Temple Emanu-El is the proud holder of a historical Westminster Czech Torah. Please read below about this Torah and what it means for our community.
This beloved Torah was dedicated to Temple Emanu-El by Janis And Paul Friedman in memory of their parents; Rose and Morris Monsky, and Jacob and Sarah Friedman in January 1986.
Before World War II, Prague was the seat of one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe, dating back over 1000 years. It survived periods of oppression and brief expulsions as well as periods of freedom stemming from remarkably liberal rulers who emphasized religious tolerance and equal rights far before the Enlightenment. The Altneuschul in Prague’s Jewish Quarter was completed in 1270 and remains Europe’s oldest, in use, synagogue. Prague was referred to as the ‘Paris of the East’, and the Jewish community was referred to as the ‘Jerusalem of the West’.
In 1906, Solomon Hugo Lieben, a secondary school religion teacher and historian, established the Organization for the Founding and Maintenance of a Jewish Museum in Prague to preserve Jewish artifacts from synagogues in Prague that were no longer active. He soon expanded his search to rural communities. Ultimately, 1,000 Jewish religious items and 1500 rare Hebrew books and manuscripts were collected. Some dated to the early 17th century. In 1912, based on this success, Prague’s Jewish leadership provided larger space and a curator staff. In 1926, as the collection continued to grow, an even larger space in the center of Prague’s Jewish Quarter was provided. In 1938, following the Nazi occupation of the Sudentland, prominent Jewish historians, curators, and architects banded to protect the Prague Jewish Museum as a symbol of survival in the midst of threatened destruction and annihilation.
In 1939, the Nazis invaded Prague and closed all synagogues. Czechoslovakia was dissolved and became a Protectorate of the Reich. In early 1941, the Nazi’s created The Institute for Exploration of the Jewish Question as a branch of their “Academy” for National Socialist Doctrine and Education. This catalyzed their plan to confiscate Jewish libraries, archives, religious items and personal items throughout Nazi occupied Europe, including those of the 153 destroyed Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia of the former Czechoslovakia. In early 1942, Nazi leaders ordered the Jewish communities in the Protectorate to send books of value to Prague.
By mid 1942, the SS held full authority over the Prague Jewish Museum, renamed the Central Jewish Museum. The Museum’s charter was “that the numerous, hitherto scattered Jewish possessions of both historical and artistic value, on the territory of the entire Protectorate, must be collected and stored.” The world was told that these items were being held in “temporary custody” until they could be returned to their “rightful owners”. As items were confiscated, their owners, now referred to as “donors”, were being deported for their ultimate murder. The Nazi’s plan was to establish a Museum to an Extinct [Jewish] Race, with an Institute for propaganda and “research” to justify the “Final Solution” to the world.
In August, 1942, the curator of the Jewish Museum of Prague, Karel Stein, was ordered to send a letter to all Jewish communities in the Protectorate directing them to “send all their religious items to the Jewish Museum in Prague. These included Torahs, Torah ornaments, religious books, silver, textiles, furniture, and tools of the mohels and Chevrah Kadisha such as saucers, bowls, knives, needles, and nail clippers. Additional stolen Torah scrolls, gold and silver torah ornaments, and ceremonial objects confiscated from Jewish communities throughout occupied Europe were added to the collection, which grew exponentially, filling thirteen buildings within the Jewish Quarter in the center of Prague. The Jewish curators,
In addition to Torahs, religious artifacts and books, the Nazis confiscated paintings, furniture, jewelry, china and silver, clothing, pianos and violins, tapestries, rugs, clocks, and countless other items of religious, personal, or monetary value. Shipments came from liquidated Jewish communities as Jews from these communities were deported to camps. Buildings in the Jewish Quarter, including synagogues, were confiscated and recommissioned as warehouses to store stolen items. The imprisoned curators of the original Prague Jewish Museum were forced to catalogue these items, prepare exhibits to be held in some of the synagogues, and organize the collections for storage.
