Memorial Scrolls Trust Torah

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Memorial Trust Torah

This special Torah Scroll, MST#1254, is on permanent loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust, London England. This Torah was written in Czechoslovakia over 130 years ago. The scroll was from a small Czech town named Prestice, a small town approximately 100 km southwest of Prague, and was rescued after WW II. The scroll exhibits “Bet Yoseph” style of writing and has damage from the war rendering it non-kosher.

Temple Beit HaYam is privileged to be the caretaker of a torah rescued from the Holocaust. The scroll was acquired during the presidency of David Lester and during the rabbinate of Rabbi Jonathon Kendall. This special Torah embodies the link between our Jewish past and the continuing evolving story of the Jewish people.

The saving of the Jewish treasurer of Bohemia and Moravia can be credited to a devoted group of Jews from Prague’s Jewish Community and to what had become the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. The Jews working in the community hoped that these treasures would be protected and might one day be returned to their original homes. All the Museum’s curators were eventually transported to the Terezin ghetto and Auschwitz, with only two surviving the Holocaust. Their legacy and their gift to the Jewish world was the vast catalogued collection in what later became the Jewish Museum in Prague.

Following the war, the Torahs became the responsibility of the Czech government. Although they did not do anything further to desecrate the Torahs, through neglect the Torahs continued to decay. Many had fire or water damage. In 1963, the Czech government secretly contacted an American Art Dealer who had been working quietly behind the Iron Curtain collecting antiquities, and asked if he would find a party to remove the Torahs from Czechoslovakia. On 7th February 1964, 1,564 Torahs arrived at the Westminster Synagogue in London, the costs underwritten by Ralph Yablon, a London businessman.

The Westminster Synagogue established the Memorial Scrolls Trust to catalogue the place of origin, age and condition of each scroll, repair them when possible, and distribute them to synagogues around the world. Many of the Kosher Torahs were distributed to synagogues that could not afford the cost of a new scroll. Others such as ours were deemed beyond repair, and suitable for commemorative use only. The Torahs are not sold, but remain on permanent loan to each synagogue from The Czech Memorial Scroll Centre.

The Jewish community in Prestice dates back to the 15th century. The Jewish population of Prestice reached a maximum of around 750 in the mid 1800s, and by 1930 had dwindled to around 300. The prevailing occupation of the Jews in the district was in small business, mainly in grocery, dry goods, haberdashery and in the villages around Prestice, cattle business. Prestice was home to Leopold Weisel (1804 – 1873), a prominent collector and editor of Jewish legends. Weisel is credited by some sources as the first to publish a story of the Golem of Prague, in 1847. The Prestice Synagogue was built in 1910; it was destroyed by the Czech authorities in 1974.

Czech Jews began to be transported to the ghetto of Terezin in November, 1941. From there they were deported to extermination camps such as Auschwitz. Before the deportation of the Jewish Community of Prestice to Terezin, 152 documents and 212 religious items of the community were transferred by the Nazis  to the Central Jewish Museum in Prague.  Their intent was to develop a Jewish Museum, dedicated to the extermination of the Jewish people. This never came to being and all of the collected Jewish items were transferred to the custody of the post war Czech government. In 1963-1964, over 1564 Torah Scrolls were quietly transported to the Westminster Synagogue, London England (see above).

For more information on rescued Czech Torahs,

visit the following websites:

 www.czechtorah.org

www.memorialscrollstrust.org.