Friends, welcome to the third edition of the Memorial Scrolls Trust Newsletter.
The Trustees planned to publish the Newsletter quarterly and this issue should have gone out at the end of September. Being a new project, with the interruption of holidays and the chagim unfortunately we have not met our deadline for which I apologise.
We are in the process of initiating contact with all Scroll-Holders, initially asking for a Scroll Tracker to be completed so we can be sure our records are correct. I am pleased to report that we are on target to complete this work by 31st December 2016, contacting over 1200 communities and organisations around the world.
Our project to persuade every Scroll-Holder to add a Czech Torah page to their website is progressing slowly but steadily and we have now made 177 reciprocal links. If you have not yet added a page to your website, please can you do so and join this important and exciting project to link all those holding Czech Torah scrolls.
Thanks to a very generous donation from Mr Webb of Los Angeles, we have been able to commence digitizing our 50 plus years of archives. Once complete this will not only ensure the documents, photos, etc., are preserved, but will greatly facilitate research and enquiries.
I hope you enjoy this Newsletter that will be reaching a far greater number of readers than the previous issues. Remember this Newsletter is about you, who care for and about the Czech Torah scrolls. Please send us any articles you would like published.
A Visit to Blatná
Helena and Chris Underhill are members of Woodford Liberal Synagogue in the east of London. The congregation cares for MST#1177 from Blatná. Each year they pay tribute to the the victims of the Holocaust with services of remembrance, including a special service for the Jews of Blatná. They are working to forge closer links between Woodford Liberal Synagogue and the people of Blatná. The MST is grateful to Chris for permission to share his article about his most recent visit to Blatná.
On 1 September 2016 Helena and Chris Underhill, Helena’s sister Ivana Hlavničková and Joseph Erban, the son of the late Eva Druckerová-Erbanová, the sole Jewish resident of Blatná to survive the transport of 1942, met in Prague and made the 1½ hour drive down to Blatná.
Joseph was born in Israel but the family later emigrated to Canada. He now lives in Montreal. His mother died earlier this year.
On the way we stopped at Březnice, a small town known for its Jewish quarter, a rare example of Jewish town planning. The fine synagogue in its centre no longer serves a religious purpose but a recent renovation makes it an exceptional example of its kind.
In Blatná we went to the shop which the Drucker family once owned and met Dimitrij Slonim, his wife Míla and Petr Chlebec, a historian and employee of the local museum. Professor Slonim, who as a teenager had known many of the Jewish families in Blatná before WWII, has written a book about them which contains many fascinating cameos of local life at the time and a great deal of historical background about the Jews in Bohemia.
Joseph had visited Blatná once before but had not met Dimitrij Slonim. Their meeting over lunch at the Hotel Beránek was a moving experience for both of them and gave them the chance to exchange memories of Joseph’s mother and to talk about pre-war Blatná, which Joseph already knew a good deal about from his mother’s reminiscences.
After lunch at the Hotel Beránek the party drove out of town to look at the old Jewish cemetery at Slatina, some 5 kilometres distant. The cemetery, discreetly tucked away on a hillside, would have been almost impossible to find had it not been for Professor Slonim, who had discovered it some years ago. It houses the remains of Jewish residents of the district, including some from Blatná. The location had been acquired by the local Jewish community as it was unsuitable for agricultural purposes.
The cemetery, which had clearly been neglected in the past, is now in the charge of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic and is being gradually renovated. Many headstones have over the years been taken away by locals for building purposes and some have been uprooted from their vertical position, but nevertheless it was possible to find a number of Drucker family graves – Marcus, Barbara and Josef.
Many headstones in the cemetery bear Hebrew inscriptions with additional text in German or Czech. It was interesting to note that while the more recent ones – from the late 19th century onwards - had German text, some earlier ones were in Czech. It would be interesting to know why this was the case.
We drove to Kadov, a small nearby village where Marcus and Barbara must have lived, then returned to Blatná and reminisced with Joseph over a glass of beer. The next day Míla Slonimová had arranged for Joseph to visit the house where his mother lived and Dimitrij planned to show him some interesting pictures of the shop belonging to the Drucker family.