The curators, whose numbers were augmented by Jewish artists, worked in the hope of preserving the legacy of Europe’s Jews for any remnant that might survive, and for the world to know. Their deportations were delayed while their skills were needed, but by spring of 1943, the deportations of the curators began. Few survived. By the end of the war, eight synagogues and over 50 warehouses in Prague stored stolen items from Europe’s synagogues and the personal possessions of Europe’s deported and exterminated Jews.
After the war, approximately 5000 Jewish survivors returned to Czechoslovakia and were helped in their efforts to restart their communities with books and ritual objects from the collection. The post War Communist government of Czechoslovakia released the surviving Torah scrolls to the Memorial Scrolls Committee of Westminster Synagogue of London, who accepted them on behalf of the destroyed Jewish communities of Europe. In 1964, this Committee received a shipment of 1564 Torah scrolls sent to the Westminster Synagogue. Each Torah received a brass plaque identifying its origin. Those Torahs that could be repaired for synagogue use were restored and distributed to synagogues requesting a surviving Torah throughout the world in return for a contribution towards the restoration expenses. Torah scrolls too damaged for restoration for synagogue use were sent to Jewish institutions to serve as solemn and sacred memorials.
The Westminster Holocaust Scroll that arrived at Temple Emanu El was donated by Janis And Paul Friedman in memory of their parents; Rose and Morris Monsky, and Jacob and Sarah Friedman. It was originally a scroll deemed not in adequate condition for synagogue use. Its restoration in 2004-2005 was also funded by Janis And Paul Friedman.
The following is taken from the January, 1986 dedication of the Westminster Holocaust Torah at Temple Emanu El.
“SURVIVOR OF THE HOLOCAUST”
A Torah Scroll from Czechoslovakia Surviving the Holocaust and Reconsecrated by Temple Emanu-El Birmingham, Alabama 1986/5746
I have always been deeply moved by our Jewish liturgy. One particular phrase, part of the introduction to our ‘Kaddish’ prayer, continues to have a profound effect on me, “… whereby the living honor the dead.”
For many years, Janis and I have wanted to find some suitable form of memorial that we felt would be appropriate to honor our deceased parents. Nothing that was suggested to us really appealed to either of us until we learned of the Czechoslovakian Torah Scrolls that had miraculously survived the Nazis’ occupation of that country.
Rabbi Steven L. Jacobs called me regarding the availability of one of these Torah Scrolls and then contacted the Westminster Synagogue in London, England to arrange for the “permanent loan” of one of these Torah scrolls for us to present to Temple Emanu-El. He also helped us to select the appropriate cover, which is simple and tailored, reminiscent of a ‘tallit’ or prayer shawl, and further suggested that we not get a breastplate but only a ‘yad’ or pointer so as not to detract from the stark simplicity of this Torah Scroll. These two items were purchased in America through sources with which he is familiar.
The next major goal was the construction of a cabinet that would do justice to such a treasure, and for this, I turned to artist Cheryl Totty and craftsman Dan Ingram. Cheryl, Dan, and I met with Rabbi Jacobs for the most exciting several hours during which the Rabbi showed us the Torah Scroll (which had only recently arrived). He then opened it and read from it in Hebrew and translated what he read not English as he went along. Cheryl and Dan, being quite religious Christians, were almost in a state of shock as they heard both the Hebrew and English versions of the Jewish Scriptures with which they were quite familiar.
We then went into the Sanctuary and the Rabbi opened the Ark and showed us how the Torah Scrolls rested there. We discussed the fact that we wanted the cabinet to be compatible with the woodwork in the Temple.
Then came the design of the cabinet. We three went back to my office where I sketched out what I thought would be an appropriate general appearance. Cheryl and Dan added their own expertise. Since Rabbi Jacobs had indicated that there might be certain Worship Services when he would like to move the cabinet and the Torah Scroll to a different location in the Temple, I suggested that we make the base and cabinet in two separate pieces.
The successful completion of this beautiful cabinet which now stands outside the center doors of our Sanctuary is a tribute to the awe and reverence this Torah Scroll inspired in the four of us.
