Holocaust Torah Scroll #1524

Holocaust Memorial Torah #1524opened to the Ten Commandments

Protected inside our Ark is Holocaust Memorial Torah #1524. It is one of 1,800 Torah scrolls that the Nazis had confiscated in Czechoslovakia between 1939 and 1945. The Torah scrolls and other art objects were stored in the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague. Built in 1535, the synagogue had been turned into a storehouse for stolen Judaica. Each Torah, along with all the other confiscated Judaica, was meticulously recorded, labeled, and entered on a card index noting its origin.

After WWII, the Jewish artifacts, including the Torahs, were abandoned or pilfered to pay for the Nazi war machine. After the 1948 Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the confiscated items became the property of the Czech government. Not knowing what to do with the scrolls, they were transferred and warehoused in the ruined synagogue at Michle outside of Prague. The scrolls seemed condemned to a slow decay, hidden from view and memory until 1963.

At that time, the Czechoslavakia Cultural Agency approached an art dealer, who frequently visited Prague to see if he was interested in purchasing the entire collection. The art dealer, Eric Estorcik, approached a client, Ralph Yablon, a solicitor and philanthropist. Mr. Yablon discussed the matter with his Rabbi, Harold Reinhart, of the Westminster Synagogue in West London, England. They enlisted the expertise of London’s University College Prof. Chimen Abramsky, who traveled to Prague to examine the scrolls and note their authenticity and condition. Based on his assessment, 1,564 scrolls were purchased under the condition they did not become commercial items.

In 1965, the management of the scrolls was put into the hands of a Memorial Trust Committee. It was determined that each scroll would be given on permanent loan, free of charge to synagogues, Hillels, and other Jewish organizations with the stipulation that the receiving institution must repair, maintain, use the scroll regularly, and give it a place of honor.

Stanley Schultz z’l, who was the Ritual Chair of the newly formed Mountain Jewish Community Center, requested a scroll from the Memorial Trust, and our Holocaust Torah scroll #1524 arrived in April 1977. This very first Torah of our Synagogue has a rich and amazing history.

Scroll #1524 was written in 1812 and comes from Lipnik in N.E. Moravia. It is the only survivor of a Jewish community that dated from the 14th century and where Jews were involved in textile production. The first synagogue was built in 1540. By the late 1660s, Lipnik was home to a prestigious rabbinical school and yeshiva that attracted students from all over Europe. The Lipnik Jewish community survived more than 500 years until 1942 when its members were deported to concentration camps. The synagogue building is the second oldest preserved house of worship in Moravia and has been used as a Hussite Church since 1949.

Starting in October 2022, Temple Har Shalom has recommitted itself to the caring for and the repairing of Scroll #1524 with the hiring of a Sofer, a Torah scribe. With the establishment of our Torah Restoration Committee, we as a community will once again give our 210-year-old scroll a prominent place in the spiritual and educational life of our Temple. It awaits the chance for future B’nai Mitzvah to chant from it in the same way that the children of  Lipnik did for generations.