The Liverpool Reform Synagogue is grateful and privileged to have two Torah Scrolls from the former Czechoslovakia which are held on permanent loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust.
The Scrolls are identified as :-
MST#67 originally from the Moravian town of Přerov (Prerau), 270 km from Prague and was written in 1812, allocated to us in 1966
MST#430 originally from the Bohemian town of České Budějovice (Budweis ), 150 km from Prague and was written in 1840, allocated to us in 1980.
A document received from the Memorial Scroll Trust states “Each Scroll is a messenger from a community that was lost, but does not deserve to be forgotten for ever. “
The former Czechoslovakia was established in 1918, at that time encompassing the lands of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, as well as parts of Silesia and Carpathian Ruthenia. During the Nazi Germany occupation between 1938 and 1945 the country was divided and Bohemia and Moravia became a German Protectorate. Following a communist coup in 1948 the countries remained under Soviet domination until 1989. On January 1st 1993 Czechoslovakia formally separated peacefully into two independent countries – the Czech Republic now known as Czechia (comprising Bohemia and Moravia) and Slovakia.
Although our Scrolls were written in 1812 and 1840 this story commences many years later in September 1938 when Britain and France agreed to Hitler’s demand to be given the Sudetenland, the German speaking border regions of Czechoslovakia.
In the following 7 years, Jews were deprived of their human rights, expelled from their homes and sent to concentration camps. Approximately 118,000 persons defined as Jews lived in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in 1939. Of these some 88,000 were deported and 78,000 murdered.
In 1942 all Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia were instructed to send all their Judaica to the Jewish Museum in Prague. Over 200,000 items including Torah Scrolls, gold and silver, ritual textiles and thousands of books were sent to Prague where they were catalogued and stored in more than 30 buildings.
After the defeat of Germany the resulting free and independent Czechoslovakia emerged but with few Jews. In 1940 Prague had a Jewish population of 54,000 which by 1947 had shrunk to 8,000, many of whom would later leave the country. Today the Jewish population of the whole Czech Republic numbers 4,000.
Whilst the communist regime kept the Jewish Museum in Prague open, it was not interested in the Torah scrolls. In 1958 the Torah and other scrolls were moved to a damp warehouse on the outskirts of the city, formerly the 18th century Michle Synagogue.
In 1963 Eric Estorick, an American art dealer living in London, England, a regular visitor to Prague was approached by Artia, the Czech state corporation responsible for trade in works of art asking whether he was interested in the purchase of Torah Scrolls. Not interested for himself, Estorick contacted a client, Ralph Yablon, a philanthropist and founder member of the Westminster Synagogue, who after arranging for the scrolls to be examined by Chimen Abramsky, agreed to pay the total price.
On the 7th February 1964 the Czech Torah Scrolls arrived at Westminster Synagogue, London, England.
They subsequently created the Memorial Scrolls Trust, an independent charity to care for the scrolls and arrange for their allocation on loan to communities and organisations around the world.
The work of restoration became literally a life time part-time job for a man, a sofer called David Brand, describing himself as a “ travelling scribe “ who spent 26 years working on the scrolls.
In 1966, when we were known as The Liberal Jewish Congregation of Liverpool, an opportunity arose for our community to take allocation of a Czech Memorial Scroll through the recommendation by the late Rev. Harry Jacobi (later to become Rabbi) of the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues.
A small party from Liverpool Reform Synagogue including two b’nai mitzvah who leyened their parsha from this Scroll, visited Prerov where they learnt that the former 400 year old synagogue in Wilsonova St, had become the St. Cyril and Method Orthodox Church in the 1950’s. The entire Jewish community having ceased to exist after their deportation in April 1942.
In 1980 when we had become known as Liverpool Progressive Synagogue we were further honoured with a second Czech Scroll following an approach by our then President Mr Frederick Masserick who himself had been born in Budweis but grown up in Vienna. The entire Jewish community having ceased to exist after their deportation in April 1942 and the destruction of their synagogue.
From inception in 1927 to the receipt of our first Czech Scroll in 1966 our community had two Torah Scrolls one of which was used throughout the year for all occasions, the other only on Kol Nidrei and Simchat Torah. Our Czech Memorial Scrolls have their place of honour in our Ark and are also used on Kol Nidrei and Simchat Torah and many Festivals but have never had any real meaningful role for (Czech) educational purpose.
In 2016 our community decided that our Czech Memorial Scrolls should be seen to have a more meaningful role in the spiritual and educational development of our community. It was decided that from that time future b’nai mitzvah would use these Scrolls both to learn and read their parashot from. We are also planning to dedicate one Shabbat each year to the Jews of our Memorial Scrolls.
We would also record our thanks to the Memorial Scrolls Trust for copies of the book “ Out of the Midst of the Fire “ written by Philippa Barnard which tells the story of the 1564 Jewish Sifrei Torah and which were presented to our young people on completion of their b’nai mitzvah studies.
We are indebted to
Memorial Scrolls Trust, London. memorialscrollstrust.org
Shoah History Department, Prague, Czech Republic
The late Frederick Masserick (born Ceské Budějovice), our former Synagogue President
Liverpool Reform Synagogue