My roots are deeply implanted in Temple Emanu-el. My father, Jacob Friedman, became a member of the congregation soon after he arrived in Birmingham in 1897 and served as Treasurer of the Temple for approximately twenty-five years. My earliest memories of the Temple are hearing my mother, Sara, sing in the choir, which she did for most of her adult married life.
As a young boy, Friday Evening Sabbat services were a must for all three of us, and I believe that this early indoctrination into Temple Emanu-El led eventually to my serving three terms on the Board of Trustees as well as two terms as Vice-President of our Congregation.
Janis and her family moved to Birmingham in 1937 from Montgomery, Alabama, where Morris and Rose Monsky raised their three children, Sylvia, Leroy, a former All-American football player at the University of Alabama, and Janis. The Monskys were members of Temple Beth-Or in Montgomery, and their roots were bound up in that Temple prior to their move to Birmingham. Soon after, they joined Temple Emanu-El,, and regularly attended Worship Services and other functions here.
As I have indicated on the brass plaque embedded in the cabinet that now houses this Torah Scroll: “It is, therefore, with great pride and with a feeling of deep humility, that we present this Torah Scroll to our Congregation in memory of our beloved parents.” Paul Friedman, Sr. January 1986/Tevet 5746
It has been more than four decades since the full and horrifying revelations of the wanton slaughter of Six Million Jewish men, women, and children not to mention more than twenty million others were first brought home to us. Yet, daily, we continue to be assaulted by the Holocaust, due in large measure to the veritable flood of articles, exhibits, and films which are produced. The television special ‘Holocaust” continues to rank as among the most impressive viewing audience in the history of the medium. The presidential Commission on the Holocaust has concluded its work and presented its recommendations to the President urging the creation of a “living memorial museum” as a fitting tribute to the sacred memories of those innocents who perished during the Second World War. The actual construction of the museum building has, at long last, begun.
Pain-filled questions of “How did it happen?” remain exposed in our collective consciousness much like a searing wound that refuses to heal. Humanity stands condemned by the silent cries of those whose only crime was their desire to live at peace in this world. Redemption can only come about by our grasping of that hope which faith and religion have to offer, and by our willingness to perpetuate the memories of those martyred millions through our commitment towards ensuring that the Holocaust remains a historical event and not the prelude to future repetitions.
This Torah Scroll from the now-decimated Jewish Community of Czechoslovakia, which has found a new resting place in the holy precincts of our Congregation, is concrete evidence of our own commitment to a future sensitive to the tragedies of the past and determined, in the words of our Prayer Book, “to build a world of peace for Your children.” It is both fitting and appropriate that our Congregation, the oldest Jewish congregation in the City of Birmingham, have on permanent loan such a Torah Scroll. Since our initial correspondence with Mrs. Rugh Schaffer, Honorary Secretary of the Memorials Scrolls Committee of the Westminster Synagogue, London, England, in September 1984, until the reconsecration of this Torah in 1986, bringing this Torah Scroll home to Temple Emanu-El was understood by Paul and Janis Friedman to be a memorial tribute to their beloved parents, Jacob and Sara Friedman and Morris and Rose Monsky. A dedicatory plaque has been placed on the Torah cabinet to that effect. To Paul and Janis go the heartfelt gratitude and appreciation of the membership of Temple Emanu-El.
Rabbi Steven L. Jacobs
“I will give them in My House and within My walls, a monument and a name…I will give them an everlasting name which shall not perish.”
SURVIVOR OF THE HOLOCAUST 2004-2006
In 2004, Rabbi J. Honan, father of congregant Dr. Michael Honan and the retired Rabbi of UA Hillel, was asked to examine Temple Emanu-El’s Westminister Torah. Rabbi Honan was also a sofer, or scribe, skilled to assess and restore a damaged Torah. He found that our Westminister Torah had damage and deterioration that needed urgent repair because deterioration was advancing at a pace that restoration would soon no longer be possible. Rabbi Honan was then sanctioned to repair our Czech Torah. He restored the Torah to a condition that allowed it to be used in synagogue worship and, on Yom Kippur, 2005, the Czech Torah on permanent loan to Temple Emanu-El, was rededicated.
