Their Memories are for a Blessing
Temple Beth Or is proud to provide a home for Torah #1438 of the Westminster Memorial Scroll Collection.
This Torah was among more than 2,000 rescued from Nazi pillaging during the Second World War. It’s rescuers were among the millions who perished in the Shoah.
The small town of Klatovy in what is now the Czech Republic traces its Jewish history to the 14th century. (Museum of the Jewish People) However, there is no evidence of a synagogue until 1873. The exact age of Torah #1458 is unknown. However, it is one of 13 Torahs surviving from this once thriving Jewish community. Each has its own unique story. (Our Czech Torah) (Klatovy Scrolls Circle)
We can’t say when our scroll was last read in Klatovy but it was sometime between 1939 when the German army occupied Czechoslovakia and 1941 when all synagogues were ordered to cease operations.
Jewish scholars in Prague convinced the Nazis to save the religious treasures from the deserted communities and destroyed synagogues to the comparative safety of the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. More than 100,000 artefacts were brought to Prague including about 1,800 Torah scrolls. After meticulously cataloging all these items, the curators were deported to Terezin. Only one survived.
After the war in 1945, 55 surviving Jews returned briefly to Klatovy. As Communists took over the area, the fate of the scrolls was perilous at best. They were stored in the damp abandonded Michle Synagogue outside of Prague.
In 1963, the Czech government approached Eric Estorick to find a buyer for the Scrolls. He introduced Ralph Yablon who, after discussions with Rabbi Dr. Harold Reinhart and having the scrolls authenticated by Professor Chimen Abramsky, paid for the scrolls, which were brought to the Westminster Synagogue, who subsequently formed the Memorial Scrolls Trust. Again, they were meticulously catalogued. Restoration was an issue until the Trust was blessed with a wandering scribe. David Brand repaired these rescued scrolls for 27 years. (The Wandering Scribe)
Today, the synagogue of Klatovy still stands in the city while its 10 scrolls have wandered far spreading the truth of the Torah throughout England and the United States. More than 1,000 of the scrolls rescued from throughout Czechoslovakia and the surrounding areas are now on permanent loan to synagogues around the world. Each has its unique story and many are used weekly. At Temple Beth Or, Torah #1458 has been cherished since 1994 and read by countless B’nai Mitzvah who breathe life into the ancient text and preserve the memory of all the Jews of Klatovy.