Brief History of the Czech Scrolls that survived the Holocaust
Excerpted from Seacoast Sunday article by Suzanne Laurent
In 1938, Hitler annexed the northern and western segments of Czechoslovakia and by 1939 Hitler’s forces occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia. The culture of the Nazi occupation in these territories was somewhat different. In other areas, confiscated ritual items were destroyed. In Bohemia and Moravia, these items were carefully catalogued and stored in the Jewish Museum of Prague, renamed by the Nazis as the Jewish Central Museum.
Among the collections of the Nazi’s Jewish Central Museum were more than 1,800 Torah Scrolls, confiscated from the decimated Jewish communities of Bohemia and Moravia. After the war, the confiscated Torah Scrolls remained in storage in an unused synagogue located in Michle outside Prague.
When World War II ended, the Torah scrolls still lay in the Jewish Museum which had now become the property of the Communist government of Czechoslovakia. In 1963, a cash strapped communist government was looking to raise funds. Eric Estorick, an art dealer, arranged for the purchase of 1,564 Torah Scrolls using funds provided by philanthropist Ralph Yablon. The sale was finalized in 1964, and the Torahs were donated to the Westminster Synagogue in London.
The Memorial Scrolls Trust was formed to determine the disposition of these sacred texts. A team of expert scribes were employed to determine which scrolls were Kosher (fit for ritual use) and which scrolls were more suited as a memorial. The scrolls were then distributed to synagogues, educational institutions and museums around the world.
The Unique History of MST Scroll #486 on permanent loan to Temple Israel.
MST Scroll #486 is on permanent loan to Temple Israel. The certificate of origin indicates that it is an orphan scroll. Of the 1,564 scrolls, 216 lost their tags and cannot be traced to a community of origin. They became known as orphan scrolls.
The Memorial Scrolls Trust placed Scroll #486 in the care of Chatham Jewish Center where it was used for a number of years. The demographics of the area changed and the congregation diminished and closed in the 1980’s. Many of the remaining members of Chatham Jewish Center became part of the TriBeCa Synagogue. MST Scroll #486 was brought to TriBeCa Synagogue for safekeeping where it remained until 2014. It was ten returned to the Memorial Scrolls Trust.
In March of 2014 MST Scroll #486 was granted on permanent loan to Temple Israel. It is used for all life-cycle events that affirm the continuity of the Jewish People including baby namings, Bnai (Bar/Bat) Mitzvah and Aufrufs (the blessing of bride and groom). Together we affirm “AM Yisrael Chai” the People of Israel is alive.