Rededication of the Czech Torah on Yom Kippur 2005 by Paul Friedman Sr.
I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words today in the rededication of the Czechoslovakian Torah which Janis and I procured for our congregation in 1985. This was to honor our beloved parents Jacob & Sara Friedman and Morris and Rose Monsky.
I have always been deeply moved by our magnificent Jewish liturgy and particularly one phrase which is part of the introduction to our Kaddish Prayer.
I heard it as a very young child, and it was from our old union prayer book. It still has a profound effect on me. This phrase states, in part, – “Whereby the living honor the dead.”, “Whereby the living honor the dead.” It was truly the great significance of this phrase that prompted Janis and I to give something most memorable to our congregation and temple in honor of our parents.
We had heard of the Czechoslovakian Torahs and we decided to find out more about them. We therefore, contacted Rabbi Steven Jacobs, who was our Rabbi at the time, and after a lengthy meeting, wherein Steve gave us the whole history of the Torahs, we asked him to take the necessary steps to get one for our Temple. It finally arrived in 1985 and we rededicated it in a very beautiful service on January 31, 1986.
We also had a fine cabinet made for it and for many years it resided in its cabinet in the foyer as you enter the main sanctuary. During our massive construction years, it was housed at the Southside Baptist Church where we held our services.
Early this year, Rabbi Miller indicated to Janis and me that the Torah needed some re-lettering, considering it was approximately 150 years old. He also said he would like to make it a “Living” Torah, take it out of the cabinet, and put it in the Arc to be used in our services.
We agreed and he then sent it to Rabbi Honan in Huntsville who is a sofer, specialist in this work. We received it back just recently.
Back in 1985, I had written a brief overview of the unbelievable odyssey of the Czech Torahs, had it engraved on a brass plate, and then embedded it into the cabinet.
I will now read from it to give you additional information about the travails that these Torahs endured.
“During the madness that was the Holocaust in Europe, the Nazis, in their sadistic rape of Czechoslovakia, decided upon a particularly fiendish plot.
They stole all of the Torah Scrolls from the Jewish Congregations in Czechoslovakia for the explicit purpose of later building museums to exemplify what they, in their depravity, perceived to be Jewish “decadence.” The focal point of these museums was to be these Torah Scrolls.
The Nazis stored them in a warehouse in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where they were discovered after WWII. They then were brought to England in 1964 to the Westminster Synagogue in London, where restoration and cataloging were begun. With loving care, they have been carefully restored and have been made available to congregations all over the world to use and protect for posterity.
Although this Torah Scroll, which is in magnificent condition, cannot be considered to be an outright purchase, it is on permanent loan to Temple Emanu-El as long as our Temple is in existence.
It is therefore, with great pride and with a feeling of deep humility, that we present this Torah Scroll to our congregation in memory of our beloved parents”
Jacob and Sara Friedman
Morris and Rose Monsky
More background on the Holocaust Memorial Scroll and Historical photos from Ceske’ Budejovice may be found on our special Pinterest site, “Our Torah-Memorial Torah Scroll #529”, the certificate of identification for Memorial Torah Scroll #529.
Survivor of the Holocaust 2007 – present
Following the rededication in 2006, the Czech Torah was placed in the ark with the other Temple Emanu-El Torahs, so it could become “a living Torah” for use in services. It has since been used in a number of B’nai Mitzvot, especially with Bar and Bat Mitzvot whose families hold links to Czech Jewry.
In 2007, Robert Ascherman, who used the Czech Torah at his Bar Mitzvah, contributed a new Torah cover for Temple Emanu-El’s Czech Holocaust Torah. Transcripts from the Eichmann trial include descriptions of the Café Aschermann, which remained open until 1942, when it was confiscated by the Nazi’s and used as one of the over 50 warehouses storing stolen items from Jewish congregations and individuals throughout occupied Europe.
