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PSC Memorial Scrolls

Cultures and religions fascinate many people, even those who try to destroy them. After World War II, a Nazi-confiscated stash of treasures became the property of the Communist-controlled Czech State Authority. These treasures included 1,564 Torah scrolls looted from Jewish communities throughout Czechoslovakia.   

In the early 1960’s, the Torah scrolls (the “Czech Memorial Scrolls”) were sold through a British art dealer to a philanthropist and transported to Westminster Synagogue, an independent congregation in London. Each scroll was numbered from 1 to 1,564 and previously cataloged with details of its condition, place of origin and date of writing. Many of the original labels contained despairing messages that were written by the Jews who catalogued the scrolls under the direction of the Nazis. A lot of the scrolls were blood stained. Some were charred by fire or damaged by water. In some instances, they were wrapped in personal clothing or talitot as if to protect them from harm.    

In 1965, the daunting task of repair commenced. Eventually, most of the scrolls were parceled out to Jewish congregations all around the world, along with retirement homes, hospitals, youth groups and other places where services were held, with priority given to newly-established synagogues without scrolls of their own.   

The Memorial Scrolls Trust granted Peninsula Sinai Congregation two Torah scrolls on “permanent loan” in 1970.  Scroll Number 865 is from the town of Ceske Budejovici and is estimated to have been written circa 1790. Jews settled in Ceske Budejovici in the 14th century, and because of anti-Semitism, were not permitted to reside in the town from 1506 to 1848. A modern religious congregation was established in 1856, and in 1888, Viennese architect Max Fleischer, built a synagogue that was eventually blown up by the Nazis in 1942. An ark-shaped tomb in memory of the Holocaust’s victims was dedicated in 1950.   

Scroll Number 740 originated from a town named Olomouc in the district of Moravia and is believed to have been written in 1880. Jews probably lived in the area as early as the 11th century. In 1454, Jews were expelled from the town but began to resettle there after 1848. During the Nazi occupation, 1,088 people perished. In 1939, the Nazis burned down the synagogue (built in 1896-97). In 1949, a monument in memory of the victims of the Nazis from Olomouc and its vicinity was dedicated in the Jewish cemetery.

A little over a year ago, the president of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, contacted Peninsula Sinai Congregation to inform them that there were two Sifrei Torah that came from Olomouc, one of which is in Cherry Hill, NJ, and the second one at Peninsula Sinai Congregation. The Trust, on behalf of the Olomouc community, which survived the Holocaust and has since been rebuilt, asked if PSC would consider restoring the scroll to Kosher status, a $25,000 project, and then return the Torah to her original home. As a part of our 50th anniversary, PSC began the endeavor to restore the Olomouc scroll while writing our own Torah, helping give life an otherwise lost Jewish tradition to Olomouc while writing the next 50 years of Jewish tradition for both communities.

Members of Peninsula Sinai Congregation feel a great responsibility to the Jews of the world in our honored role as caretaker of these two scrolls, and as authors of a new chapter in Jewish history both abroad in Olomouc, and here at PSC.