Stories that connect us- from Memoirs from Ledeč nad Sázavou and NaVozovce, to meeting together on Zoom, and back to our new bookshop MSTshop.org
60 in '24
MST Newsletter June 2021
Welcome to the 17th edition of our Newsletter.
Times passes very quickly and the 60th anniversary of the Czech Scrolls arriving in London on February 5th 1964 need to be prepared soon. We wish to mark this event in countries around the world where scrolls have been allocated and continue to be used in meaningful ways. We hope there will be events held throughout 2024 and already have a number of proposals for our Trustees to discuss that include a commemoration service in London, trips to Czech Republic, a travelling exhibition of binders / wimples, as well as Scroll Gatherings around the world. If you or your community have any ideas, please let us know as we shall give it consideration. Through these Torah scrolls we remember European Jewish life before the Holocaust as well as its tragic destruction, challenge those who interact with the scrolls to confront prejudice and hatred, and inspire them to action by committing to their Jewish lives and working to build bridges across communities.
PS We publish many short articles and Czech Scroll Museum visitor pictures on our Facebook page - please click Facebook Like to keep in touch with us.
When I started volunteering for the Memorial Scrolls Trust mid-April this year, I expected that I might gain friends in people around me. However, little did I expect, that I would bond so strongly with a person who had passed away 17 years ago.
The person I am talking about is Frank Steiner born as František Steiner in Ledeč nad Sázavou, whom I found to be not only a fellow Czech but also a fellow enthusiast for all things Czech Jewish and a guardian of the memory of the Czech Jewish communities, one of which he was born into.
I met him through his correspondence in files he left behind. And which his son kindly donated after his passing. These are called the Steiner files by the MST. And in them, I discovered a treasure trove of information about earlier years of the Trust.
Typed up letters in English and Czech, newspaper clippings, his notes; all these provided a valuable insight into the workings, trials and tribulations and joy and sadness of the Trust and its process of repair and distribution of the Czech Torahs to Jewish communities around the world over the years.
Unwittingly, his letters also captured the communistic attitudes of the Czechoslovakian Socialistic Soviet Republic, the excitement of the Velvet Revolution, the re-birth of democracy of Czechoslovakia. They also touched upon the failed peace Process in Israel, his health, his family, his background and his communications showing the establishment of helpful relationships with people, rabbis, dignitaries across the world - mostly in the USA, the UK, the Czech Republic and Israel.
But what better way to introduce Frank Steiner, than give him a platform to introduce himself as he did in these excerpts from his letters dated 28.02.1984 and 30.04.1984 to Temple Israel's (Orlando, Florida) Rabbi Rozwaski:
“4. Frank Steiner - born in Ledec - 1919 Czechoslovakia, lived there untill few weeks before Hitlers occupation. Was send by Bata Shoe Co. as a assist. mngr. to Panama - Rep. of Panama. Mother, brother and about 30 closest relatives killed by nazis. 2 sisters survived the concentration camps one is still in Prague. After 22 years in Panama moved to St Thomas, Virgin Islands. Started with Hana H. Stern organization in St.Thomas and the Carib. area. Presently semi-retired President of H. Stern. St Thomas, Inc. ( jewelers) and H. Stern USA (Vice-President there). Since couple of years a layman researcher of the czech Torahs brought from Prague to Westminster Synagogue in London. Giving talks presently in Florida on the history of the Torahs in general and the individ. towns it comes from in particular plus brief history of the Bohemian and Moravian jews.
5. Hana Steiner - closely collaborating with me. Born in 1925 in Czechoslovakia. ( Mother jewish father not.) During the war father arrested being member of the underground and guillotined by the Nazis. Mother send to concentr. camp. Hana on forced labor in a munition factory. After the war we married by ‘proxy’ so she could get out - I was in Panama. In Virgin Islands Hana was my right hand - ( also President of the sisterhood of the old St. Thomas Synagogue for 5 years - treasurer of H. Stern Co) Closely travelling and researching all over he world with me the history of the Torahs form Czechoslovakia.”
“ As Rabbi Schiff indicated in his letter we are lay volunteers researching the ‘Odyssey of the 1.564 Torahs’ from our native Czechoslovakia. We simply would like to honour the memory of our loved ones from Bohemia and Moravia and consider it an honour to be able to share the story with your Congregation.