Robert Ascherman’s Presentation of the Czech Torah Cover, 2007
I donated a new Torah cover for the Czech Holocaust Torah in honor of my Bar Mitzvah and to help the Czech Torah complete its home in this country. I chose to give the cover to the Temple because of my own heritage.
Until the Nazi occupation of Prague, the city was a European capital known for its culture and tolerance. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia, ruled first by the Holy Roman Empire and then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1609, the Emperor made a Tolerance Decree that all religions were to co-exist peacefully. Later rulers were less tolerant, creating Familiant Laws that restricted the Jewish population to about 8,600 families. This meant one had to wait for the older generation to die before being able to wed. By the middle of the 1700s, Emperor Joseph II reissued a Tolerance Decree that lasted until the Nazi occupation. For the next several centuries, Jewish life flourished. Jews contributed to secular and religious life.
In the early 1700s, my great, great, great, great, great grandfather, Elias Popel, married and had a son, Joseph. During Joseph’s lifetime, all last names had to be changed to German names, making him Joseph Aschermann. Joseph and his wife, Elizabeth, had three sons and a daughter. Their oldest son, Moises, married Rachael and had four sons, the youngest of whom was my Dad’s great grandfather, Leopold. Leopold’s son, Ignatz, born in 1872, was my great grandfather. Ignatz and his wife, Marie Mertzl, had eight children. My grandfather, Lawrence, was their youngest.
My grandfather and grandmother, Sylvia Foldy, met in 1936. My grandmother’s family also came from Czechoslovakia, or Hungary, or Austria Hungary depending on who won different wars. Her family was from the town Kisseben, known as Sabinov after World War I. The town was where one of the first Holocaust films, ‘The Shop on Main Street’ was made in 1956. After the war, my grandfather found my grandmother’s father who, when my grandfather hesitated, said, “she’s all right son and she’s not married”. My grandparents soon married.
In 1982, my grandfather asked my father, who was studying in Europe, to go to Prague and “see what was left”. During this time, the Iron Curtain was still up. To everyone’s surprise, my Dad found two branches of the family that survived. One cousin had two sons and another had one son – so now there is a branch of my family on both sides of the ocean. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Pinchas synagogue in Prague listed the names of Czech Jews who died in the Holocaust on its walls, including many Aschermanns. With Prague now a better place, I plan to visit my family’s roots in Prague and meet my cousins.
Both the Czech Torah and my family had a similar journey. Both found a new home in Temple Emanu El where my mother’s family, who came from Latvia, Russia, and Spain, had been members for four generations including me. By giving the Torah a new cover, I help complete its home here.
Robert traveled to Prague in 2008 and 2014, meeting cousins ranging in age from 6 to 80. In 2013, his 12 year old cousin from Prague traveled to be a summer camper where Robert was a counselor, to spend time with his older cousin and to learn English. It was a successful journey, and he made a number of American friends.
The Westminster Synagogue Acquisition of the Czech Holocaust Torahs
1,564 Torah scrolls were confiscated from synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia and stored in The Michle Synagogue in Prague where they fell into disrepair. The small group of survivors from what was a vibrant Jewish community in Prague did not have the resources to maintain the pre-war Jewish Museum, now in possession of vast numbers of religious and non-religious items looted by the Nazis. The collection came under the auspices of the Czech government, which attempted to maintain items as a memorial to the devastated Jewish community. There was sufficient sensitivity to not exhibit the Torah scrolls as a museum exhibit, and recognition that their condition would continue to deteriorate.
