At Temple Israel, we are privileged and honored to be guardians of a 126 year-old Torah from Czechoslovakia which was rescued from the Holocaust. Our Torah Scroll, known as Czech Memorial Scroll #409, is one of 1,564 Czech Torahs found in a Prague after WWII. Our Scroll was written in 1890 and comes from the Jewish community of Prostějov, Czechoslovakia. Prostějov is in the Olomouc Region of the Czech Republic, in the historical region of Moravia.
All of the Czech Torah Scrolls have now been distributed by the Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST) to Jewish communities around the world, where they continue to participate in Jewish life. The tragedy of these extraordinary scrolls is that they are often the only surviving relics of some 153 Czech Jewish communities whose members were deported and exterminated in the Nazi death camps during the Second World War.
In the years after the war, a legend spread that the Nazis had planned to create a ‘Museum to an Extinct Race’. According to the Memorial Scrolls Trust, this has little foundation in fact. They do know that a pious group of Jews from Prague’s Jewish community worked to bring artifacts and Jewish possessions of all kinds from Bohemia and Moravia to what had become the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. Here they preserved what little remained of Jewish communities, previously at the mercy of plunderers. The Memorial Scrolls Trust believes this Jewish initiative was directly responsible for the subsequent conservation of the scrolls. All the curators at the Museum were eventually transported to Terezin and Auschwitz.
Only two such curators survived, and the Czech Jewish community after the war was too depleted to be able to care for them. The pious group’s legacy was the catalogue of the vast collection in the Museum, which eventually became the Jewish Museum of Prague with the saved 1,564 Scrolls.
For 20 years following the war, the scrolls remained in a no longer used synagogue in a Prague suburb, until the communist government, in need of hard currency, decided they should be sold. A British art dealer learned of this opportunity in 1963 and worked with the rabbi of Westminster Synagogue, a Hebrew scholar and a generous donor to bring the 1,564 scrolls to London. Many were in a pitiful condition – torn or damaged by fire and water – a grim testimony to the fate of the people who had once prayed with them.
In 1987, the sacred memorial Torah scroll was dedicated at Temple Israel of Highlands County. Today this sacred scroll remains on permanent loan at our Temple.
Information about the scrolls can be found at Memorial Scrolls Trust.