With very best regards: Sincerely yours,
Frank and Hana Steiner”
And let’s let Frank Steiner also introduce his hometown Ledeč nad Sázavou in his letter to the President of the Congregation of Beth Am, Teaneck, N.J. Mr Manberg from the 28.04.1984:
“Enclosed various clipping and a post-card of Ledec and Sazavou. (The small town of Ledec is located ‘above the river Sazava’ and in Czech the name is ‘Ledec and/Sazavou for that reason.)
The synagogue in Ledec is still standing - but there is not a single jew in town. Presently the building is used as a storage house since it was acquired by the local municipality. The old Jewish cemetery is rather neglected - no one to take care of same.
I do visit this place every year. My sister a survivor of the c. camps lives in Prague and we keep visiting her and she used to visit us here many times. These old jews don’t want to leave - desire to stay in the place which which was always a home to them for hundreds of years. Out of about 325 thousand czechoslovak jews - only about 5.000 is left presently there. Mostly very old. ( Many thousand emigrated after the war mostly to Israel, also to South America and USA.)
Ledec had a small community in my time only about a dozen of families and the Synagogue was opened only on High Holidays and the few hews from the near-by villages arrived too. The mother of composer Gustav Mahler was born in Ledec (Hermanova). G. Mahler was born near Ledec in the town of Kaliste.
Perhaps one day I may have the chance to see the Torah from Ledec on my trip to N.Y. I am writing to Mrs. Shaffer at the Westminster Synagogue to be 100% certain - right now we are 99.99% sure. Since yesterday was a funeral of my brother-on-law, in Prague, who was a jew from Ledec - I am now the last living jew alive from this town.
Again our warmest regards and THANK YOU. Cordialy: Frank Steiner”
It is Frank Steiner’s files that we set out to share Czech Torahs related stories from in the coming months.
With hope that you will enjoy: Jari Shani
We welcome new volunteer, Oliver Yarwood.
‘sofer’, ‘Etz Chaim’, ‘kasher’… my introduction to the Torah also marks my introduction to Hebrew, and the primal beauty of a language uncorrupted by the passage of time. As a masters degree student of palaeography in the Western manuscript tradition, I arrived at the Memorial Scrolls Trust with the impression that the Sefer Torah is a document — a palimpsest of intricate details, in which the form of script, parchment, ink could lend us clues about the lives of the people who made and worshipped from these scrolls. Yet within just a fortnight my worldview has shifted. I can now see that the Torah Scroll is a living object, which must be healed when wounded, cared for when sick, and allowed to rest when tired. These kinds of insights are the beauty of knowledge, and show the importance of ecumenical, interdisciplinary learning. I hope my remaining time with MST will continue to be so fruitful, and that in time I will be able to share what I have gained from this experience with others.
The return of Scroll #1068
A huge wooden box arrived back from a museum exhibition. Volunteer Oliver Yarwood got to open the box.
Inside was Scroll #1068 from Kolin. We always treat our scrolls with care. But #1068 needs special care. Partially burnt before it arrived in Prague in 1942.
MST will never "repair" this burnt area. We will conserve and stabilise such damage. Scroll #1068 will remain an eloquent witness to Czech Jewish life.
Scroll #274 Breznice
Also returned was Scroll #274 from Breznice. These are not rimonim but magnificent carved finials to the etz chayim.
Readers of my book ‘The House that Saved Us’ may recall that I had two cousins Eva born 1926 and Anita 1931.We were great friends in the years before the war when we all lived happily and securely in Olomouc. They often came to visit us in our garden in NaVozovce.
I was sometimes invited to their flat in 7 Dvorakova (now Videnska) for tea and cakes. I loved their mother my aunt Herta… she was such a kind and affectionate lady!
Their grandfather Leopold, father Friedl (Siegfried aka Viteszlav) and his brother Otto owned big paper mills at Litovel and Cervenka which are still there to this day.
The Graetzers were a prosperous family with a car and chauffeur.
They enjoyed weekends in their cottage at Cervenka and occasionally went on holiday to Abbazia in Italy.
Sadly, those happy carefree days did not last long. In March 1939
Czechoslovakia was invaded by Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The immediate urgency was to get the girls out of danger and to a safe country. Fortunately, their parents managed to get them on one of Nicholas Winton’s Kindertransport Trains to London. It was a selfless and courageous act that saved their lives. Eva was 13 and was put in charge of her little sister Anita just 8.
With name tags round their neck and a small bag of possessions they arrived by boat from Holland in Harwich on 19 April 1939.
