum most probably developed from a number of practical problems that had to be resolved. The main reason is clear – the museum enabled the Nazis to gain in a short period of time in-depth knowledge about confiscated Jewish objects that were of particular value. It is clear that the Nazis had no experts for such specialist work as the registration and evaluation of confiscated Jewish artifacts that were of artistic or historical value. It is possible that the Nazis saw the museum as a special department for the collection, documentation, storage and evaluation of confiscated Jewish property.
It was decided to instruct Chimen Abramsky, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College, London to examine the scrolls in Prague and report on their authenticity and condition, on receipt of which Ralph Yablon generously agreed to fund the purchase of 1564 scrolls that arrived in London in February 1964. Nobody was aware that the Czechs had previously, unsuccessfully offered to sell the scrolls to the Israeli government.
Over several months a team of sofrim (scribes) examined the scrolls to determine those which were kosher, could be repaired and/or restored and which were in such a poor condition could only be used as part of a memorial. Ruth Shaffer took on the responsibility of the administration. Subsequently the Memorial Scrolls Trust a charity, was set up and the scrolls have subsequently been allocated on to communities and organisations around the world.
The Czech scrolls are survivors and silent witnesses. They represent not only the lost communities of Bohemia and Moravia, all those who perished in the Shoah. The Torah scroll loaned to us by the Memorial Scrolls Trust is MST#249. The Provenance of scroll MST#249 is Plzeň where still stands one of the largest synagogues in Europe, that was built at the end of the 19th century and survived the Shoah. The synagogue is the 2nd largest of Europe. See this article in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Synagogue_(Plzeň). It is similar in style to the Great Synagogue of Florence which was built around the same period. Here is a stunning visual tour of the Plzeň Synagogue: https://synagogues360.bh.org.il/gallery/velka-synagogue/.
The Memorial Scrolls Trust a charity, has been set up and and has allocated the scrolls to communities and organisations around the world. The scrolls are never sold or donated, but allocated on loan. The MST encourages al their scroll-holders to use their scrolls for inter and intra-faith work, as well as for ritual and education. An identity plaque was attached to every scroll allocated. However not all scroll-holders requested replacements when necessary. Over the years some communities are not sure which of their scrolls was received from the MST or even aware they have one of our scrolls. We continue the task of locating and identifying missing scrolls. So that they may be used appropriately.