The Legacy of the Czech Memorial Scrolls
In May of 1990, a sacred memorial Torah scroll was dedicated at Temple Beth El. What made this Torah scroll so special? The scroll, originally from Czechoslovakia, had been rescued from the Nazis.
Today this sacred scroll remains on permanent loan at our Temple, thanks to congregant Evy Epstein and her late husband Barney. After the couple learned that a number of scrolls were available for “adoption” by individual congregations around the world, they arranged to have Scroll #870 sent to our original temple location in downtown Lancaster. It continues to be displayed in a special showcase at our present location for all to see as they enter the synagogue.
Here are some details about its history. The Torah came from a town called Rokycany, Czechoslovakia. By June 1941, all of the 14,000 people from this small town located 20 miles from Prague, were gone, either to concentration camps or through escape. The synagogue lay still and its artifacts were confiscated by the Nazis. It was thought that the Torah dated back to 1840.
Known as a Czech Memorial Scroll, Torah # 870 was one of 1,564 Torahs gathered from synagogues desolated throughout the region by Nazi officials. The Nazis were convinced that they would destroy Judaism, so they gathered artifacts and Torah scrolls from the communities they decimated, and stored them in a warehouse in Prague. Their goal was to build a museum after World War II ended, showing how the Jews were destroyed. Fortunately, their plan never materialized.
These Torah scrolls languished in the Prague warehouse until concerned Jews from the West pleaded for their release. After almost two long decades of waiting, the Westminster Synagogue in London received permission to obtain the scrolls.
This historic Torah scroll, displayed in a quiet hallway leading to our main sanctuary, memorializes the sacred community of Rokycany, and the many other Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust.