Sign In Forgot Password

Holocaust Torah - MST#1056

In late December 2018, the Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton became the privileged recipient of a Pre-War Sefer Torah which had been preserved through the efforts of the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London.
 
We sought such a Sefer Torah as part of our commitment to remember what happened to the Jewish people during the Holocaust, and to educate our children and grandchildren about the  Jewish communities, and way of life, which existed before the Holocaust.
 
Our Torah, MST#1056, is from Lipnik (currently known as Lipník nad Bečvou), which is in the eastern part of what is today the Czech Republic. The Torah was written c.1825 and has a 14.5” klaf height. It is Kosher for use, and was restored by Rabbi Zerach Greenfield. 
 
Before it came to the YIPC, it was used by the US Military at a training base on the West Coast. Prior to that, it was used at a US Veterans Administration Center in West Virgina.                                               
 
The Sefer Torah was first used at the YIPC during Simchas Torah 2019. Children danced around the Torah during the Hakafos, and the first Aliyah was Kol HaNearim, symbolizing that Am Yisroel Chai - The Jewish People Live! The Sefer Torah is used throughout the year for special occasions, including  Yomim Tovim and Bar-Mitzvah's.
 
History of Jewish Communal Life in Lipnik:
  • Shuls: A shul in the town dates back to at least 1540. 
  • Yeshivos: There was a Yeshiva there in 1700 and 1800's which attracted students from throughout Europe.
  • Population Numbers:
    • 1665: 40 Jewish families
    • 1788: 255 Jewish families.
    • 1794: 975 Jews (not families)
    • 1857: Nearly twenty years after Jews were emancipated in the Austrian Empire, there were 1,687 Jews living in the town.
    • 1880: As Jews began moving to larger towns, seeking economic and educational opportunities, the population dwindled to 485 Jews.
    • 1900: 294 Jews
    • 1930: The last census taken prior to the Holocaust found that there were 154 Jews (2% of the total population).  
  • Famous Rabbis:
    • Moses Simson Bacharach (1632-1644): He composed a selichah commemorating the destruction of the town by Swedish troops in 1643, during the Thirty Years' War. 
    • Isaac Eulenburg (1652-1657)
    • Isaiah b. Shabbetai Sheftel Horowitz (1658-1673)
    • Rabbi Binyamin Wolf Eiger (1756-1795)   - uncle and teacher of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, was a Rav in the town, and also taught at the Yeshiva.
Holocaust & Post War: 
In 1942 the Jews of Lipnik were deported to the Terezin (Theresienstadt) Ghetto. From there they were sent to a number of concentration and death camps. Before being sent to Terezin, ritual objects and synagogue equipment was sent to the Central Jewish Museum in Prague (more in this below). Jewish communal life was not renewed after the war. In 1948 the synagogue was turned into a Hussite Church. Though the building itself is standing, its appearance has been significantly altered.
 
Sifrei Torah and other Jewish Possessions During the War
  • 1939: The Nazis invaded Bohemia and Moravia. Most buildings were not damaged, but Jewish business and property was stolen, and Shuls were closed. There were at least 350 Shuls in Bohemia and Moravia at the beginning of the war. 
  • 1942:  The communities of Bohemia and Moravia packed their Sifrei Torah, gold and silver filials, books and textiles and sent them to the Jewish Museum in Prague. In total, there were at least forty warehouses used to store these items. The Nazis forced the local Jews to catalog the inventory. Upon completion, they were sent to concentration camps - very few survived. 
About the Jewish Museum in Prague
  • 1906: Museum is created.
  • 1939: When the Nazis invade, the Museum has 760 items. The Nazis allowed the Museum to continue, despite shutting down most other Jewish institutions.
  • 1941: By the end of 1941, at the same time of Pearl Harbor, The Jewish Museum becomes a storehouse for items taken from the empty Prague synagogues.
  • 1942: Communities in Bohemia and Moravia begin sending “historically valuable” items to the Jewish Museum in Prague. 
    • More than 212,000 artifacts are brought to the Museum. 
    • Among them are about 1,800 Torah scrolls. 
    • Each item was meticulously recorded. labeled and entered on a card index by the Museum’s staff with a description and the place it had come from. 
Why did the Nazis do this? 
  • Theory #1: The Germans intended to create a "Museum of an Extinct race" and these items would be in the exhibition. Not everyone agrees with this. In 2012, the Jewish Museum in Prague issued a publication stating there are no documents to prove this idea. 
  • Theory #2:  The museum 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 possible that the Nazis saw the museum as a special department for the collection, documentation, storage, and evaluation of confiscated Jewish property.
After the War & The Transfer of the Sifrei Torah Again
 
Following the war, the region was freed. 
 
