One of NVHC’s Torah scrolls is on loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust, a collection of Torah scrolls from Czechoslovakia which survived the Holocaust.
In the 1930s, Bohemia and Moravia in Czechoslovakia had over 350 Jewish Congregations and close to 120,000 Jews. As the Germans invaded in 1939, these communities were either destroyed or deserted. In 1942, a group of Jews working in a museum in Prague convinced the Nazis to bring religious treasures from deserted communities and destroyed synagogues to the comparative safety of Prague. More than 100,000 artifacts (including about 1,800 Torah scrolls) were brought to what would become the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. The Jewish curators hoped that eventually the artifacts and scrolls could be returned to their communities. All the curators were eventually transported to Terezin and Auschwitz. Only one curator survived. After the war, the Czech Jewish community was too depleted to be able to care for the scrolls properly, and they languished in storage.
In 1963, a London art dealer purchased 1,564 Torah scrolls stored by the Jewish Museum of Prague. Through the generosity of Ralph Yablon and the efforts of the congregation at Westminster Synagogue, the entire collection was transported to London in 1964. These scrolls became the Memorial Scrolls Trust.
While some of the Torah scrolls were damaged beyond repair, many were usable with some restoration by a sofer (scribe). Rather than sit in a museum, most of these scrolls were returned to Jewish life as long-term loaners to congregations throughout the world.
NVHC received our memorial scroll (MST #601) in 1970. This scroll was originally used by the Jewish community in Hermanuv Mestec, located in the Czech Republic about 54 miles east of Prague. Because of its delicate condition it is read only on special occasions. If a Jewish community arises in Hermanuv Mestec again, NVHC would return the scroll for their use. Another scroll from Hermanuv Mestec is in use by Congregation Beth El in Bethesda. Rabbi Emerita Rosalind Gold and her husband Ted Smith visited Hermanuv Mestec in 1993. Ted visited again in 2000. Click here to read an essay on Ted’s research.
The memorial scrolls connect today’s congregations with Jewish communities that were lost in the Holocaust. By the continued use of these sacred texts for study and worship, the destroyed Jewish communities live on.