Restoring A Torah Rescued From The Holocaust

Congregation Achduth Vesholom celebrated its 150th anniversary in October 1998 with the theme "L'dor Vador - From Generation to Generation." The Temple launched a Torah-writing project in late 1997 to restore a holy document saved from Nazi destruction in Czechoslovakia.

The Temple's Holocaust Memorial Committee secured on permanent loan Scroll #1172 from the Memorial Scrolls Trust housed in Westminster Synagogue of London, England. A remnant of the Torah is on display in the Temple's Madge Rothschild Resource Center.

We regularly read from the restored Torah, which can be distinguished from our other scrolls in the Ark because it has a Torah cover with the Hebrew word "Zachor," which means "Remember."

Each Memorial Scroll is a memory of the past and a messenger for the future.

Bar Mitzvah Student Researches Our Scroll In London

In 2018, as part of his bar mitzvah preparation, Temple member Joseph Katinsky visited the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London to learn more about our scroll, but, unfortunately, there was not much more information. He learned our congregation’s scroll, number 1172, was written about 250 years ago, and it is one of the oldest. The town it came from is unknown, as the identifying tag came off as it was being transported. This is what the trust refers to as an “orphan scroll.” We know it belonged to a Jewish community in Bohemia and Moravia, but that doesn’t mean it was written there.

Some of the scrolls in the Trust are very old and came from faraway countries, both Sephardic and Ashkenazi. Our scroll was probably written by a sofer with Kabbalistic (mystical) influence. (Photo: Memorial Scrolls Trust Chair Jeffrey Ohrenstein and Joseph Katinsky, March 2018, London.)

Bar and bat mitzvah students at Achduth Vesholom customarily read from the Holocaust Torah. (Photo: Joseph Katinsky practices reading from the Holocaust Torah in preparation for his bar mitzvah on April 14, 2018.)

Miraculous Survival

What is the Memorial Scrolls Trust?
The Memorial Scrolls Trust is an organization that preserved 1,564 sacred scrolls that came from Czechoslovakia after the Shoah. The trust’s mission is to give each scroll to a synagogue across the world, and then get those entrusted with them to "be aware" of what they have, to fully understand the legacy they were granted with. These scrolls survived due to three "miracles," according to the Memorial Scrolls Trust.

Miracle 1 - The Scrolls Survived WWII
In the Czech Republic, the Nazis didn’t immediately destroy the buildings and kill people like they did in Poland and Lithuania. Maybe they wanted to spare the natural resources and armament factories. Maybe they considered the Czechs to be racially superior. In either case, the Jews were spared for a couple years.

The Nazis instructed the Jewish Museum in Prague to obtain artifacts and scrolls from the towns and villages in Bohemia and Moravia. We don’t exactly know why, but this enabled the Nazis to gain in a short period of time in-depth knowledge about confiscated Jewish objects that were of particular value. 

It is clear that the Nazis had no experts for such specialized work as the registration and evaluation of confiscated Jewish artifacts of artistic or historical value. It is possible that the Nazis saw the museum as a special department for the collection, documentation, storage, and evaluation of confiscated Jewish property. Some members of the Jewish community saw this as an opportunity to safeguard the treasures. As a result, the museum increased thirteen-fold in size and occupied 30 buildings. Curators continued working there until the last were deported in 1944. Unfortunately, only two survived.

Miracle 2 - Rescued from the communists
In 1948, three years after the war ended, the communists took over. From the artifacts’ point of view, they were even worse than the Nazis. They closed all of the synagogues, churches, and the museum, and took the silver & precious metals from the Museum.

In the 1960s, the economy got bad for the communists. With the help of an American art dealer collecting behind the Iron Curtain, an agreement was brokered to buy the scrolls for £30,000, which is over a million dollars today. 1,564 scrolls were delivered to the newly founded Scrolls Trust in England. They had nine Orthodox soferim review the scrolls. They found that 10% of them were kosher, and those scrolls were sent out to orthodox synagogues for use. (Photos: Scrolls at Memorial Scrolls Trust)

Miracle 3 - Repairs

David Brand, a traveling sofer, knocked on the door of the Memorial Scrolls trust one day, asking (in Yiddish) if they had any scrolls needing repairs. “Yes,” he was told, “we have 1564. Come in!” He ended up repairing them for 27 years. Many of the people working in the scrolls trust were liberal or secular Jews, whereas he was very Orthodox - eating his own kosher food and not shaking the hands of women. When someone asked him how he felt working in a mixed Jewish environment, he responded "I was doing God’s work."

Our Torah came to us with the last half of Numbers and first half of Deuteronomy intact. Master Sofer Dr. Eric Ray came to Fort Wayne and began writing the opening sections of Genesis and explained the intricate process of Torah writing. He then continued working on the Torah sections in New York and Israel for nearly a year to incorporate new sections with the old ones. He returned to Indiana to finish the final sections of the Scroll in time for Simchat Torah and the 150th anniversary gala. Temple member Bill Brosler, who died at age 101 in January 1998 after serving as the Temple's chief usher for 50 years, underwrote the cost of the restoration effort so that donations for the project could boost the Temple's Endowment for the future.

(Photo from left: Rabbi Emeritus Richard B. Safran, Dr. Eric Ray, Rabbi Sandford Kopnick, Examining the scroll at Achduth Vesholom,1997)

What is Memorial Scrolls Trust?

The Memorial Scrolls Trust is an organization that preserved 1,564 sacred scrolls that came from Czechoslovakia after the Shoah. The trust’s mission is to give each scroll to a synagogue across the world, and then get those entrusted with them to "be aware" of what they have, to fully understand the legacy they were granted. These scrolls survived due to three "miracles," according to MST Chair Jeffrey Ohrenstein.

What is Memorial Scrolls Trust?

The Memorial Scrolls Trust is an organization that preserved 1,564 sacred scrolls that came from Czechoslovakia after the Shoah. The trust’s mission is to give each scroll to a synagogue across the world, and then get those entrusted with them to "be aware" of what they have, to fully understand the legacy they were granted. These scrolls survived due to three "miracles," according to MST Chair Jeffrey Ohrenstein.