Our Czech Memorial Torah Scroll

Congregation Rodeph Sholom is the proud caretaker of a Czech Scroll from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London, #1,104 of 1,564 scrolls saved from the Shoah. Thanks to the help from Ruth Hochberger and Marty Flumenbaum, and their youngest daughter Judy, we were able to have the Torah brought safely to CRS.

Our scroll’s journey began in a synagogue in a small town probably in Bohemia or Moravia, in Czechoslovakia. This makes our Torah an “orphan scroll”—meaning that the precise town of origin cannot be identified. Following destruction of most of the synagogues in the two provinces, the scrolls, along with many other Jewish ceremonial objects, were confiscated by the Nazis in charge of the Czech “Protectorate”. They were collected, labeled, and catalogued, to be used in a permanent exhibit to a vanished race.

And so, for the next two decades, 1,564 sacred Torah scrolls languished in the basement of the unused Michle Synagogue in Prague: some burned, some waterlogged, some torn, some scarred, with no provision for preservation, protection, or safekeeping.

In 1964, with the cooperation of the Czech government and generous support from a British philanthropist, the scrolls were brought to Westminster Synagogue, where they were carefully stored in three specially-constructed rooms in Kent House. The scrolls were inspected, repaired, and classified, where possible, by town of origin—and the Memorial Scrolls Trust was born.

The trust decided to allocate the usable scrolls, with priority given to synagogues needing a Torah for worship services. The unusable scrolls would go to other synagogues as sacred memorials to the Holocaust. There are currently Czech Scrolls at Central Synagogue, Park Avenue Synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, and URJ Camp Kutz; they are also at schools, hospitals, universities, camps, and kibbutzim all over the world.

The Trust has kept about 150 scrolls, many in hopeless disrepair, as the nucleus for an exhibit to tell the story of their rescue. Our scroll, for the Schnurmacher Chapel, was probably the last to be approved for permanent loan.

Ruth explains that this experience “taught [her] about the resiliency and survivability of the Jewish people and Judaism itself. If you think of the Torah scrolls as a metaphor for the Jewish people: they can round us up, stick us on the floor, subject us to the elements — rain, wind, dirt — hoping we’ll be obliterated, but somehow, we endure. And not only endure but get dispersed all over the world — to remind Jews and others everywhere of our resilience and endurance.”

Congregation Rodeph Sholom uses that sentiment as a way to teach, remember, and honor our history as Jews.

For more information visit www.memorialscrollstrust.org