Jews had lived in Bohemia and Moravia for more than a thousand years, and over that time a rich Jewish culture had developed. It was centered in Prague and spread across a large number of communities in towns throughout the country. Following the Nazi invasion in 1939, historical congregations were closed down and their synagogues destroyed or deserted.
In 1942, members of Prague’s Jewish community devised a way to bring the religious treasures from the deserted communities and destroyed synagogues to the comparative safety of Prague. The Nazis were persuaded to accept the plan and more than 100,000 artifacts were saved. Among them were about 1,800 Torah scrolls. Each was meticulously recorded with a description of the Scroll and the place it had come from.
After the War a devout band of Jews from Prague’s Jewish community worked to bring artifacts of all kinds to what had become the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. At the museum they labored under appalling conditions to preserve what little remained of Jewish communities. This initiative was directly responsible for the subsequent conservation of the Scrolls.
Some fifty congregations re-established themselves in the Czech Republic and were provided with religious artifacts. It was hoped that these treasures would be protected and might one day return to their original homes. The Czech Jewish community after the war was too depleted to be able to care for them. This first initiative in keeping safe 1,564 Scrolls of the Law was taken by London Jews who purchased them from the Communist government and took them to Westminster Synagogue in London.
In 1963 Eric Estorick, a London art dealer, was offered the opportunity to purchase the 1,564 Scrolls stored by the Museum. He contacted Ralph Yablon, who in turn approached Harold Reinhart, Rabbi of Westminster Synagogue. They asked Chimen Abramsky, a Hebrew scholar, to go to Prague and examine the scrolls. Through the generosity of Ralph Yablon, the scrolls were bought and transported to the Synagogue, from where, they were restored and sent to synagogues and organizations across the world.
To those who were entrusted with the Scrolls, they were a symbol of hope after a time of sorrow, and an intimate link with those synagogues and their congregations destroyed by the Nazis.
When Lynn Glick’s (of Rhode Island) grandfather, Max Huterer, passed away about 35 years ago she and her husband Richard wanted to do something far more special than a plaque on the wall to memorialize him. As an only grandchild Lynn was especially close to her grandparents, travelling with them to Europe in the summer. She and her mother was the love of his life.
Max was a Holocaust survivor who was one of ten children that grew up in Auschwitz. A practicing dentist, in the wake of Kristallnacht he was taken to the Auschwitz camp. Luckily, it was early in the war and the “Final Solution” had not yet begun. As Richard explains, “Moxie wasn’t in the camp very long because Lynn’s grandmother (Irma) managed to get the necessary paperwork in place so they could emigrate to the United States in 1938.”
At the age of 50 Max received his dental degree (for the second time) from the University of Pittsburgh so he could practice here. Like many immigrants his favorite song was God Bless America. As Richard Glick said, “Lynn’s grandfather was something else, we used to call him Moxie. He looked like Arthur Fiedler, was laid back, yet sophisticated and always open to telling his story.”
Richard and Lynn learned about the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London, contacted them and made arrangements for the scroll to come to our community. Richard commissioned a special case so that it could be properly displayed and it was dedicated at Torat Yisrael in 1987; This commemoration of Moxie’s life serves as a reminder to us all that that which was should never happen again.
In order to give our community more access to the scroll it was transferred from Torat Yisrael to the Holocaust Education Center so, as Richard says, “there would be more visual access to this learning tool.” Coinciding with the opening of the Holocaust Education & Resource Center of Rhode Island (now the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center) in 1995, It was rededicated in and put on display. The Torah is on permanent loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust.
The long journey of the Scrolls is not finished. They have a role to play in enabling those who care for them to remember their past and look ahead to their future, to play a part in ensuring that the terrible events which brought them to new homes, can never be repeated. The Memorial Scroll is on display for the whole community to visit and learn from.