Sun Lakes Jewish Congregation participated in the Czech Memorial Scroll Trust Workshop on Monday, February 9. SLJC was honored to participate and brought our scroll No. 77 that was originally from Kolodeje. The Torah was brought to our congregation in honor of our member, Ella Lerner. She is from Czechoslovakia and is a Holocaust survivor having been incarcerated in four concentration camps.
Participants came from around the world including Michael Heppner, Jeffrey Oenstein from London and the new chairman of the Memorial Scrolls Trust. Approximately 20 Arizona torahs/survivors participated in processional. Each Torah is a tribute to a survivor scroll and its synagogue from Moravia or Bohemia. The purpose of this workshop was to educate congregations on the legacy of the scrolls and learn more about the areas where these Torahs come from. Each of the rescued Czech scrolls is a messenger from a destroyed congregation, where there is no new generation to honor and remember those who went before. When they were sent across the world into living congregations the scrolls took with them a message. The message was to save the Jews from that congregation from the anonymity of being lost among the 6,000,000.
The Czech Torah Scrolls were taken by the Nazis from Jewish synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia. Hitler rounded up and killed millions of innocent children and adults during World War II. He confiscated all the Jewish ritual items and torah scrolls from the Jewish Communities of Bohemia and Moravia of the country then known as Czechoslovakia. It has been suggested that his plan was to use these objects of Judaica to create a museum of an extinct race – the Jews. This has never been formally proven but this collection of Jewish cultural and religious artifacts bears witness to the Holocaust. Today, these Czech torahs, part of this precious legacy, are being used in congregations throughout the world as a source of Jewish spiritual continuity.
The Torah scrolls from Czechoslovakia were part of a huge collection of Jewish ceremonial objects that were collected at the Jewish Museum at the instigation of the Jewish curators who worked there. Under the watchful eye of the Nazis, Jews in Prague sorted, classified, and catalogued these treasures and arranged the scrolls in stacks reaching from the floor to the ceiling. For the Jews thus employed, it was a short reprieve; even before their task was completed, they were deported and all but two eventually perished in the death camps.
Through the work of the Trust, today, these scrolls can be found in every corner of the globe. They help their host congregations to remember not just individual Jews, but whole communities whose names might otherwise be forgotten. In many cases they are their congregation’s only scrolls, defiantly enabling the continuity of Jewish life. Some of the scrolls are used to bring together different faiths, to understand each other’s traditions and beliefs and pray together. Others have even played a part in reuniting families.
One Czech scroll is now in the White House. Of great antiquity, it comes from Uherské Hradiste, one of the six royal cities of medieval Moravia, where Jews appear to have lived as far back as 1342. The scroll was given to President Jimmy Carter on November 2, 1977 after he had addressed a meeting called by the World Jewish Congress in Washington, D.C in the hope that President Carter would install the scroll in the Executive Mansion “as a constant reminder of our prayers for justice and peace.” President Carter replied, “I accept it for all those who share a common religious heritage and a common commitment to the future…I will observe it daily in the White House as I go about my duties and it will be a constant reminder to me of the spirit of human rights, decency and love that is exemplified by those of you represented here tonight.”