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September 9, 2016  RSS feed
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Text: T T T

Holocaust scroll finds home at Beth Am


The Czech Torah is displayed in an ark in the Tampa temple’s lobby. The Czech Torah is displayed in an ark in the Tampa temple’s lobby. Congregation Beth Am in Tampa is remembering the Jews of a small town in Czechoslovakia by becoming a home for their Torah.

Obtained from the Memorial Scrolls Trust, Beth Am’s Torah - scroll number 1169 - comes from Pardubice, a city 58 miles east of Prague.

The first Jews were mentioned in the history of the city in 1492. There were 400 Jews in the city in 1880 when their synagogue was consecrated, and they had 500 Jews by 1930.

The Nazis closed the synagogue in Pardubice in 1942 as it was beginning deportation of the country’s Jews. Later that year, all the Jews in the city were transported to Theresienstadt, a forced labor camp run by Germans during World War II. Many held there were later sent to Nazi death camps.

Beth Am’s Rabbi Jason Rosenberg said that it was important for the congregation to know the hometown of their Torah so that the scroll could be an “object to honor and [a way to] give honor to that community.”

He sees the members of Beth Am as “custodians” of the scroll in memory of the Jewish people of Pardubice.

One congregant, a professional woodworker, made an ark for the Torah. The ark and Torah are located in the lobby of the synagogue.

Another congregant, an artist, has worked on Torah mantles and is planning to provide adornments for this Holocaust memorial.

The incredible story on how this Torah and thousands of more Judaica were saved from destruction dates back to the beginning of the deportation of the Czech Jews. As the roundup began, a group of Jews suggested to the Nazis that the sacred Jewish objects be saved and the Nazis agreed, according to the Memorial Scrolls Trust.

Torah scrolls, gold and silver religious pieces, textiles, historical artifacts, and thousands of books were taken from more than 100 synagogues to the Central Jewish Museum in Prague, which was under Nazi control. Jews around the country were told to bring their religious pieces to the museum, a place safer than their homes. The Nazis took meticulous notes on the items they had, according to Memorial Scrolls Trust documents.

The plan was for a museum to be built after the Nazi’s plans to exterminate Jews were carried out. The Nazi museum would be a display about the “extinct Jewish race.”

Although the Nazi occupation ended in 1945, the Communist Party took power in 1948. The government took control of the Prague Jewish Museum, disregarding more than 100,000 items of Judaica that the Nazis had stored in warehouses of the museum. The artifacts were neglected and left in dank conditions harmful to the Torahs.

The synagogue’s treasures were found in the early 1960s by community authorities. They asked an American art dealer from France, a frequent visitor to Prague, if he would be interested in purchasing some of the Torahs. In 1964, he purchased 1,564 Torahs that survived and had them brought to Westminster Synagogue in London.

The Memorial Scrolls Trust was created that same year. The trust was created to care for, restore, and allocate the Holocaust Torahs to congregations, Jewish schools and other Jewish groups around the world. They would act as a memorial for the roughly 77,000 Jews killed in the Holocaust who had lived in the area that is now the modern-day Czech Republic. That death toll represents 84.4 percent of the Jews who had lived there at the time.

More than 1,200 scrolls have been sent around the world, mostly to Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, and the United States. They are on permanent loan. Because of the Nazi’s bookkeeping, many of the Torahs also travel to their new homes with a story, or at least a point of origin.

The Trust asks the congregations to have a Shabbat once a year to honor the hometown of their Torahs. Beth Am plans to do so. They are also considering using the Torah in a Yom HaShoah memorial as well.

Because Beth Am has not looked at the entire scroll, its condition and the capabilities the congregation will have in using it are unknown.

They hosted an informal introduction of the Torah on Sunday, Aug. 21, as a way for congregants to get a first look at the Torah and hear its backstory. Beth Am is planning a bigger ceremony later in the year to officially inaugurate it in the temple. “The idea of [the Torah] is very powerful,” said Rabbi Rosenberg. “It is a sacred artifact.”

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