Although their parents tried to escape, they were sadly never able to follow . Despite every effort they became victims of the Nazis’ determination to exterminate the Jewish People.
Fortunately, their grandmother Paula Briess had a sister living in England. Wanda Gilbert [nee Briess] met them on arrival at Liverpool Street Station and immediately the same day took them to an English School for Jewish children, Macaulay House College in the countryside in Cuckfield, Sussex. They spoke hardly any English but despite finding themselves in a strange land with people they did not know, managed to cope bravely and settled in. Fortunately, they were still able to correspond with their parents until 3 Sept 1939 when war broke out.
My father Hans fortunately managed to get an exit visa for our family to leave all together and we arrived in England on 2 July 1939. A few months later my father rented a small house and my parents were able to bring Eva and Anita to live with us . It was wonderful to be once again reunited as one family. We lived in Harpenden, a charming small town some 40km north of London. By good fortune, we were saved from the worst of the terrible wartime bombing that London and so many other cities suffered in 1940-41 and during the rocket attacks of 1944-5.
We all went to English schools. Eva and Anita to St Hilda’s and my young 3 year old sister Hana to a kindergarten. Surprisingly, it took us only a few months to learn to speak reasonably good English!
In 1940 we joined up with the family of Paul & Madi Fischer(also from Olomouc) to a bigger house with a garden where all of us helped my parents with the cooking, baking and housework. We were very short of money so my mother Else set up a dressmaking salon to provide us with some income. Eva was able to help her. We also grew our own vegetables as there was strict food rationing. It was actually a happy time despite the threat of a German invasion in the summer of 1940. We shall always be grateful to Winston Churchill and the pilots of the RAF for protecting us.
We did receive occasional Red Cross Messages from our family during 1942-3 but in 1944 the terrible news reached us through the Red Cross that Herta and Friedl as well as my grandmothers Paula Briess and Ida Schulhof had all been killed by the Nazis. Eva and Anita bore the news of the loss of their parents with heavy hearts but stoically. By then they had accepted my parents as their own and loved them deeply.
Towards the end of the war Eva at age 18 went live in London where she was apprenticed with a milliner Vally Brill from Vienna. She lived in a hostel where she met a refugee from Stuttgart, Kurt Weinstein. He was working for a firm of agricultural machinery engineers. They married in 1946 and settled in a flat in Bayswater. A year later Eric, their only son, was born. It was very exciting to have a new member of the family!
After the war we moved to a house in Hendon North London where my father was able to establish his new business supplying raw materials for the food industry.
Anita went into the catering trade and worked with Egon Ronay, who had a restaurant in Knightsbridge near Harrods store. He later became famous for his Restaurant Guide.
My father’s cousin Franz Briess and his wife Alice had escaped to New Zealand in September 1939 and established a food & delicatessen business there. On a visit to London in 1950 he offered Kurt a job and he and Eva decided to emigrate to New Zealand believing there would be greater opportunities there. They set sail in 1951 and after 6 weeks at sea arrived in their new home, Auckland.
Anita meanwhile lived with us in Hendon. In 1950 I joined the Royal Air Force to do my National Service and then in 1951 left for Geneva University to study Chemistry. I saw little of Anita during this time. In 1955 she decided to join Eva & Kurt (who by then changed his name to Ken Winton) in Auckland and so we lost both ‘sisters’ to the New World.
In those days distances were much greater and communications much slower than today. 4 Days flight to Auckland and Airletters took about a week!
In Auckland Eva soon established a millinery shop [Jane & Judy] which became quite successful until a few years later when fashions changed and ladies stopped wearing hats. She then took a job at Elisabeth Arden perfumery. Ken meanwhile joined an engineering and timber processing machinery firm, Fletchers, where he worked for the rest of his career. Sadly, their marriage broke up in 1967. Jack
Anita meanwhile worked with her sister until in 1958 she decided to move to Sydney in Australia. There she rented rooms from Jack Chajmovic who had survived the holocaust as a slave labourer and inmate of the notorious Mauthausen camp. After a brief spell in Israel he managed to get to Australia. He worked as a chef and within only two years had the enterprise to set up his own restaurant.
Anita and Jack married in 1960. It was a very happy marriage, both hardworking people spending all their time together. Jack and Anita Chard (as they became) owned and ran a series of cafes and restaurants including ‘Claridges’ ‘Vienna Woods’ and ‘Anita’s Café’ which became well known in Sydney. It was particularly tough work for Anita who had two children, a son Gary in 1963 and Deborah (Debbie) in 1966. She would look after the children as well as work in the restaurants and was up at 5am most mornings to be able to cope.
