At KITC we are privileged to have Czech Memorial Torah Scroll #467 from Breznice, which was written in 1830. This is one of the 1564 Czech Memorial Sifre Torah which formed part of the treasures saved from the desolated Jewish communities of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia by being collected in Prague during the Nazi occupation (1939-1945), and which then came under the control of the Czechoslovak Government for many years. The Scrolls were acquired from Artia (the Czechoslovak State Cultural Agency) for Westminster Synagogue, where they arrived on the 7th of February 1964.
130 of these Torah Scrolls have been retained by the Memorial Scrolls Trust to form part of the Czech Memorial Scrolls Museum, where there are also over 400 binders making it one of the largest collections of its type, a permanent memorial to the martyrs from whose synagogues they come. Many of them are distributed throughout the world, to be memorials everywhere to the Jewish tragedy, and to spread light as harbingers of future brotherhood on earth. All of them bear witness to the glory of the holy Name.
In 1942, a devout band of Jews from Prague’s Jewish community devised a way to bring the artifacts and Jewish possessions of all kinds from the deserted communities and destroyed synagogues to the comparative safety of Prague. More than 100,000 artifacts were brought to the Museum. Among them were about 1,800 Torah scrolls. Each was meticulously recorded, labeled and entered on a card index by the Museum’s staff with a description of the Scroll and the place it had come from. After the war, they were transferred to the ruined synagogue at Michle outside Prague where they remained until they came to London.
The Czech Jewish community hoped that these treasures would be protected and might one day return to their original homes. The curators labored under appalling conditions to preserve what little remained of Jewish communities, previously at the mercy of vandals and plunderers. This Jewish initiative was directly responsible for the subsequent conservation of the Scrolls. All the curators at the Central Jewish Museum were eventually transported to Terezin and Auschwitz. Only two survived, and the Czech Jewish community after the war was too depleted to be able to care for the collection.
The first initiative in keeping safe the collected 1,564 Scrolls of the Law was taken by London Jews who purchased them from the Communist government and took them back into Jewish hands at Westminster Synagogue. In 1964, the Memorial Scrolls Committee of Westminster Synagogue in London arranged for the shipment of 1564 scrolls to the Synagogue, where they were catalogued and repaired and restored when possible. Each Torah was given a numbered brass plaque to identify its origin. Scrolls that could not be made fit for synagogue use were sent to religious and educational institutions as solemn memorials. Those that were repaired and could be used in religious service were sent to fulfill requests of synagogues all over the world in return for a contribution toward restoration expenses.
The Memorial Scrolls Trust, a U.K. non-profit organization, has recently begun to reach out to synagogues and other institutions who received the Czech scrolls to gather updated information about them. They plan to continue to enhance their website so it becomes “a repository of all knowledge concerning the 1564 scrolls, the Jewish history of the towns they came from, the Jews of those towns, their fate, survivors stories, photos etc. Also where the scrolls are now, how they are used and honored etc.” More information about the Memorial Scrolls Trust is available on their website at www.memorialscrollstrust.org.
The links to the other institutions that hold Scrolls from the collection may be seen on the Memorial Scroll Trust webpage here.