Hebrew Voices #101 – Torah Scrolls from the Holocaust

In this episode of Hebrew Voices, Torah Scrolls from the Holocaust, we learn how 1,564 Torah Scrolls escaped the Nazi's attempt to make the Jews extinct. The chairman of the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London explains how these scrolls survived the Holocaust, gives us a VIP tour of the museum, and we look at an ancient scroll they didn't even know they had until my visit.

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Hebrew Voices #101 - Torah Scrolls from the Holocaust

You are listening to Hebrew Voices with Nehemia Gordon. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon's Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

Nehemia: Guys, if you’ve ever heard of a Torah scroll from the Holocaust, and if it’s authentic, there’s a very good chance it came from this place here.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Le ma’an Zion lo ekhesheh, u’l’ma’an Yerushalayim lo eshkot. (For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. Isaiah 62:1)

Nehemia: Shalom, this is Nehemia Gordon and I am in London, England today at the Memorial Scrolls Trust, with Jeffrey Ohrenstein. Shalom, Jeffrey.

Jeffrey: Shalom.

Nehemia: I grew with up with the story, Jeffrey, that many Jews have heard, about the Torah scrolls saved from the Holocaust. The story that we were told – and I’ve shared this story, because it’s what I was told – was that the Nazis decided to create a museum which was going to be a propaganda piece. They were going to wipe out all the Jews and then show the generations to come in their thousand-year Reich, what Jews had looked like, what their material culture was. So they gathered up all the riches of the Jews of Europe, including their Torah scrolls, brought them to Prague in a museum which, either they called it this, or it was intended to be, a Museum of the Extinct Race. That’s the story everybody knows. Can you share with the people what your understanding of the story is?

Jeffrey: As Nehemia said, I was also brought up with the concept of this museum of an extinct race that the Nazis had planned for after the war, and as you said, as a potential thousand-year Reich. But in reality, there’s no historical proof that one can really allocate to the story. There are no documents, and to the best of our knowledge, in fact, the idea of a museum of an instinct race was first mentioned after the war.

Nehemia: So as far as we know from all the extensive Nazi documents, they don’t mention that this is one of their plans.

Jeffrey: There is nothing mentioned.

Nehemia: Wow.

Jeffrey: We do know, however, that for example Rosenberg, one of Hitler’s henchmen, was collecting Judaica, writing letters for Judaica to be collected, but it was more to be sold. There’s no record of him writing to Prague, which was part of the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and there are no records of an intention for a museum of an extinct race.

Nehemia: Can I just say? They’ve got a book here, Out of the Midst of the Fire, which tells the story of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, which is the Torah scrolls from the Holocaust, and it tells the story. Set the record straight here.

Jeffrey: Absolutely. First of all, when the Nazis went into Bohemia and Moravia, they didn’t destroy everything…

Nehemia: Let’s back up. For people who’ve never heard of Bohemia and Moravia, what on earth is that?

Jeffrey: That was the former Czechoslovakia, which became the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Nehemia: For those who have studied history, remember we see Neville Chamberlain, and he’s waving the piece of paper, and he says, “Peace in our time! I’ve given concessions to Hitler. Land for peace. Now there’ll be peace.” That was Bohemia and Moravia that he sold out, right? Or the Sudetenland?

Jeffrey: Actually, what happened first of all was the Sudetenland, which of course England and the rest of the world gave away. Then a few months later, they marched into Czechoslovakia and they created the German Protectorate. So the reality there is that they didn’t destroy quite in the same way, immediately, what they did in the rest of Europe. Jews were not allowed to go to synagogue, synagogues were closed. Their rights were taken away, and eventually, unfortunately, 90% plus were murdered.

However, because the Judaica wasn’t all initially destroyed, a lot of it was still in the synagogues, or kept in safekeeping. What we know is that the man in charge in Prague was a fellow called Gunther, Hans Gunther, a pseudo-academic, and he wanted to collect Judaica for his own personal reasons.

Nehemia: This is an SS commander or something?

Jeffrey: He was… I don’t know the German word.

Nehemia: Whatever he was, right.

Jeffrey: But he was the guy in charge in Prague. His subordinate, a fellow called Rahm, in April 1942 wrote asking for all the really valuable Jewish books to be sent to Prague.

Nehemia: Oh, so there is some…?

