In 1963, the Artia, a company run by the Czech Communist government approached Eric Estorick an art dealer who frequently visited Prague to buy paintings for his Grosvenor Gallery in London, to ask if he was interested in buying some Torah and other scrolls. He approached a client, Ralph Yablon who discussed the situation with Harold Reinhart, Rabbi of the Westminster Synagogue.
It was decided to instruct Chimen Abramsky, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College, London to examine the scrolls in Prague and report on their authenticity and condition, on receipt of which Ralph Yablon generously agreed to fund the purchase of 1564 scrolls that arrived in London in February 1964. Nobody was aware that the Czechs had previously, unsuccessfully offered to sell the scrolls to the Israeli government
Over several months a team of sofrim (scribes) examined the scrolls to determine those which were kosher, could be repaired and/or restored and which were in such a poor condition could only be used as part of a memorial. Ruth Shaffer took on the responsibility of the administration.
Subsequently the Memorial Scrolls Trust a charity, was set up and the scrolls have subsequently been allocated on to communities and organisations around the world. The scrolls are never sold or donated, but allocated on loan. Communities that close or merge with other Czech scroll-holders are obliged to return their scroll to the Trust.
The full story of how the scrolls came to London can be found in the book Out of the Midst of the Fire by Philippa Bernard, available from our store.