In 1963, arrangements were made for a London philanthropist to acquire these Torah scrolls if they went to a non-profit organization. The Westminster Synagogue of London accepted responsibility for the Torah scrolls. In February, 1964, all the Torah scrolls arrived at Westminster Synagogue where they were inspected and catalogued. Some were found to be beyond repair, some were found needing minimal to no repair, and some were found to have moderate damage but could be restored. Ruth Shaffer, the daughter of the Yiddish writer, Shalom Asch, was given responsibility to coordinate the repair of Torah scrolls that could be repaired and the future distribution of scrolls to congregations around the world that sought them. Scrolls that could not be repaired were also given to museums and congregations who would exhibit them in memory of the lost communities from whom they were stolen and damaged. Priority was given to congregations in need of a Torah for worship and congregations whose members have links to a Torah’s original home. Congregations were encouraged to donate towards the cost of repair of the scrolls. The scrolls were given “on permanent loan”. Each Torah has a brass identification tablet and a certificate identifying the origins of the scroll.
Scrolls are now in almost every free Jewish community in the world. The minority have been able to be restored sufficiently for synagogue use. Torah scrolls that are not able to be restored are also exhibited in Westminster Abbey, Yad Vashem, and the Royal Library of Windsor Castle. Rabbi Harold Reinhart, the Westminster rabbi who led the acquisition of the scrolls, noted that the scrolls serve “to live, to commemorate, to inspire a saddened but not hopeless world, and to glorify the holy Name.”
The Westminster Synagogue Memorial Scrolls Committee
The 1,564 sacred Scrolls which came to Westminster Synagogue on 7th February 1964, had been gathered together in Prague from the desolated synagogues of Bohemia and Moravia, by the Nazi official in charge of the embroidered vestments, and ceremonial objects of silver and gold, similarly collected by the Nazis. Many of these articles are now in the State Jewish Museum in Prague. The Scrolls themselves lay piled in the disused Michle Synagogue for more than 20 years.
In 1963, with the sympathetic concern of the Czechoslovak Government, Mer. Eric Estorick, a London art connoisseur, was able to arrange with Aritis, the authority responsible for such treasure, for the acquisition of the Scrolls.
Mr. Ralph Yablon of London responded generously to a request to finance the enterprise and, at his insistence, Mr. Chimen Abramsky traveled twice to Prague to make a cursory examination of the Scrolls. The packing and shipping were themselves no small undertakings and all was done with meticulous care. It was agreed from the outset by the Czech Authorities and the British interested parties that the Scrolls should pass in trust of a responsible non-commercial body and Mr. Yablon nominated Westminster Synagogue. The offer was solemnly accepted by the synagogue officers and a Memorial Scrolls Committee was formed under the chairmanship of Mr. Frank R. Waley, then Chairman and later President of the Synagogue. Rabbi Harold F. Reinhart, founder, Minister of Westminster Synagogue, gave his devoted attention to every aspect of the care and distribution of the Scrolls from the moment of their arrival until his death in 1969.
The first task of the Committee was the careful unpacking and numbering of the Scrolls, and the construction in three rooms of racks designed for the purpose, with positions properly numbered so that each of the 1,564 Scrolls could be readily accounted for through the period of their study and distribution. Then came the major task of inspection. A system of cataloging was devised and in accordance therewith, each Scroll was gone through by an expert, and a record made so far as was possible, of the origin and age of the Scroll, the physical condition of its components and, most importantly, the state of the writing and the defects therein. On the basis of this study, the Scrolls were classified into five grades, from best to unusable. The middle grades are as can be made usable by a little or a greater amount of labor, and such as have some parts that are or can be made usable. It is hoped that eventually, with much effort and at great expense, the majority of the Scrolls will be made fit for use in Synagogues. Of the remainder, some will serve as sacred memorials.
The experts who worked on this task for part of or all of the ten months from July 1964 to April 1965, were: Mr. Chimen Abramsky, Mr. Morris Sanders, Rabbi Ilisha Rosenfeld, the Rev. Jacob Akiba, Mr. David Acoca, and Mr. Moise Assouline, the last three under the supervision of Rabbi Pinchas Toledano.