Jeffrey: That was books. After that, the Jewish community learned about this, and of course, I should think they didn’t send their stuff straight away, because they hid it. But the Jewish community which was still operating in Prague, helping those Jews who were living under bad conditions, they came up with the idea that it would be wonderful if, instead of just sending the valuable books that the Nazis wanted, they sent all the Judaica to Prague, where it would be safer. It would be in safekeeping with the idea, hopefully, that they’d been through a bad time before, but at the end of the war people would return and be able to collect their Judaica.

Nehemia: You gave me an example that the mohel, the guy who does the circumcision, he has a special knife and all kinds of implements. That was being sent. And you mentioned to me how Nazis were coming in and essentially pillaging the Jewish synagogues and communities, and maybe this is a way to protect them from that pillaging.

Jeffrey: Exactly, because certainly there were about 50 synagogues which were destroyed by the Nazis, and there were people who were stealing. There were anti-Semites, as well as people who supported the Jews in the area, and there were a lot of damaged scrolls.

Nehemia: I’ve seen the scrolls here, and there are some scrolls that, as I say, are completely waterlogged and now dried out. But they clearly went through a fire and then that fire was doused with water. So some of them have literally been plucked out of the fires and some of them are burned without the water damage. Literally, plucked out of the fires.

Having said that, there’s this image that I think a lot of people have that there’s a Jew on a train, and he throws the scroll out through the window. You don’t have those, at least…

Jeffrey: No. The 1,564 scrolls that came to London were part of some 1,800 that were sent to the Jewish Museum in Prague, which was then known as the Central Jewish Museum, in 1942-43. These were all scrolls that were sent to Prague as a result of a letter sent out by a fellow called Karel Stein, one of the curators of the Central Jewish Museum, and he said in that letter, which was sent of course with the approval of the Nazis, to send all your Judaica, everything. 200,000 items came in. It wasn’t just Torah scrolls.

As Nehemia said, if they had just been thinking to save the Judaica, the valuables, the Sifrei Torah, they’d be saying, “Send your Torah Scrolls”. But they also said, as you said, “The mohel should send his knife and his saucer.” The Chevra Kadisha, the people who looked after those who died, were supposed to send their comb and their needle and their fingernail cutters, everything. 200,000 items were sent, which filled 30 buildings in the center of Prague.

Nehemia: Wow. In other words, this was a Jewish initiative, at least for some of the items, rather than a Nazi initiative. The Nazis approved of it thinking probably, “Hey, when we kill the Jews, we’ll take all the silver and we’ll take all these items.” It’s like the different people had their different motives, perhaps.

Jeffrey: My personal view – I’m not a historian – my personal view is it was a meeting of minds. The Nazis wanted to collect the Judaica. There’s no record of it being for a museum, but they wanted the Judaica for valuables. I mean, many famous Nazis… Goering had one of the greatest collections of Judaica in the world.

Nehemia: I was very surprised. We all know about the art that he stole and had, but you said he actually had Jewish items.

Jeffrey: I believe there were books and other things as well. There was a lot of Judaica that was stolen during the war and was kept by different people. So, on the one hand, the Nazis were very happy to have the Jews send everything, because they knew if the Jews sent everything, or agreed to send, everything would come. Nothing would be hidden back. They would then have the pick, and who would know how to value it better than the Jewish curators?

Nehemia: Just to give some context, because this is a question I had. Why would a Nazi want a Torah scroll, or some artifact related to the circumciser, the mohel? Maybe it’s like people go on a vacation to Papua, New Guinea and they come back with a mask or something, and put it up on the wall, and you can tell your friends there is this exotic thing.

And once the Jews were wiped out, that would have been an exotic thing. They’re not making any more of them.

Jeffrey: Yeah, I don’t think that the Nazis had any interest in a Torah scroll at all. Their first requirements were valuables. They were interested in old books, because the Jewish people had ancient books, and the Bible, not just written in Hebrew, but in other languages as well. They also had valuable silverware, they had valuable textiles, and these were the things that the Nazis would have had a great interest in.

On the other hand, the Jewish community felt that by collecting everything in one place it had a greater chance of survival. They had no perception of understanding how many people would be murdered, and they really had hoped that a number would arrive, coming back, and everything would be there waiting for them to take possession of.

Nehemia: I did this study on what was called the Scrolls of Auschwitz. These were diaries kept by the Sonderkommando, those were the people whose job it was to clean up the bodies. In one of the diaries, one of the accounts, he tells the story of a man who arrived, and I think the man was from the Czech Republic or Czechoslovakia, I don’t remember for sure. They were being stripped naked and about to be marched into the gas chambers, and the people start to panic. And he gets up on a chair and we says, “Guys, why are you panicking? The Germans are the most civilized people in the world. Whoever told you they’re going to kill us has their reasons. This is a conspiracy theory that they’re telling you for some nefarious reason. Everything is going to be fine.”