Tracing a Torah to Tragedy
by Kristin E Holmes
(reprinted with permission, from the Philadelphia Inquirer)
Jane Hurwitz felt an obligation to the Jews of Svetla nad Sazavou who, in the face of death, had prayed with the little Torah.
The sacred scroll, just 14 inches high, had been used by scores of villagers who would be transported in 1942 to Theresienstadt concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, never to return.
Hurwitz’s sense of duty to them deepened as she delved into the Torah’s history, part of a research project at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am. The Abington synagogue has three scrolls, on permanent loan from a London collection, that survived both the Holocaust and the 1948 Communist takeover of what is now the Czech Republic.
On Monday, after two years of study, Hurwitz will conclude her mission with a visit to Svetla nad Sazavou, where a plaque will be dedicated “in memory of the Jewish citizens of our city who perished in the Holocaust 1939-1945.”
“We have this link to a place where the Torah survived but [the Jews] didn’t,” said Hurwitz, who pulled together the townwide ceremony from her home in Huntingdon Valley, Montgomery County, more than 4,000 miles away. “I said, ‘We need a plaque.’”
The Old York Road Temple-Beth Am contingent, including Hurwitz’s husband, William Patent, and several other members, will join Svetla nad Sazavou dignitaries and residents, as well as the relatives of a Jewish man who had said a blessing over the Torah before escaping to France. Hurwitz located him – a professor now 100 years old – during her research.
Like many of her fellow congregatnts, Hurwitz knew little about the synagogue’s three Czech Torahs until 2014, when Rabbi Robert Leib suggested learning more about their provenance.
“As 21st-century American Jews,” Leib said, “… we have the privilege of breathing new life into them.”
For the research project on the three at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am, Hurwitz took on the small scroll from the village of about 7,000 residents along the Sazavou River. Deena Schuman, of Jenkintown, focused on a scroll from Tabor, southeast of the capital, Prague. Barry Stein, of Dresher, concentrated on the Torah from Louny, northwest of Prague.
“Mine was the little Torah with no silver ornaments or beautiful covers,” Hurwitz said of her subject.
Its cream parchment bears brown spots of wear. It measures just 11 ½ inches high – 14 inches including the spindles – but unfurls to a length that can wrap around the synagogue’s 400-seat sanctuary. It likely was used as a travel Torah by a rabbi, said Jeffrey Ohrenstein, of the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London.
The project team scoured books, the internet, deportation and survivor lists, and museum records. Schuman located a Cherry Hill family descended from a survivor who had lived in Tabor, but that town already had memorials honouring the Jews killed in the Holocaust. Stein went to Louny in 2014, after a group from the synagogue had also visited; they inspired local officials to install a plaque.
That left Svetla nad Sazavou as the only town without a memorial to the Jews who died.
Hurwitz found that Jewish residents had lived in the town since at least the 18th century. Its two synagogues had been destroyed, but two Jewish cemeteries remain.
Also extant is a castle along the river that once was the summer home of a family named Morawetz. They escaped the war and settled in North America.
Oskar Morawetz, a famous composer, died in 2007. His brother, Herbert, was still alive, an emeritus professor at the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University, Hurwitz discovered.
She picked up the phone.
“His wife hung up on me,” Hurwitz said. “I think she thought I was a telemarketer.”
Hurwitz then located the couple’s daughter, Nancy Morawetz, a clinical law professor at NYU. They arranged an interview, to which Hurwitz brought the little Torah.
Herbert Morawetz told her he had said a blessing over the Torah at the town synagogue in 1938, on the night the Munich Agreement was signed. The accord allowed Nazi Germany to annex parts of Czechoslovakia.
He asked Hurwitz if he could hold the Torah and say the blessing again. When he did, everyone wiped away tears, Hurwitz said.
On Monday, his son, John Morawetz, another of his daughters, Pegeen Rubinstein, and her husband, David, will be at the dedication ceremony for the plaque, to be placed on the town hall.