Memorably in 1974 Anita and both her children came to London for the celebration of my nephew Daniel Rayner’s barmitzvah. Following that she and my sister Hana paid a short visit to Olomouc the only occasion when Anita returned to her birthplace.
Meanwhile Jack did well and gradually built up a small portfolio of properties. They later lived in a modern house on Dover Heights, Sydney. Anita was always very houseproud.
Gary became an athletic young man who loved physical exercise and motorbikes. Debbie went to Moriah college and became a teacher at a Jewish school. They were observant and kept all the Jewish holydays. They also kept in close touch with cousins Robert and Stasha Breece (changed from Briess). Robert had settled in Sydney and worked for many years with a British Engineering Company, Babcock & Wilcox.
Throughout all these years both Eva and Anita kept in close touch with my parents who they regarded as their own and with whom they continued to enjoy a very warm and intimate relationship. They visited them twice and both Eva and Anita came to London in the 70s and 80s.
Eva remarried in 1977, to Alan Binder but very sadly he died soon after. She came to London in 1990 while my mother Else was suffering from cancer and cared after her devotedly as her own mother, until her dying day in Feb 1991.
In Australia Eva worked for many years running a coffee bar and then as manager of a Jewellery manufacturer until she retired in 2008. Eva enjoyed her grandsons and great grandchildren and lived quietly in a flat in Bondi, a Sydney suburb, until she died in 2012.
Eric Winton, the son of Eva and Ken was meanwhile studying Economics & Administration and graduated from Victoria University of Wellington in 1968. He married Evie Spiro, a 4thgeneration Jewish New Zealander, in 1970. Soon after they went to live in Israel where they settled, initially at Kibbutz Yifat and then in Haifa. Eric worked for an industry development consultancy. Their first son Ariel was born in Israel in 1973 the year of the Yom Kippur War. They moved to London a year later and their second son Daniel was born in Edgware in 1975. Eric worked for Standard and Chartered Bank, British Leyland and Lex Service Group and enjoyed London life. Evie’s parents had meantime moved to Australia and in 1982 the family decided to move to Sydney where they have settled ever since. Eric and Evie divorced in 1983; both have since remarried. Eric worked for the New South Wales Government and was very much involved in the Sydney and Beijing Olympic Games.
After leaving school Ariel went to work for the major global shipping company Maersk and later for Fiji Water and a large packaging company. He married Elana Benjamin of Indian Jewish extraction in 2000.
They have a daughter Zara now aged 16, a talented artist. They also have a son Asher who will be barmitzvah next year.
Daniel studied Aeronautical Engineering at New South Wales University and after graduating worked for both British Aerospace and for Qantas Airlines. He married Aviva Bard in 2007 - her family stem from Lithuania and she is a journalist.
The Covid pandemic caused his departure and he has now started a new job with a skin care products company. Daniel is strictly observant and actively involved with his local synagogue.
They have a son Akiva who recently had his barmitzvah, and a second son Hillel age 11. They are a happy family and live near Bondi beach. The two brothers are very close.
Anita died too young in 2004 and Jack soon after in 2005. Their son Gary and Ilona have two sons. Jake, born 1995, is now a financial adviser trainee. Daniel, born 1998, is entrepreneurial and works in a gym.
Gary has run garages and now manages a motor parts distributor. He is a keen motor-cyclist. His wife Ilona a very capable lady works as a Hospital Administrator.
Debbie married Dean Gomel in 1997. Dean is a specialist in Real Estate finance and consultant to various Stockbrokers.
They have a son Ariel (yes another Ariel!), born 1999, who was a very keen basketball player and represented Australia in the Israeli Maccabi Games 2016. He had his BarMitzvah on Masada in Israel in 2012, a memorable occasion to which I was invited.
Sadly, his grandparents were no longer alive to enjoy this great event. Ariel is now studying Business and Finance at Sydney University and already has a part time job. He has visited London several times and also travelled in Europe with his family.
He plans to visit Olomouc one day! Debbie is now working at Sydney University and occasionally travels to the USA to visit old friends and cousins.
Among those is my sister Hana’s son Daniel Rayner who married Alicia Glenn the daughter of a Jewish lawyer in New York in 1995.