However, just 3 years later, on February 27, 1948 (just a few months prior to Israel becoming a nation), there was a communist coup. The Jewish Museum in Prague, and all of the warehouses were now under Communist control. They went ahead and transferred the approximately  1,800 Torah scrolls that had been collected during the war, and place them in a damp warehouse that had once been the sixteenth-century Michle synagogue, outside of Prague. The communists also confiscated other Jewish items that had been used during the 3 years between the war and the communist coup. 
 
The Torah Scrolls remained in the Michle Synagogue until they arrived in London in 1964.
 
How did they get to London?
In 1963, the Artia, a company run by the Czech Communist government approached Eric Estorick an art dealer who frequently visited Prague to buy paintings for his Grosvenor Gallery in London, to ask if he was interested in buying some Torah and other scrolls.  He approached a client, Ralph Yablon who discussed the situation with Harold Reinhart, Rabbi of the Westminster Synagogue. 
 
It was decided to instruct Chimen Abramsky, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College, London to examine the scrolls in Prague and report on their authenticity and condition, on receipt of which Ralph Yablon generously agreed to fund the purchase of 1564 scrolls that arrived in London in February 1964. Nobody was aware that the Czechs had previously, unsuccessfully offered to sell the scrolls to the Israeli government.
 
What Happened when they got to London?
The Memorial Scrolls Trust was setup to organize the scrolls, restore them to the greatest extent possible, and then distribute them to Shul's and other Jewish organizations throughout the world so that the scrolls could serve as a living memorial to Jewish communities which no longer existed. It was their belief that the Czech Torah scrolls were themselves, survivors and silent witnesses. They represented not only the lost communities of Bohemia and Moravia but all those who perished in the Shoah.
 
*Information about the history of the town & Memorial Scrolls Trust, comes from a variety of sources, including: The Memorial Scrolls Trust, Beit Hatfutsot, JewishGen.org, Wikipedia, and others.
 
What is the history of the YIPC Sefer Torah - MST#1056?
  • 1968: 4 years after arriving in London, it was sent to a US Veterans Administration Center located in Martinsburg, West Virginia shortly before Chanukah.  From there, it seems to have been used until it at some point it was transferred to the US Military Marine Corps and was used at a chapel on a training base on the West Coast.
  • February 2018: As part of our focus on Holocaust Remembrance and Education, the YIPC submitted an application to the Memorial Scrolls Trust, so that we could host a pre-Holocaust Sefer Torah. 
  • August 2018: we learned that MST#1056 had been sent back to the main Jewish Chaplains Council office in NYC,  as the US Military was acquiring smaller/lighter Sifrei Torah which would be easier to store and travel with.  The Chaplains Council was originally going to send it back to the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London.  But the MST knew that we were looking for a scroll, and recommended we examine the Torah before it was sent back to London.
  • September 2018: YIPC representatives visited the Chaplains Council Office, and inspected the Scroll, which appeared to be in good shape and had been recently restored. Subsequently, we learned that it had been restored and deemed Kosher for use by Rabbi Zerach Greenfield.
  • December 2018: The Memorial Scrolls Trust granted the YIPC authorization to take possession of the Sefer Torah - on a permanent loan basis. On December 11, 2018 - right after Chanukah - the Sefer Torah was welcomed to its new home at the YIPC.
  • Simchas Torah 2019: The Sefer Torah was brought out of the Aron, for the first time, during the 6th Hakofo on Simchas Torah night, which (in our Shul) is devoted to the youth and future generations. The next morning, it was again taken out of the Aron - this time to be used for Kol HaNearim. During the auction of Kibudim before the Hakafos, Mordchai Bodek announced that he had composed a song about the Sefer Torah's journey, based upon "The Place Where I Belong" by Abie Rottenberg. He sang the song to the packed Shul. The lyrics are as follows:

I hope to Stay, by Mordchai Bodek

T.T.T.O. The Place Where I Belong, by Abie Rotenberg
 
I was made way back in 1825.
200 years now that I've been alive.
I started life in Lipnick, then the war brought me to Prague
With 1,800 others, stacked like many logs.
 
We were rescued by a philanthropic man
Who brought us to London, quickly as he can.
He found homes for all of us, and sent us on our way.
And I made my path to the grand ol' U.S.A.
 
I spent some time on an east coast army base,
Then traveled to the west coast, my next place.
Then the chaplain's office in New York, where Avrami Groll found me,
And permanently loaned me for YIPC.
 
So open up your hearts and you will see
our children glow when they look into me.
I haven't been in a proper shul, for three-quarters' century.
And I hope to stay for all eternity.
And I hope to stay for all eternity."
Tue, September 29 2020 11 Tishrei 5781