“Our father, now 100, is haunted by the events of World War II,” Rubinstein wrote in an email as she travelled to Prague. “It is [up to] my generation and the next to keep stories alive, and to learn from that dark hour.”
From Moravia to Merseyside: The Curious Story of a Torah Scroll
by Simo Muir
In July, PtJA Project Consultant, Dr. David Fligg, was invited by the Liverpool branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England to relate a rather fascinating story. David had tracked down the actual Torah scroll that pianist and composer Gideon Klein might have read from for his Barmitzvah.
Researching the provenance of Torah scrolls isn’t usually the domain of musicologists, but finding this scroll remains one of the more curious pieces of archival research that David has been engaged in.
Giving a lecture in Boston, USA, for the IAJGS annual conference in 2013, David met Chuck Weinstein who had been researching a Torah scroll from the Czech town of Miroslav, and which is now being used in a synagogue in Huntingdon, New York. Through the Czech Memorial Scrolls Project at London’s Westminster Synagogue, Chuck was able to confirm to David that there are two extant scrolls from Gideon Klein’s synagogue in Přerov, Moravia, on loan from Westminster. One is in the Agudas Achim Synagogue in Austin, Texas. But the other is much closer to David’s home, just 75 miles away at the Liverpool Reform Synagogue, Merseyside.
Gideon turned 13 in December 1932, and celebrated the traditional Jewish coming-of-age, his Barmitzvah. The Hebrew date of his birthday, the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Kislev, fell on Tuesday 13th December that year, and it can be assumed that the Barmitzvah celebration took place on the following Saturday, Shabbat, where the Torah reading tells of the uneasy meeting, after many years, between Jacob and his brother Esau. Towards the end, it recounts and prophesises that the progenies of Esau will include Amalek, whose descendants are, in Jewish tradition, the deadliest enemies of the Jewish people. The passage from the Prophets that Gideon would have recited was from the Book of Obadiah which, commenting on the section of Genesis previously read, talks of the eventual downfall of those who want to destroy the Jews. We know what Gideon and his family at that time didn’t: namely, that by the end of the decade, they were to be caught up in a modern manifestation of Amalek’s hatred.
David contacted the Liverpool Reform Synagogue, and was invited to go and look at the scroll. “It was both exciting and moving,” recalls David. “We don’t know whether this is the actual scroll that Gideon read from. But he would certainly have seen it in action, so to speak, on the occasions he visited the Přerov synagogue when he was a youngster.” The scroll carries inscriptions on the rims, though the Synagogue officer, Martin Herr, who facilitated David’s visit, admitted that they had not so far been translated. So David investigated further, and it was determined that the inscription recorded that the scroll was donated by a Přerov philanthropist, Leib Bruch, and his wife Rachel, and that it was completed in Přerov in 1822.
The story of the salvaged Czech Torah scrolls after the war has a poignant equivalence with the story of the rescued Jewish Czech children at the outbreak of war, the Kindertransport. Many of them, like the scrolls, became orphans, but found safe haven in the UK. It’s highly significant, then, that Liverpool Reform Synagogue uses the Přerov scroll for the Batmitzvah ceremonies of its girls. Says David, “By using the scroll in this way, the Synagogue is undertaking something really beautiful, because it’s doing exactly the opposite of what the Nazis envisaged. I think it’s a very empowering thing to do. While ever that scroll is being used in this way, it’s no longer an orphan, but a wonderful connection between its new home on Merseyside and the murdered members of its former home in Moravia, and to Gideon Klein and his family.”
Performing the Jewish Archive is a three year Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project working to explore hidden archives, uncover and perform lost works, and create a legacy for the future.
From the MST Archives
Looking through the archives, we hope you will enjoy these great photographs of MST #1286 from Kyjov arriving at its new home at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis MD on 30th April 1989.
Notes on the back of the photos say that the procession was led by Rabbi Auerback, z”l, & Cantor Lauterman; and that the scrolls were carried by Jewish midshipmen.