And the Sonderkommando writes that this young, ideological man marched with his convictions to his death in the gas chamber. They didn’t realize they were going to be killed. Now, why after the war weren’t these 1,564 Torah scrolls sent back to the synagogues they were taken from?

Jeffrey: Well, of the Jews in 1942, about 88,000 Jews were left in the Czech Republic. In Bohemia and Moravia, 78,000 were murdered. About 5,000 came back to Bohemia and Moravia after the war. They were allocated scrolls, rimonim, silver, textiles, everything for about 50 communities that restarted. Unfortunately, three years later there was a communist coup, and when the communists took over everything was closed down. More Jews left the country, and those who remained couldn’t use their scrolls.

The communists were not interested in Torah, and they took the scrolls. In fact, they’d been kept in reasonably good condition by the Nazis. But they put them in a damp warehouse in a former synagogue, the Mikleh Synagogue, and they lay there deteriorating, because they’re biodegradable. Some were in good condition, but many were bad. Everything was slowly deteriorating.

Nehemia: Wow. So the scrolls survived the Holocaust, most of the Jews are killed. Most of those communities didn’t exist after the War. Even the ones that exist that were reestablished were shut down by the communists. How did the scrolls end up here in London? The story I heard is that the Allies took the contents of the Museum of the Extinct Race and brought it to London in their benevolence, to show the world the Jews have survived! What really happened?

Jeffrey: [laughing] If only. If only.

Nehemia: This part is beyond dispute, but it’s not the story we’re told.

Jeffrey: Yeah. Well, what is beyond dispute is that scrolls were lying in this warehouse, which had been, as I said, a former synagogue, and in very poor condition.

Nehemia: In Prague?

Jeffrey: At the outskirts of Prague, a damp warehouse. Then, in the early 1960s, the Czech communist government was looking for foreign exchange. They didn’t want to sell the silver or the valuable stuff, but they thought that the Torah, for them, was nothing. So, they looked for somebody to buy.

Nehemia: [laughing] So they think the silver which adorns the Torah scroll is worth more than the Torah scroll itself?

Jeffrey: Absolutely.

Nehemia: Whereas from a Jewish perspective, the Torah scroll is priceless. You could buy and sell them, but essentially, it’s a holy object, and silver is beautiful, but the Torah scroll is much more precious.

Jeffrey: They tried to sell them. They were negotiating with the government in Israel for a year, but unfortunately at that time, they couldn’t reach an arrangement. Then they asked an American art dealer living in London called Eric Estorick if he could find a buyer for this treasure. He approached a fellow called Ralph Yablon, who was philanthropist, a founder member of the Westminster Synagogue.

Ralph Yablon, first of all he sent a Jewish scholar from London, Chimen Abransky, to examine the scrolls and make sure it wasn’t a scam or a fraud. Once he said, “Yes, these are really this,” he couldn’t believe it, so many scrolls, the biggest collection of scrolls anywhere in the world were there, in various condition. But they were there. Yablon paid all the money for them to come to London. So on February 7, 1964, two open trucks came with these scrolls to London.

Nehemia: And that’s how they ended up here. Now from here, your organization, the Memorial Scrolls Trust, originally it was part of the Westminster Synagogue, right? Now it was…

Jeffrey: No, I think what happened was the scrolls came to London, and the Westminster Synagogue realized this was such an important project and many people were asking for the scrolls. I think there was a consideration at the time that they should create a museum, a center of Judaica here. But there so many requests for these scrolls from all around the world, it was decided to set up a separate, independent charity to look after the scrolls and allocate them around the world.

However, they never sold them. They didn’t donate them. They allocated them on loan. It’s very important, because we’re responsible for the scrolls, so this means that when they go to a community, they go for the life of the community. As long as the community exists, the scroll stays with them. But if they merge with another community or they close, the scroll has to come back to us.

Nehemia: So there are over 1,000 scrolls out there - I guess it’s something like 1,400 scrolls approximately. For example, I was in Dallas, Texas and I knew I was coming here, and I wanted to get some experience dealing with this particular type of scroll. So I went to an Orthodox synagogue on the north side of Dallas and they had a scroll there from the Holocaust. It had a little – what you call a “plate” on it, a piece of metal inscribed that said it was a Czech scroll with the number from the synagogue here, although some don’t have the plate, I understand.

