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Holocaust Torah Scroll

Since 1977, CSAIR has had on permanent loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust, a Torah from the Czech region of Bohemia that survived the holocaust. We have been researching the story of this Torah and the fascinating history of the scroll and how it came to CSAIR. 


Story of our Torah Scroll, MST #1515

The Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST) is responsible for 1,564 Czech Torah scrolls rescued from the holocaust by the Prague Jewish community and ultimately brought to Westminster Synagogue, London in 1964. Today, thanks to the work of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, these scrolls have been allocated on permanent or long-term loans to synagogues throughout the world.  The history of the Trust and how these Torahs survived the holocaust may be found here.  


How did CSAIR receive this Torah?1 

In 1977, CSAIR Rabbi Chaim Pearl (Rabbi from 1964-1980) wrote a letter to the Memorial Scrolls Trust inquiring about receiving a Torah as a memorial to the holocaust.  After some additional correspondence, CSAIR was approved to receive Torah #1515.  The CSAIR Men’s Club contributed the $400 to the MST to secure the scroll and Marty Wolpoff, who was the Men’s Club president throughout the entire project, arranged for a donor to fund the commission of a mantle for the Torah and for the donor to remain anonymous so that the Torah was not identified with a specific individual donor.

The Mantle was designed and created by CSAIR member and renowned Judaica artist Ita Aber (more about her work here).   The image on the mantle was inspired by the section in the Yom Kippur liturgy alluding to the Talmudic account of Rabbi Chananya ben Teradyon, one of the ten martyrs killed by the Roman government. His body was wrapped in a Sefer Torah and consumed by fire. While he was experiencing excruciating pain, his students asked him, “Our teacher, what do you see?” He responded, “I see the parchment being burnt and the letters flying into the sky” (Avodah Zarah 18a).

On Nov. 9, 1977, Scroll #1515 was shipped by plane from London and arrived at JFK where it was collected and brought to CSAIR by Adolph and Rose Roth.   While the Torah was reported to be posul (unfit to be ritually used due to physical damage), Rabbi Pearl was adamant that the Torah be placed in the ark of the main sanctuary so that it could be held, danced with on Simchat Torah and other occasions and to be a reminder that the Jewish people endures.  


History of our Holocaust Torah, MST #1515

Our Scroll (MST #1515) was written in 18512  in the Czech region of western Bohemia.  The scroll likely came from a small town and was brought to the community of Pilsen (located about 50 miles southwest of Prague)3.  In 1942, the Nazi Zentralstelle instructed all communities in Bohemia and Moravia to send their “historically valuable” items to the Jewish Museum in Prague, founded in 1906.  More than 212,000 artifacts were brought to the Museum including about 1,800 Torah scrolls.  Each item was meticulously recorded by the Museum’s staff with a description and the place of origin and remained warehoused during the war.  After the war, approximately fifty Jewish congregations re-established themselves in the Czech Republic and were provided with religious items, not necessarily from their own communities. When the Communists took over the government of the country in 1948, Jewish communal life was again stifled, and most synagogues were closed. Their possessions went to the newly re-established  Jewish Museum of Prague. The scrolls were transferred and warehoused in the ruined synagogue at Michle outside Prague.

In 1963, the Artia, a company run by the Czech Communist government approached Eric Estorick, an art dealer who frequently visited Prague to buy paintings for his Grosvenor Gallery in London, to ask if he was interested in buying some Torahs and other scrolls.  He approached a client, Ralph Yablon who discussed the situation with Harold Reinhart, Rabbi of the Westminster Synagogue in London. It was decided to instruct Chimen Abramsky, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College, London to examine the scrolls in Prague and report on their authenticity and condition, on receipt of which Ralph Yablon agreed to fund the purchase of 1,564 scrolls, including our MST #1515, that arrived in London in February 1964.  Over several months a team of sofrim (scribes) examined the scrolls to determine those which were kosher, those that could be repaired and/or restored, and those which could only be used as part of a memorial. Subsequently, the Memorial Scrolls Trust was established and the scrolls have been loaned to communities and organizations around the world4.


See the resources below for more on the story of this community and the Jews of Pilsen:

Museum of the Jewish People section on the Jews of Pilsen

10 Stars – Revitalization of Jewish Historic Buildings of the Czech Republic on Pilsen

Jewish Museum of Prague

Footsteps of Jewish Pilsen


Additional resources and information provided by:

Dassie Spivack, project intern and researcher
Lois Roman from the Memorial Scrolls Trust
Marty Wolpoff
Rabbi Barry Dov Katz

1 Mason Voit notes from an interview with Marty Wolpoff, April 5, 2021
2 Letter from MST to Rabbi Pearl, August 31, 1977, provided by Memorial Scrolls Trust
3 Email from Jeffrey Ohrenstein, Memorial Scrolls Trust, August 7, 2020
4 Memorial Scrolls Trust website

 

Wed, April 14 2021 2 Iyyar 5781