Nearly 40 years ago, Beth-El Congregation obtained a Torah — a parchment scroll containing the first five books of the Bible — that survived the Holocaust, although most of the Czech Jews who treasured it did not.
Beth-El, in Fort Worth, Texas, recently installed an exhibit paying tribute to the scroll's poignant history.
The Torah, from a small farming community called Uhrineves in Czechoslovakia, is one of 1,564 such scrolls seized by Nazis as they deported Czech Jews to concentration camps and death camps.
Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger read from the Torah on September 22 - Yom Kippur. It is not a museum piece, he said, but used from time to time and is kept in the Ark with the congregation's four additional Torah scrolls.
The exhibit includes a congregant-created needlepoint mantle placed on a representation, and Jewish-owned belongings smuggled out of Czechoslovakia or entrusted to neighbors and retrieved following WWII.
The accompanying history of Uhrineves was the idea of Beth-El's archivist Hollace Weiner, who visited the town with her husband five years ago. She also visited London's Czech Memorial Scrolls Centre in May, where staffers asked whether Beth-El knew the history of the community. Weiner said no.
Said Weiner, "They gently prodded me to figuratively take the Torah out of the closet — or the ark — and make its history and its people come back to life."
In 1939, the Nazis closed the synagogue. On Sept. 12, 1942 — the first day of Rosh Hashanah — most of the 392 Jews living in Uhrineves and environs were deported to Terezinstadt, and most perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka and other camps. Only 14 Urhineves Jews lived.
As part of a museum project envisioned by Hitler, many scrolls were stored in a synagogue near Prague, catalogued by Prague Jewish Museum staffers who later perished. Post-war, the scrolls were forgotten, deteriorating in poor environmental conditions, until 1963, when a British art dealer learned about them. A benefactor paid and brought them to London.
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