Rescued Czech Torah

This Sefer Torah was written in 1850 for the Jewish community of Smíchov, a district of Prague in the former Czechoslovakia. The Sefer Torah remained in the Smíchov synagogue and played an integral role within the local Jewish community until the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia in 1939.

In 1942, this Torah, along with 100,000 other precious religious objects from Jewish communities across Czechoslovakia, was gathered by the Central Jewish Museum of Prague and stored in the Michle synagogue. There has been much historical debate as to whether this project was initiated by the Nazis to create a “museum of an extinct race” or if it was initiated from within Jewish communities in an effort to preserve materials and memory. Despite the differing motivations, the plan to gather items from across Bohemia and Moravia was ultimately enacted by Nazi officials. The Torahs and other religious items were catalogued under Nazi orders and remained in the synagogue throughout the duration of the war. The number for this scroll (37111) is still visible on the bottom plate of the right roller. In the face of devastation suffered by the Jewish communities in Czechoslovakia under the Nazis, many precious belongings were able to survive the Holocaust under the care of the Central Jewish Museum.

After the Second World War, the Torah scrolls fell under the control of the Czech state authorities and the subsequent communist government. In 1963, a British art dealer acquired the 1,564 surviving scrolls and donated them to the Westminster synagogue in London where the Memorial Scrolls Trust committee was formed in 1964. The repaired scrolls were allocated to a permanent loan collection where they have been received by institutions and synagogues around the world.

This Torah is on permanent loan to the VHEC from the Memorial Scrolls Trust (No. 579) and was selected and brought to the Centre by Anita Shafran, Israel Zev and Elaine Shafran and families “in memory of our grandparents, Israel & Chana Shafran.”