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Holocaust Memorial Torah Scroll #494

 
 

 Memorial Scrolls Logo The Memorial Scrolls Trust, a U.K. non-profit organization, has recently begun to reach out to synagogues and other institutions who received the Czech scrolls to gather updated information about them. They plan to continue to enhance their website, so it becomes "a repository of all knowledge concerning the 1564 scrolls, the Jewish history of the towns they came from, the Jews of those towns, their fate, the stories of survivors, photos etc. Their website will also profile where the scrolls are now, how they are used and honored, etc." More information about the Memorial Scrolls Trust is available on their website.  

Temple Mount Sinai in El Paso, Texas is privileged to house Czech Memorial Torah Scroll #494.  Written in 1750, it is believed to be one of the Torahs from the town of České Budějovice, now in the Czech Republic, but once the capital of South Bohemia and a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.


České Budějovice was founded as a “royal town” by King Premysl Otakar II in 1265.  In the 14th Century, it became an important center of trade and crafts.  Jews lived in the city since this time and in the 15th century the Jewish population was already quite populous.  The Jewish quarter was composed of 13 houses and a Gothic-style synagogue.  In 1505, the local Jews were accused of ritual murder and about 25 of them were burned at the stake.  Children were taken from their parents and in 1506, 23 Jewish children were forcibly baptized.  The remaining Jews were expelled from the city and only one family was allowed to live in České Budějovice prior to 1848.

Jews returned to České Budějovice in 1859 and a Jewish cemetery was founded in 1866, where around 100 gravestones have been preserved.  In 1880, the Jewish population numbered 969 individuals, or 6% of the total population of České Budějovice.  This population peaked in 1898 (the very year Temple Mount Sinai was founded), when 1972 Jews lived in the city.

Following the Nazi invasion and occupation of České Budějovice in 1939, the Nuremberg laws were applied to Jews living in the city, and they were gradually ousted from public life.  The large Neo-Gothic synagogue, built in 1888, was blown up by the Nazi’s in 1942.  Most of the local Jews (909 individuals) were deported to Terezin and further east in transport Akb on April 18, 1942.  The Terezin records tell us that 578 of them perished.

Jewish children were prohibited from visiting sports grounds and swimming pools and were banned from all leisure time activities.  After September of 1940, they were also barred from attending public schools and educating themselves.  The children of České Budějovice were lucky enough, though, to be allowed to meet on the property of landlord Vorisek.  In their free time, they wrote the local magazine Klepy, or “Gossip.”

The Jewish Museum of Prague learned of the magazine Klepy, when former resident and Holocaust survivor Jan Freud visited his homeland to tell his story to local youth and brought several copies of the publication with him.  Students worked with Freud to publish “The Underground Reporters,” a book about Klepy and the Jewish youth who wrote the magazine.  In 2006, students from České Budějovice visited Israel where they recorded many interviews with eyewitnesses, which are currently being processed into coherent texts.


Czech Memorial Scroll #494

The Nazis collected gold and silver ornaments, ceremonial objects and Torah scrolls from towns all over Europe (see note). A group of Czechoslovakian Jews was forced to arrange and catalogue the items which had been assembled in Prague. After the war, the Communist Government of Czechoslovakia released the Torah scrolls.

In 1964, the Memorial Scrolls Committee of Westminster Synagogue in London arranged for the shipment of 1564 scrolls to the Synagogue, where they were catalogued and repaired and restored when possible. Each Torah was given a numbered brass plaque to identify its origin.  Scrolls that could not be made fit for synagogue use were sent to religious and educational institutions as solemn memorials. Those that were repaired and could be used in religious service were sent to fulfill requests of synagogues all over the world in return for a contribution toward restoration expenses.

Having Holocaust Memorial Scroll #494 housed at Temple Mount Sinai is especially meaningful to our congregation, as we have a direct connection to  ČeskéBudějovice.  Temple Mount Sinai congregants Norman and Cheryl Bisk Gordon made a donation in honor of her father, Carl Gershon Bisk (1913-1996), who “loved both Judaism and České Budějovice,” that helped us pay for the display case of Memorial Scroll #494 in our lobby.

The certificate of identification for Memorial Torah Scroll #494.

Holocaust Scroll Certificate #494


 

Note: Previously it had been thought that the Czech scrolls and other Jewish ceremonial objects had been collected by the Nazis as part of a plan to set up a "museum of an extinct race" after the war.  As it turns out there is apparently no documentary proof for this theory, and recent studies indicate that the saving of scrolls and other ritual objects was the result of actions of members of the Jewish community. For more information, see:

http://czechscrolls.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/mythbusters.html

http://czechscrolls.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/background-to-busting-myth.html