Our Czech Torah Scroll: A Piece of History
Jews lived in Bohemia and Moravia for more than a thousand years before WWII. During that period, a rich Jewish culture developed centered in Prague and extending into rural communities. Following the Nazi invasion in 1939, historical congregations were closed down, and their synagogues were destroyed or deserted.
In 1942, members of Prague’s Jewish community brought religious treasures from these communities and synagogues to the comparative safety of Prague. More than 100,000 artifacts were saved. Among them were about 1,800 Torah scrolls, each meticulously documented with its respective description and place of origin.
After the war ended, a devout band of Jews from Prague’s Jewish community worked to build the archives of the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. At the museum, they labored to preserve what little physical evidence remained of Jewish communities, including the Torah scrolls.
Around fifty congregations re-established themselves in the Czech Republic after the war. There was an attempt to furnish these communities with religious artifacts, but helping those communities back onto their feet meant shifting focus away from preservation.
Recovery & Restoration
In order to properly care for the archival materials, including 1,564 Torah scrolls, Jewish communities in the UK privately purchased them from the Communist government and took them to Westminster Synagogue in London. The transfer included the involvement of many significant figures of the period’s Jewish intellectual world.
In 1963, Eric Estorick, a British art dealer, was offered the opportunity to purchase the 1,564 scrolls. He contacted Ralph Yablon (the patron of this endeavor), who approached Harold Reinhart, Rabbi of the Westminster Synagogue. They asked Chimen Abramsky, a Hebrew scholar, to go to Prague and examine the scrolls. The scrolls were then bought and transported to the synagogue, where they were restored and sent to synagogues and organizations across the world.
The scrolls are a symbol of hope after a time of sorrow and an intimate link with those synagogues and their congregations destroyed by the Nazis. To us, the scroll represents a deep history and a thriving present.
How did the scroll make it to the SBHEC?
Our scroll was donated as a memorial to Max Huterer, a beloved member of the Jewish community, by his granddaughter Lynn Glick (Rhode Island native) and her husband Richard.
Max, known as Moxie to friends and family, was a Holocaust survivor. He was one of ten children who grew up in Auschwitz. Early in the war, he was taken to the Auschwitz camp in the wake of Kristallnacht before the Final Solution was implemented.
Richard explains that Max survived “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 second dental degree from the University of Pittsburgh to practice in the USA. He believed wholeheartedly in the American dream and even declared God Bless America to be his favorite song.
Richard remembers, “Lynn’s grandfather was something else. He looked like Arthur Fiedler. He was laid back and always open to telling his story.”
Richard and Lynn learned about the Memorial Scrolls Trust and saw the opportunity to honor Max’s life by giving back to the community. They made arrangements for the scroll to come to our community, commissioned a special display case and held a dedication at Torat Yisrael in 1987.
The scroll was transferred from Torat Yisrael to the Holocaust Education Center in 1995. The goal of this transfer was to encourage community engagement with a vital piece of history. Coinciding with the opening of the Holocaust Education & Resource Center of Rhode Island (now the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center), the scroll was rededicated and put on display. The Torah is now on permanent loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust.
The scroll still has a role to play in empowering those who care for them to remember their past and look ahead to their future. They are a reminder of history’s evils and a promise of restoration. The Memorial Scroll is on display for the whole community to visit and learn from.