Holocaust Memorial Scroll

On March 3, 2020 Ohavay Zion Synagogue became the new home for a Torah Scroll that survived the Holocaust. Czechoslovakia, a country created in 1918 after World War I, was split up by Germany in 1938, which absorbed the Sudetenland and made Slovakia a separate country. Following the German invasion in 1939, Bohemia and Moravia became a German Protectorate and, like elsewhere, Jews and Jewish life were systematically destroyed by the Nazis and their supporters.  

Miraculously over 200,000 items of Judaica survived the Shoah. For many years it was believed these items, which were sent from over 150 communities in Bohemia and Moravia to the Central Jewish Museum in Prague, were to be used to create a “Museum of an Extinct race” after the war. However historians now believe this to be a myth as no records exist suggesting this. We know a letter was sent by the Prague museum, who believed the Judaica would be safer there. The instruction could only have been sent with German approval and the mystery remains as to their motive to allow the cost of transport and housing in some 50 buildings in central Prague.

At the end of the war a few communities restarted. However, following the communist coup in 1948, all synagogues were closed. The Torah and other scrolls were subsequently transferred to a damp warehouse where they received no care until 1963 when they were offed to an art dealer. The art dealer contacted Ralph Yablon who agreed to purchase all the scrolls and donated them to the Westminster Synagogue in London where they arrived in February/March 1964. Subsequently, The Memorial Scrolls Trust was set up as an independent charity to be responsible for the scrolls.

Allocating Torah scrolls to Jewish communities and organizations world-wide honors the memory of Jewish life in Europe before the Shoah. The Trust also wishes the scrolls to be used for education and to further unity among the various Jewish denominations, because the Torah binds us together. Christianity and Islam also revere the Five Books of Moses and the Trust hopes that these scrolls will encourage people to appreciate what they have in common rather than what divides them.

MST#876, the official tag name of this Torah, has been in Lexington since 1987, initially allocated to the Lexington Havurah who needed a Torah scroll.  Since then, the scroll has participated in all of the Havurah’s religious services. The scroll’s beautiful needle point cover was fashioned by members of the Havurah. Each member, including men and teenagers, contributed at least a few stitches, making this a community effort.

Over the years Havurah membership has decreased, and although the group remains active as an organization, it no longer holds regular services. Anticipating a time when the Havurah could no longer meet all of the Trust’s loan conditions, past presidents contacted OZS as a possible new home for MST#876.  Policy requires that scrolls no longer in use are returned to the Trust. However, there was, and still is, a strong desire among Havurah members to keep this scroll in the local Jewish community. Therefore, when OZS agreed to take the scroll, the Havurah petitioned the Trust to make an exception and to allow for the transfer. To everybody’s delight, the Trust approved the petition. 

For  more information about the Czech scrolls, please visit the web site of the Memorial Scrolls Trust at www.memorialscrollstrust.org.