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60 Historic Torah Scrolls from Nazi-Occupied Prague Celebrated At NYC Synagogue 

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60 Historic Torah Scrolls from Nazi-Occupied Prague Celebrated At NYC Synagogue 

Edited by: Fern Sidman

In an emotional display of remembrance and resilience, sixty historic Torah scrolls were paraded through the hallowed halls of an Upper East Side synagogue, marking a celebration of the preservation of more than 1,500 religious artifacts salvaged from the depths of Nazi-occupied Prague, according to a report on Sunday in the New York Post. Representatives from Jewish temples across the tri-state area converged at the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center in Manhattan to pay homage to these sacred relics, offering prayers, songs, and speeches that served as a poignant reminder of the pernicious scourge of anti-Semitism and the indomitable spirit of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Amy Ehrlich of Temple Emanuel captured the essence of the gathering, eloquently articulating the profound significance of the Torah scrolls in the face of adversity. “Even as the world changes around us, and we are painfully aware of a sudden surge in anti-Semitism, we stand taller as Jews, we identify more proudly, and we hold the Torah closer,” Rabbi Ehrlich remarked, as was reported by the Post.

Rabbi Amy Ehrlich has been part of Temple Emanu-El’s clergy for nearly 30 years.

The Torah scrolls, collectively known as the Memorial Scrolls Trust, bear witness to the rich tapestry of Jewish heritage woven throughout the Czechoslovakian region from the 1200s through the early 20th century. According to the information provided in the Post report, these sacred artifacts, cherished symbols of spiritual devotion and cultural identity, were tragically looted by the Nazis during the dark days of World War II, alongside other valuable items plundered from Jewish communities across Europe.

Miraculously spared from destruction, the Torah scrolls found refuge in the storerooms of Prague throughout the war, safeguarded by an unforeseen twist of fate. Yet, not all emerged unscathed from the ravages of conflict. The Post report indicated that some bore the scars of their harrowing journey, marred by fire, bullet holes, and bloodstains—a testament to the unfathomable horrors endured by their custodians.

Among the most poignant artifacts discovered amidst the ruins of war was a hand-scrawled note nestled within the folds of a Torah scroll, bearing a haunting plea: “Please remember us,” the Post affirmed. These words serve as a reminder of the lives lost and the enduring legacy of those who perished in the Holocaust.

For years, the Torah scrolls lay dormant in a storage facility in Prague, their once-golden hues faded by time, their parchment pages bearing silent witness to the horrors of war and the ravages of neglect, as per the information in the Post report. When they were finally recovered, the rescuers were greeted by a sight and smell that evoked haunting memories of death and despair.

Yet, amidst the shadows of despair, a glimmer of hope emerged. In 1964, the cash-strapped Czech government made the decision to sell the scrolls to a London art collector, who recognized their cultural and historical significance, the Post report said. Subsequently, the scrolls found a new home at Westminster Synagogue, where they underwent meticulous restoration and preservation efforts.

“Each scroll, more than a thousand of them, was wrapped in polythene,” recounted Philippa Bernard of Westminster Synagogue in London. “I can only say it was the smell of death,” she lamented. The visceral reminder of the atrocities endured by the Jewish community during the Holocaust lingered in the air, a  true testament to the suffering and loss that permeated their existence.

Since then, the Torah scrolls have embarked on a journey that transcends borders and generations, serving as symbols of Jewish persecution and perseverance in the face of adversity, as was noted in the Post report. Loaned to synagogues around the world, they have become conduits for remembrance, retelling the story of the Jewish people’s resilience in the face of generations of horrid violence.

“The MST Czech Torah collection underwent a similar experience to the Jews,” reflected Lois Roman, a trustee of the scroll collection. “They were collected, they were numbered, they were kept in bad conditions, and their health deteriorated. Unlike the Jews, most of the scrolls survived. Now it is their turn to play a role in retelling the story,” Roman exclaimed.

As the torchbearers of memory, the Czech Torah scrolls stand as living testaments to the resilience of the human spirit and the timeless quest for justice and remembrance. Their journey from oblivion to redemption serves as a beacon of hope, illuminating the path forward towards a future defined by understanding, tolerance, and peace.

 

 

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