During World War Two, 1564 Torah Scrolls were taken from Jewish communities across the Czech Republic and were sent to Prague, along with thousands of valuables and pieces of Judaica. These items flooded into Prague and were stored in dozens of warehouses across the City.  

Previously, it had been thought that the Czech Torah scrolls and other Jewish ceremonial objects had been collected by the Nazis.  This would have been part of a plan to set up a “museum of an extinct race” after the war.  As it turns out, there is apparently no documentary proof for this theory, and the scrolls and other ritual objects were saved by members of the Jewish community, starting in the 1930’s.

As the war progressed, the Prague community realized how dire the situation was becoming.  Eight curators of the Czech State Museum and Prague Jewish community staff working at the museum saw an opportunity to preserve the movable assets of the Jewish communities under the rule of Nazis by using the museum as a repository to keep them safe during the war. It is thanks to the efforts of these Jews – people like Tobias Jacobovits (former librarian of the Prague Jewish community) and Josef Polak (the chief curator) – that the scrolls for which we care survived to tell their story. The scrolls were catalogued with information on the communities they came from.  Many were damaged by fire and water and some had despairing notes written inside by the communities from which they came.

Most of the staff members of the Museum were deported to the death camps by 1943.

After the war, the scrolls were stored in the Michle Synagogue outside of Prague. In 1964, Erik Estorick, an American-born art dealer who was living and working in London at the time, was approached by the Czech Communist government to purchase the Scrolls. Ralph Yablon, a member of Westminster Synagogue in London, arranged to finance the sale of the scrolls and negotiated with the Czech authorities. The scrolls were shipped to London and donated to the Westminster Synagogue, which, in turn, created the Memorial Scrolls Trust to allocate these scrolls to Jewish communities and intuitions around the world.

The Memorial Scrolls Trust granted Peninsula Sinai Congregation two Torah scrolls on “permanent loan” in 1970.  The scrolls were transported to PSC by Mel (Z’L) and Jayne Bloom.

Scroll 685 was from the Bohemian city in the Sudetenland, Ceske Budejovice (“Budevar” in German) which today is the home of “Czech Budweiser beer.”  It was thought to be written in the late 1700’s or early 1800’s.  Very little is left on the Jewish community in Ceske Budejovice save a monument at the site of the synagogue that was bombed by the Nazis in 1942.  There is no Jewish community to speak of today in Ceske Budejovice.

Scroll 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. Today there are approximately 160 Jews in Olomouc.

In 2014, Mr. Roman Gronski, on behalf of the Jewish community of Olomouc, reached out to the Trust and asked if PSC would consider restoring the scroll to Kosher status. PSC readily agreed and a $25,000 project was undertaken to repair the scroll and return it to Kosher Status by Rabbi Moshe Druin and the Sofer-On-Site organization.

As a part of our 50th anniversary, PSC repaired the Olomouc Scroll and began the process to write a new Sefer Torah, helping give life an otherwise lost Jewish tradition to Olomouc while writing the next 50 years of Jewish tradition for both communities.

In the Fall of 2017, the Olomouc Museum and the Jewish community, led by Mr. Petr Papoušek, organized an exhibition honoring the history of the destroyed synagogue building in Olomouc. In October, eight members of the Peninsula Sinai Congregation community accompanied the Scroll back to its ancestral home in Olomouc, for the first time in 78 years.  This was a historic and emotional event that had never happened before and probably will never happen again. 350 persons from around the world attended the ceremony returning the newly koshered Scroll to Olomouc.

In May, 2018, 40 members of the PSC community returned to Olomouc to visit the community and the Scroll and to cement the bonds between Olomouc and Foster City.

Members of Peninsula Sinai Congregation feel a great responsibility to the Jews of the world in our honored role as caretaker of this scroll and its mate from Ceske Budejovice and as authors of a new chapter in Jewish history both abroad in the Czech Republic and here in the Foster City.