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Holocaust Scroll

Sefer Scroll #1354 

By:  Martina Obenski

This is a love story….one that tells the story of the largest Torah in our Ark. Originally confiscated from Sedlcany, Czechoslovakia during World War II, it is part of an historic collection from The Precious Legacy - Judaic treasures saved from an embattled Czechoslovakian culture after the Nazi occupation.

You may know that Sedlcany, a town in the central Bohemian region, is famous for its cheese called Hermelin, a style which imitates camembert; but what you may not know is that few Jewish families lived, or were welcome, in this small region of silver and gold mines. As a result of the political reforms following the1848 populist revolt, Jewish traders started to settle in larger numbers and in 1888 Sedlcany Jews established their first independent Jewish community. Shortly thereafter in 1893, they were joined by the dwindling Jewish population of nearby Kosovo Hora and started a prayer group. Kosovo Hora brought with them their Torahs, including Rabbi Shmuel’s 50 year old Scroll. (AKA the Woodacre Torah it now resides in California) http://www.ganhalev.org

As the little Czechoslovakian congregation grew in numbers it needed a Synagogue and purchased an existing building which was then a combination hotel-restaurant. The largest of the rooms was converted to a Sanctuary and until 1939 was used for both Services and as a center for Jewish community life. Around the same time however the Jewish population in surrounding villages was falling and as their houses of worship closed down, their Scrolls were brought to Sedlcany. Thus despite the small number of congregants, Sedlcany had a relatively large number of Scrolls.  

Although numerous Jewish possessions were destroyed during the Holocaust, the Torah in our Ark, along with 1,564 other Torah scrolls of shattered Jewish communities in Czechoslovakia, survived and became part of the Czech Memorial Scroll Collection in the central museum of Prague. The collection was transferred to the Westminster Synagogue in London in 1964 and a Memorial Scroll Trust was established in London where these Scrolls were catalogued, repaired and restored. Once repaired, each Torah was given a numbered brass plaque to identify its origin and were then sent to fulfill requests of Synagogues all over the world. (https://www.memorialscrollstrust.org)

The Memorial Scroll Trust certified that KI’s Scroll #1354 (Prague Central Museum #5254) was saved from the Nazis in Sedlcany, Czechoslovakia and has been on permanent loan to Congregation Keneseth Israel since March 1988 when then members Abraham and Nancy Ross facilitated obtaining the Scroll for the occasion of their son David’s Bar Mitzvah.

In 1991, to honor their daughter Debra’s Bat Mitzvah, artist Elsa Wach was commissioned to custom make the cover which dresses our Torah to this day. Its design depicts arms, clothed in prison garb, reaching up in despair. While Debra’s grandparents, Jacob & Sara Ross were Holocaust survivors, the number 33076 on the arm is Debra’s great Aunt’s, Sara Zuchowicki, tattoo number from the Auschwitz concentration camp. The hands are filled with yearning and tension, symbolizing the courage of individuals reaching for G-d. The Hebrew letters forming the words Am Yisrael Chai also reach up to G-d proclaiming that in spite of it all – the people of Israel live. The rosebuds at the top symbolize life, hope, and beauty affirming that our people will continue to be a light. 

This particular Torah is read frequently at Shabbat and throughout the year. Many of its truths shine forth and bring light to our people as it is marched around the congregation. Although flanked by three other Scrolls, this Sefer Torah stands as a loving memorial to the six million who perished needlessly and will forever serve as a constant reminder that we shall never forget.

Thu, September 29 2022 4 Tishrei 5783