On 28th June 1965, a Solemn Assembly was held at Westminster Synagogue to mark the completion of the preliminary study of the Scrolls and the beginning of the task of distribution. The Assembly was representative of all sections of the Jewish community and included also members of the clergy and academics of different faiths. Sir Seymour Karminski, President of the Congregation, presided; Der. Brodie, then Chief Rabbi, read the memorial prayers; and Dr. Reinhart spoke of the past tragedy and future hope of which the Scrolls were a symbol. A message of good wishes was read from the Residents of the Prague Jewish community.
From the beginning, the Memorial Scrolls Committee has received the encouragement of the Congregation and the leaders of the Anglo-Jewish community: the then Chief Rabbi, Dr. Brodie; the Haham, Dr. Gaon, who gave valued practical help; Dr. Richard Barnett, of the British Museum; and many, many more.
The object of the Memorial Scrolls committee is to distribute the sacred Scrolls throughout the world wherever they can be of most service. The press, both general, led by the New York Times, and Jewish, gave publicity to the arrival of the Scrolls in London and during the past ten years, hundreds of requests have come from all parts of the world. The committee has decided that priority shall be given to requests from synagogues and, in particular, from those in immediate need of Scrolls for use in their services. It is appreciated that many synagogues which already possess sufficient Scrolls for use in worship may wish to receive a Czech Scroll as a memorial to the martyred communities, and the Committee hopes that many imperfect Scrolls will serve this sacred purpose. When a request is approved by the committee, a Scroll is handed over on a “permanent loan” and the recipient is asked to make a contribution towards the expenses involved.
For the present, it is hoped that congregations will make larger contributions in accordance with their means, as indeed quite a number of recipients have already done. For, as the work proceeds with the more seriously damaged Scrolls, the funds which the Committee now have in hand will be rapidly depleted; and failing continued generous support, the difficult work of restoring the most damaged Scrolls will be delayed.
Each Scroll bears a brass tablet with a number corresponding to the number on a certificate which describes the origin of the Scroll and any known particulars.
A few Scrolls, not necessarily fit for use in a synagogue but appropriate as solemn memorials, have been assigned for display in religious and educational centers, and it is hoped that many future applicants will find these Scrolls appropriate to their needs. One went to Westminster Abbey, where it was a feature in the exhibition arranged by the Council of Christians and Jews in connection with the Cathedral’s 900th Anniversary Commemoration; this Scroll is now permanently in the library of the Council of Christians and Jews. Others have gone to Brandeis University, New York University, Northwestern University, Chicago, the University of Rochester, New York, Kings College, Cambridge, Leeds University, the University of Southampton, the University of Warwick, Clifton College, the University of York and York Cathedral.
The Committee continues to receive many requests; and they will not rest until the sacred treasures shall have found their most appropriate homes, to honor the memory of the martyrs, and to bring light to future generations.
MEMORIAL SCROLLS COMMITTEE
WESTMINSTER Synagogue, Rutland Gardens,
London SW7 1BX
MEMORIAL SCROLLS COMMITTEE UPDATE
The Memorial Scrolls Trust, a U.K. non-profit organization, recently began to reach out to synagogues and other institutions that received the Czech torah scrolls to gather updated information about them. They plan to continue to enhance their website so it becomes “a repository of all knowledge concerning the 1564 scrolls, the Jewish history of the towns they came from, the Jews of those towns, their fate, survivors’ stories, photos, etc. Also, to be included, are where the scrolls are now, and how they are used and honored…” More information about the Memorial Scrolls Trust is available on their website.
THE HISTORY OF CZECHOSLOVAKIAN JEWRY
Czechoslovakia was founded in 1918 after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I. It included the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, Slovakia, the province of Subcarpathian Rus, and portions of Austrian Silesia.
Prewar census data divides the prewar population of Czechoslovakia along ethnic (mother tongue) lines at about 50 percent Czech, 22.3 percent German, 16 percent Slovak, 4.78 percent Magyar (Hungarian), 3.79 percent Ukrainian, 1.29 Hebrew and Yiddish, and 0.57 Polish.
Despite its multinational population and tense relations with its neighbors, all of whom coveted its territory, Czechoslovakia remained a functioning, model parliamentary democracy until the Munich crisis of 1938.
