Torah Rescued from Brno, Czech Republic
Torah MST#191 was sent to Rodeph Shalom in 1981, following a request from Rabbi David Wice. The Torah is one of the smallest in our collection, the klaf (parchment) only measuring 13.5”. Torahs of this size were often called Travelling Scrolls. Rabbis would travel with them to different small villages who had no scrolls of their own, to read from them. Also very orthodox Jewish merchants who were also rich might carry their own Torah on their travels.
Our Torah is one of the 1,564 scrolls rescued by the Memorial Scrolls Trust located in England. It comes from Brno which had a Jewish population since the 13th Century. The first record of Jews in the region of Brno dates back to the mid-13th century. Beginning in 1848 Jews had the freedom to live where they wanted to and to carry on any trade or profession. The Jewish population of Brno reached over 7000 by the end of the 19th century. A new synagogue was built and many Jewish owned businesses thrived. During World War I there were many Jews who emigrated from Galicia to Brno and the Jewish population rose to 11,102 by the start of World War II. Over 10,000 Jews were deported to Terezen between November 1941 and June 1943. Only 700 residents were said to have survived.
Rabbi Kuhn wrote "When I think about all of the valuable objects we have in our magnificent Rodeph Shalom synagogue building the very small Torah scroll we have in our ark in the sanctuary which survived the Holocaust stands out. After the defeat of the Nazis, more than 1600 Torah scrolls came to London’s Westminster Synagogue from Prague, in the Czech Republic. Many were damaged, but they had somehow survived the destruction which had overtaken their communities. One of the great leaders of our Reform Movement, Rabbi Solomon Freehof, was consulted regarding their use in synagogues. He cited the tradition that “all depends on fate, even the sacred writings.” Thanks to Rodeph Shalom’s Rabbi David Wice’s connections as then President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, we were able to obtain our Torah, which had been saved from Brno, Czech Republic, a town not far from Prague. While this scroll is tiny in comparison to the grand Torahs in our ark, we are proud to display it, to read from it and to lovingly carry it in our “hakafot,” (Torah processions.) And while its financial value may not be as high as other items in our building, it is surely one of the most precious treasures we own because of what it represents. This scroll is a fortunate survivor, but we are all the more fortunate heirs of such a tradition."
You can learn more about the Memorial Scrolls Trust and the locations of other Torah Scrolls saved during the Holocaust at http://www.memorialscrollstrust.org/scroll-holders/