Temple Beth El of Santa Maria, CA is privileged and honored to have been chosen to house a Torah rescued from the Holocaust. Currently labeled “scroll MST #164,” it was entrusted to us on permanent loan in March 1979 by the Memorial Scrolls Trust. This Torah is one of two commissioned in 1890 to celebrate the building of a new synagogue and used by the Jewish community of Holesov in Bohemia and Moravia, which is today in the Czech Republic. The Jewish community in Holesov dates back to 1454 and was once home to nearly 1,700 Jews, but had dwindled to less than 350 by the start of WWII. Of the 259 Jews living in Holesov who were deported to extermination camps, about 243 perished during the Shoah.
During WWII, a pious group of Jews from Prague’s Jewish community worked to bring artifacts and Jewish possessions of all kinds from Bohemia and Moravia to what had become the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. Here they catalogued and preserved what little remained of Jewish communities, previously at the mercy of plunderers. For 20 years following the war, the scrolls remained in the disused synagogue in a Prague suburb until the communist government, in need of hard currency, decided they should be sold. A British art dealer learned of this opportunity in 1963 and worked with the rabbi of Westminster Synagogue, a Hebrew scholar and a generous donor to buy them. 1,564 Torah scrolls from the warehouse were released on February 7, 1964 to Westminster Synagogue in London where they underwent meticulous examinations and, if possible, restoration. The Memorial Scrolls Trust was formed with the understanding that these scrolls will never be sold or donated, but allocated on loan to communities across the world to bear witness and as memorials. The intent of the worldwide disbursement is for these holocaust survivors to continue on in perpetuity. The other Torah from Holosov resides at Temple Har Shalom in Park City, UT.
Although it is not kosher and cannot be used for service, this historic Torah scroll stands in a place of honor in our ark and is regularly brought out and included in the parade around the sanctuary during holiday and B’nei Mitzvah services. We also use it during Holocaust education study events.
To learn more about the history and journey of other surviving Torah scrolls, please visit the Memorial Scrolls Trust website at www.memorialscrollstrust.org.