After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Germany demanded the “return” of the ethnic German population of Czechoslovakia—and the land on which it lived—to the German Reich. In late summer 1938, Hitler threatened to unleash a European war unless the Sudetenland was ceded to Germany. The Sudetenland was a border area of Czechoslovakia containing a majority ethnic German population as well as all of the Czechoslovak Army’s defensive positions in event of a war with Germany. The leaders of Britain, France, Italy, and Germany held a conference in Munich on September 29–30, 1938. In what became known as the Munich Pact, they agreed to the German annexation of the Sudentland in exchange for a pledge of peace from Hitler.
In the wake of the Munich Pact, the leaders of the democratic government in Czechoslovakia resigned; President Beneš left the country for France. Under severe German pressure and Slovak separatist pressure from within, the rump state restructured itself into an authoritarian regime and renamed itself Czecho-Slovakia, reflecting the significant autonomy granted to Slovakia. These efforts did nothing to deter Nazi Germany from inviting Czechoslovakia’s other neighbors to make demands on its territory. In the autumn of 1938, as a result of the First Vienna Arbitration Award, Hungary annexed territory in southern Slovakia, Subcarpathian Rus, and Poland annexed the Tešin District of Czech Silesia.
On March 15, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia in the rump Czecho-Slovak state, in flagrant violation of the Munich Pact. Established as a new state in 1918, Czechoslovakia disappeared from the map. The Nazis refashioned the two provinces Bohemia and Moravia as a German Protectorate, annexed directly to the Reich, but under the leadership of a Reich Protector. Konstantin von Neurath, the former German Foreign Minister, served as Reich Protector from March 1939 until he was replaced Reinhard Heydrich. After Heydrich’s assassination in late spring 1942, Order Police Chief Kurt Daluege served briefly as Reich Protector, follow by former Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick until the end of the war.
Slovakia became an independent state under the leadership of a Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso, whose followers established a fascist, authoritarian, one-party dictatorship, strongly influenced by the separatist Catholic clerical hierarchy in internal policy and closely allied with Nazi Germany. The ruling party was the Slovak People’s Party. The Tiso regime remained in power until April 1945.
THE FATE OF CZECHOSLOVAKIAN JEWRY
Between the two World Wars, an independent Czechoslovakia was established consisting of Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia. The fates of these communities were somewhat different, but none escaped the devastation of the “Final Solution”.
Czechoslovakian Jews suffered under German control from the time of the annexation of the Sudentland in March, 1938, to the invasion of the rest of Bohemia and Moravia the next year, until the closing days of the war in May, 1945. Outside of Germany, this was the longest occupation European Jewry suffered.
In the 1930 census, the Jewish population of Bohemia and Moravia was 117,551. While thousands managed to flee or emigrate after 1939, approximately 78,000 were killed. By 1945, only some 14,000 Jews remained alive. Approximately 144,000 Jews were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Most were Czech Jews. About a quarter of the inmates (33,000) died there from malnutrition, hunger, disease and execution. Near the end of the war, the camp was ravaged by typhus. About 88,000 Theresienstadt inmates were deported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. At the end of the war, only 17,247 survived. Of 15,000 children who lived in Theresienstadt at some time during the war, only 93 survived.
In the 1930 census, the Jewish population of Slovakia was 136,737. About 5,000 emigrated before World War II but most perished in the Holocaust. In March, 1939,the Slovak Republic proclaimed its “independence” under the protection of Nazi Germany with a pro-Nazi President who was a Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso. The deportations of Jews from Slovakia started on March 25, 1942. By the time these deportations were temporarily halted in October, 1942, 58,000 Jews had already been deported and more than 99% of them were murdered. In the latter part of 1944 Germany occupied Slovakia to suppress an uprising, and the deportation of Jews resumed in October, 1944. By the end of the war, 13,500 more Jews were deported to camps and most were murdered. Within Slovakia, an additional 2,000 Jews were killed.