Our Czech Torah
We are privileged and honored to be guardians of a 200 year-old Torah from Czechoslovakia which was rescued from the Holocaust. Our Torah Scroll, known as Czech Memorial Scroll #770, is one of 1,564 Czech Torahs found after WWII. Our Scroll dates back to the early 1800s and is one of eighteen scrolls from the Jewish community in Sedlčany, Czechoslovakia, located 60 km south of Prague in Central Bohemia. Currently marred by missing letters and seams that need to be re-sewn, it remains undeniably beautiful.
All of the Czech Torah Scrolls have now been distributed by the Memorial Scrolls Trust to Jewish communities around the world, where they 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 MST, 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 MST 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, eventually to become the Jewish Museum of Prague and the saved 1,564 Scrolls.
For 20 years following the war, the scrolls remained in a disused 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 1989, the Memorial Scrolls Trust in England entrusted Shalom Institute with this special Torah for use with Camp JCA Shalom campers, at weekend family camps, synagogue and day school programs, and with the community organizations that use Shalom Institute as their retreat center. It is a tribute to the continuing strength of Judaism and the Jewish people following the horrors of the Holocaust that our Czech Torah be used, and serve as a reminder of history while full of our prayers and hopes for the future.
As guardians of these historical and precious scrolls, it is our duty to protect our history for current and future generations. We are grateful to all those who participated in Shanah Torah in 2016 and supported our restoration of this sacred scroll.