They have two daughters Olivia age 25 and Rosa 21. Hana married Stephen Rayner a corporate lawyer in 1960 who became an officer of the Law Society in London. Sadly, he died from leukaemia in 2005. They have a daughter Marianne who is a psychotherapist and lives with her husband Clifford Weisfeld in Radlett north of London. They have a son Benjamin 31 and a daughter Natasha 29 who recently qualified as a lawyer. Benjamin married Odette Berg who works for Bloomberg and they have a little boy Luka age 2 and live in Mill Hill London. Benjamin has a football public relations business.
My son David was born in 1968. His mother Annamarie Schwarz came from Brno and was a qualified MuDr from Brno University. For many years she worked with Prof. Jiri Podlaha. Her father Otto Schwarz had been a navigator in the RAF during the war while she and her mother Anny stayed behind in Brno where they were fortunate to survive under Nazi rule. Anny’s father was Joseph Rulisek who is famous for his wooden carvings of fruits and mushrooms which can be seen at the Moravske Zemske Muzeum. Otto was tragically killed in an air crash on returning home from England in Nov 1945. Annamarie and I met and married while she was on a visit to London in 1966. She requalified and became a psychiatrist. David also studied medicine in London and qualified in 1993. He met Tanya Rice who was an intensive care nurse in his hospital and came from Cork in Ireland. They were married in 2000 and have two daughters Alexandra (Lexie) now 17 and Annabelle (Annie) 15. They are all keen skiers and Annabelle is a passionate horse rider and animal lover. They adore the river and live in the famous regatta town of Henley on Thames some 60 km from London. The Gomel family have been to visit them and so have Eric and Daniel Winton.
My father’s cousin Frank and his wife Alice [Lizzy] Briess, escaped to Auckland in September 1939. They had a daughter Claire in 1947 who married Peter Bruell and engineer and they have two sons Ezra (1976) and Anton (1980). Ezra an IT expert ,is now married with two children in Melbourne and Anton and industrialist and musician is married with two children in Auckland. They have all become part of the wider Briess Family which has spread all over the world!
For my parents the move to a new life in a new world was very challenging. They had lost their parents their culture and livelihood. However they showed great courage and resilience and grasped the opportunity their new world offered them. This was the example they gave us and that enabled us to settle down in our new homes and establish ourselves successfully.
For me it is a source of great pleasure and satisfaction that the descendants of Eva and Anita (and indeed all our families) are healthy, happy and thriving in their new homes. We have become an international family. We have many more distant cousins in Israel also.
For today’s younger generation, the story of their grandmothers is history. A tragic history…..over one million children were murdered by the Nazis just because they were Jewish. Hitler would have wished to eliminate the entire Jewish race. Olomouc in 1939 had some 2200 Jewish citizens who played a significant part in the city’s cultural and economic life which has been totally lost.
Eva and Anita are just two of the million children who, thanks to the foresight and selfless courage of their parents, escaped, survived and multiplied. I see it as a kind of revenge for what Hitler did to our family.
As I approach my 90th birthday I dare to hope that all the family’s young generations will at some time in their lives pay a visit to Olomouc and see for themselves the beautiful , historic and charming city where their ancestors came from, learn about the lives they lived and pay their respects to their memory.
Peter Briess 12 May2021
Have you booked your MST Conversation?
Using Zoom, MST is delighted to offer sessions to provide educational content about the rescue and ongoing commemoration of 1,564 scrolls from Bohemia and Moravia. These scrolls survived the Shoah and have been spread around the world for safe keeping and to pay tribute to so many lost communities. Our story resonates with all kinds of people: scroll holders, non-scroll-holders, people of all faiths and backgrounds but especially seniors and B’nai mitzvoth students. Our virtual content can help educate and entertain during this unusual time of social distancing requirements.
We offer, free of charge, opportunities to share our programming and expertise with your congregations. We have volunteer Experts available to speak about the following topics:
The Czech Scroll Story: From Bohemia and Moravia to the Diaspora
Our Binder (wimpel) collection: Custom-made Textiles representing 200 years of Jewish life in the Czech Republic
Czech Jewish Towns: A photo journey about the towns that held scrolls
We are reminding scroll holders that, if possible, you should "air" your scrolls, to stop the build up of any moisture or fungal spores. Scrolls should be rolled from beginning to end once a year, even if your scroll is a Memorial and not readable. We do the same with our scrolls in the Czech scroll museum.
We were honoured in 2019 for Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, to accept the personal loan of a kosher Czech Survivor Scroll