Our Holocaust Torah Scroll
The Amazing Story of the Rescue of the Czechoslovakian Torah Scrolls
Temple Beth Shalom Palm Coast is privileged and honored to have on permanent display in our sanctuary a Holocaust Torah, MST# 729, from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London. Rescued from Czechoslovakia after the Shoah, this Torah is considered an “orphan” Torah because no information now exists telling us from what city or synagogue this Torah originates. However, according to the Jewish Museum in Prague, our scroll comes from an unknown town in Bohemia and Moravia.
The Torah Scrolls of Czechoslovakia
During World War II, the Nazis began to close and destroy synagogues in the Jewish communities in Moravia and Bohemia. In 1942, the Nazi officials in charge of the Czech “Protectorate” established the Central Jewish Museum, located in Prague. More than 10,000 ritual objects from liquidated Jewish communities and synagogues went to the Museum. Among these items were approximately 1,500 Torah Scrolls.
After the war, the scrolls were moved to the abandoned Michle Synagogue in Prague. There they lay, unused and uncared for in a damp stone building until 1963. By then they were under the control of Artia, the official “cultural properties” agents of the Czechoslovakian government. Artia asked a famed Lomdon art dealer, Eric Estorick, if there was something that could be done for all these scrolls.
Estorick recommended the scrolls be inspected by Chimen Abramsky, a historian and acknowledged authority on Hebraica and Judaica, to determine their condition and fitness for use. Abramsky was profoundly disturbed by what he found. He saw scrolls that people clearly tried to protect as best they could, wrapped in everything from women’s scarves to a child’s belt. One was spattered with blood. Abramsky found a note tucked into one scroll which asked for help. “It was quite incredible to see this,” Abramsky said. “I burst into tears.”
While Abramsky was in Prague inspecting the scrolls, Estorick discussed them with philanthropist and client Ralph C. Yablon. Yablon agreed to pay $30,000 to obtain all the 1,564 scrolls and place them at London’s Westminster Synagogue.
The old Michle Synagogue, now a Hussite Church.
Photo credit: cs:ŠJů via Wikimedia Commons
Westminster Synagogue established the Memorial Scrolls Committee, which housed the arriving scrolls in the synagogue’s Kent House annex. The committee began the difficult task of determining which scrolls could be repaired and made usable. It eventually hired visiting scribe David Brand, who appeared on Kent House’s doorstep unexpectedly one day, looking for Torahs to repair.
“I shall never forget the look of astonishment and awe on his face when he saw those three rooms stacked to the ceiling with sifre Torah (Torah scrolls),” said Ruth Shaffer, a committee member.
The deplorable condition of the Torah scrolls left for years at the unused Michle Synagogue in Prague
Of the 1,564 scrolls, 216 lost their identifiying tags somewhere along the way and cannot be traced to any specific community. These became known as "orphan" scrolls. Temple Beth Shalom Palm Coast is honored to be entrusted with the care and display of one of these special Torahs.
Beginning in the spring of 1982, TBS began inquiries with the Memorial Scrolls Trust to determine whether one of its rescued Torahs might find a home at our synagogue on permanent loan.
A July 1982 letter from TBS president Benjamin Swartz advised Ruth Shaffer of the Memorial Scrolls Committee that "Our congregation, many of whose members are survivors of the concentration camps of the 1940's, will cherish the scroll and use it as much as possible on specific occasions, thus breathing life into it as it will breathe life into us."
In 1983, TBS’s 10th anniversary, we formally inducted the Holocaust Torah. Cantor Emanuel Kolkey and Holocaust Survivor Sam Rozenberg were given the honor of carrying the Holocaust Torah when it was presented to our congregation.
Cantor Emanuel Kolkey, Julius Rosenstein, Sam Rozenberg at the 1983 induction of the Holocaust Torah at Temple Beth Shalom
A beautiful display case for our Holocaust Memorial Torah was dedicated in January 1995 by Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken in memory of his uncle, Dr. Leon Katz.
The entire story of the Czechoslovakian Torah scrolls, some of which appears on this page, can be found in Volume III of The Jews of Czechosolvakia. This book is available for check out from the TBS library.
To find out more about the Memorial Scrolls Trust, please visit its website at https://memorialscrollstrust.org.
An example of the beautiful calligraphy in our Holocaust Memorial Scroll.