Holocaust Orphan Torah Scroll
The story of our holocaust orphan Torah scroll goes back to November 1938 and the German pogrom known as Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass. This was a night that saw synagogues torched, Jewish homes, schools and businesses vandalized, and close to 100 Jews killed. Despite this widespread destruction, a vast collection of Judaica survived in Czechoslovakia under the protection of the Jewish Museum of Prague. All in all, more than 100,000 items of Judaica were gathered together in Prague and housed in over 40 warehouses.
After the war, in 1956, the Michle Synagogue in the suburbs of Prague became the warehouse at which hundreds of Torah Scrolls were consolidated from the city of Prague itself and from over one hundred smaller communities in Bohemia and Moravia. They were in a terrible state of disrepair.
Eric Estorick, an American art dealer visiting Prague, was so moved on being shown the collection of damp and decaying Torah scrolls, that he contacted fellow American, Rabbi Harold Reinhart of Westminster Synagogue in London, who in turn, sought the financial support of one of his congregants, Ralph Yablon. And so it was that in February 1964, 1,564 Holocaust Torah scrolls found a new home in London.
Although most of the scrolls arrived at Westminster Synagogue with a label attached, over 200 scrolls had lost their identification and came to be known as orphan scrolls. Our scroll, Westminster Scroll #363, is such an orphan scroll. The years-long task of rehabilitating the scrolls began and the Westminster Memorial Scrolls Trust was established. Scrolls have since been sent out to Jewish communities in Europe and the United States to be cherished as memorials to a tragic past but also to be read and studied by a new generation of Jews who are the guarantors of a hopeful Jewish future.
In February 1969, Rabbi Reinhart responded to a request from Touro’s Rabbi Leo Bergman, on behalf of Mrs. Babette Golden and her daughter, Linda Golden Gilmore, for a Torah Scroll to be brought to Touro Synagogue in honor of Mrs. Golden’s late husband, Dr. Abe Golden. Mrs. Golden’s brother, Dr. Isidore Cohn, Jr., is a member of Touro Synagogue whose father had a long relationship with Rabbi Reinhart. Scroll #363 arrived at Touro in March 1969.
We acknowledge the scroll’s courageous survival and its humble service to us for so many decades, and we are dedicated to remembering those lost Jews of Czechoslovakia whose Bar and Bat Mitzvah children once chanted Torah from our scroll and once watched as their parents danced with it in their arms on Simchat Torah.
We are committed to giving recognition to our Orphan Scroll #363 every year from now on, and we challenge our children and young adults to make sure that its story is never lost again but is told every year, from generation to generation. We invite all future Bar and Bat Mitzvah candidates to read about the history of their scroll so they can fully appreciate and honor it.
For information on the Memorial Scroll Trust, please click here: https://www.memorialscrollstrust.org