Story Of The Jewish Torahs of Czechoslovakia
Three - "hundreds of corpses in transparent shrouds"
The accessories of the scrolls also received careful attention.
Cabinet makers were found who could repair wooden rollers so skillfully
that the new parts seemed virtually indistinguishable from the originals.
Some of the wimpels (strips of linen or other materials used to
hold the scrolls together) were of historic interest because they
bore, in embroidery, the name of the donor who had commissioned
the writing of the scroll, and the date and occasion on which the
scroll had been presented to its original synagogue. Wherever necessary,
these wimpels were carefully washed, cleaned, and pressed by Mrs.
From the time of their arrival in London, the scrolls, and their
eventual availability to synagogues and other Jewish institutions
in the Western world, received widespread publicity in the Jewish
and non-Jewish press. Hundreds of visitors flocked to Kent House
to view them. To one awe-stricken Czech Christian, they looked at
first glance like "hundreds of corpses in transparent shrouds."
Later, becoming calmer, he described them as "a mountain of
dead books, spiritual bodies, so to speak, and yet a mountain glowing
with the life of revelation, law, promise." Some Holocaust
survivors and former refugees from Central Europe broke down and
wept at the sight of the scrolls.
The historic Altneuschul Synagogue in Prague, circa 1890s,
before World War II
Before long, the Memorial Scrolls Committee was deluged with requests
from synagogues, Jewish organizations, and private individuals all
over the Western world for a Torah scroll from Czechoslovakia. The
committee established a procedure for dealing with these requests
that is followed to this day:
"Each application must be submitted in writing to the committee
for consideration. Priority is given to small congregations, homes
for the aged, hospitals, and children's camps. Scrolls are never
offered for sale; they are only given on "permanent loan."
If the congregation or institution ceases to exist, its scroll must
be returned to the Westminister Synagogue. In order to help cover
expenses, the recipients are asked to make a contribution. In some
instances, the amount is to be paid in installments. For deserving
cases, it may be waived altogether, but such losses are more than
offset by congregations sending contributions far in excess of the
amount set by the committee."
To one awe-stricken Czech Christian, they looked at first glance
like "hundreds of corpses in transparent shrouds." Later,
becoming calmer, he described them as "a mountain of dead books,
spiritual bodies, so to speak, and yet a mountain glowing with the
life of revelation, law, promise."
Each scroll sent away bears a small brass plaque attached to its
rollers with the inscription "Westminister Synagogue,"
the date 5725, i.e., 1964, "Czech Memorial Scroll," and
the scroll's number. The scroll is accompanied by a certificate
stating that it is one of the 1,564 scrolls from the Jewish ceremonial
treasures confiscated by the Nazis, and giving in Hebrew and English
the name of the town from which it came. Frequently, the Memorial
Scrolls Committee receives letters from rabbis or Hebrew school
students, requesting a history of the Czech community from which
"their" scroll came. In the United States, representatives
of the Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews have participated
in dedication exercises for the scrolls at various synagogues and
supplied historical information on the Jewish communities where
the scrolls had originated. For this purpose the society formed
a special committee under the chairmanship of Gertrude Hirschler,
author of the book The Jews of Czechoslovakia, from which the text
for these chapters was reprinted.
As of 1981 (the date of the most recent report issued by the Memorial
Scrolls Committee), a total of 1,297 scrolls had been catalogued.
Of these, a total of 692 had been sent to various synagogues and
other Jewish institutions in England and other countries as follows:
Federal Republic of Germany
History All Its Own
Each of these Torah scrolls has a historyall its own. Among the
Czech sifre Torah brought to the United States, there were several
very old scrolls. Congregation Beth
Israel in Charlottesville, Virginia. has a sifre
Torah from Lostice, Moravia, which dates from the Eighteenth Century.
On June 9, 1973, the Rego Park Jewish
Center of Queens New York, installed into its Ark
a scroll that originally had belonged to the synagogue of the town
of Hostomice, Bohemia. This scroll had been written in the year
Rabbi Z. David Levy of Temple B'nai
Or in Morristown, New Jersey, found that the scroll
received by his congregation had come from the Malvazinka Synagogue
in Prague and was approximately 200 years old.
The Marathon Jewish Community Center
in Little Neck, Long Island was given a scroll from the historic
Altneuschul Synagogue in Pragues. The Altneuschul (Old-new synagogue)
was built in 1260. It still serves today as an active synagogue
for the Jewish community of Prague.
For a more complete list of congregations with Web pages dedicated
to their torahs, visit The Czech Torah Network's links page - www.czechtorah.org/links.php.
Contact Susan Boyer of The Czech Torah Network to link your torah
story or Web site to our links page.
The Historic Altneuschul Synagogue
in Prague, circa 1890s,
before World War II.
The Philip M. Klutznick National Jewish
Museum at B'nai B'rith
headquarters in Washington, D.C., houses a Torah scroll from the
synagogue of Slavkov u Brna, better known as Austerlitz. Written
at the end of the Eighteenth Century, this scroll survived the famous
battle in which, on December 2, 1805, Napoleon won the most brilliant
military victory of his leadership.
The Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas,
Virgin Islands, dates from the late Eighteenth Century.
The scroll it received had served at the synagogue of Budyne nad
Ohre, Bohemia, having been installed there about 1780.
Some of the Czech scrolls reinforced a link between Czech Jewry
and the history of the Jews in the United States. In the Summer
of 1978, Temple Beth Emunah
of Brockton, Massachusetts received a sifre Torah from the town
of Rokycany, Bohemia, the hometown of Adolph Kraus of Chicago, Illinois.
Mr. Kraus had left Rokycany in 1865 at the age of fifteen to settle
in Chicago, where he had a distinguished career as a lawyer and
Go To Chapter Four: www.czechtorah.org/thestory4.php