Jeffrey: Well, they should have. [laughing]

Nehemia: You mentioned to me how sometimes the plate comes off, or they were placed, what’s called the “eitz chaim”, the poles, so then it gets lost. Or sometimes there’s a shadow of a plate. The plate has fallen off. There are over 1,400 approximately, of these scrolls out there, all around the world. So guys, when you hear about a synagogue or some community that has a scroll from the Holocaust, there’s a very high chance, if it’s authentic, that it came from this place here.

We’re here at the Center. This is really an important institution in the Jewish world, because like we said, there are over 1,000 synagogues… Not just synagogues, in Dallas I went to Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University, and they have a Torah scroll, and they’re very proud. This Christian university is very proud they have a scroll that survived the Holocaust, that came from here. It has one of your plates on it, and they let me examine it and study it.

This is a really important thing. I’ll tell you what blew my mind. You told me there were what, 88,000 Jews in that area before the Holocaust? And they produced 1,500 scrolls. Now look, some of these scrolls weren’t used in synagogues. I’ve looked through some scrolls that were clearly in a genizah before the war. They were already in pieces. For example, we found one scroll with your conservator that was… a scroll, it’s listed as a single scroll. We opened it up, it’s 10 different scrolls. It was clearly from a scribe’s workshop, and what he had done is cut off the margins of the scroll - it didn’t have any writing on it - and used that maybe to reinforce other scrolls, or for other purposes, maybe to reinforce books, possibly for a mezuzah or tefillin.

In any event, it’s not that there were 1,500 active scrolls before the war. But still, let’s say 1,000 of them were being used in synagogues before the war. Let’s say it was 500. That’s one of the smallest Jewish communities in Europe. Six million Jews were killed. So, if 100,000 Jews approximately produced 1,500 scrolls, let’s do the math. That is 1,500 times 60, isn’t that right? 100,000 Jews produced 1,500 scrolls.

Jeffrey: 60, so it’s about one million scrolls.

Nehemia: Something like one million scrolls existed in Europe before the Holocaust, and of those, virtually all that survived, there were a few here and there. There are little caches of scrolls here and there. For example, I went to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and was very moved to see a burned scroll from the Holocaust. That’s one of your scrolls.

Jeffrey: Absolutely.

Nehemia: So this is a very important institution in the Jewish world. In a sense, your 1,564 scrolls tell the story, testify to the 1 million scrolls, approximately, or whatever that number was, that existed – maybe it was 100,000 scrolls that existed before the Holocaust, and this is what survived. They were burned, they were destroyed.

Here in one particular instance, call it the “hand of God” or just dumb luck, these scrolls survived and now can tell the story and testify to generations to come. You shared with me how sometimes, if there’s a small community who isn’t really going to use the scroll liturgically for their prayers, and some of these scrolls aren’t considered kosher, that you’ll give them a sheet of a scroll in a frame, and we actually looked through and we found something again, that was listed as a scroll, and it was essentially a pile of individual sheets that somebody had put in a genizah, in the room of the synagogue where they keep the old scrolls, and now that can be a testimony to some community out there who wants this to be known to the generations to come.

Jeffrey: Absolutely.

Nehemia: Guys, this is such an important thing that they’re doing here at the Memorial Scrolls Trust. We’ve actually had an anonymous donor who is willing to match the first $10,000 in donations to the Memorial Scrolls Trust. All that money, 100% of it, is going to go to the Memorial Scrolls Trust, so if you give it through Makor Hebrew Foundation, designate it to the Memorial Scrolls Trust, you write on your check “Memorial Scrolls Trust”, or you could do it through the website. We’ll set up a button specifically, that when you go to the checkout it’ll say, “Donation for Memorial Scrolls Trust”. 100% of that money is going to go to the Memorial Scrolls Trust, and the first $10,000 will be matched. So if you give $100 that’s $200. If you give $1,000 it’ll be like you gave $2,000.

You can help preserve the memory of those six million Jews who were murdered, in particular the 88,000 Jews whose communities, if they weren’t murdered, their communities were annihilated in Bohemia and Moravia.

Jeffrey: Could I just add one thing?

Nehemia: Please.

Jeffrey: Your money, whatever you send, will be well used only on projects. We work without any paid staff. We only pay for projects. Even the trustees, we pay our own expenses. I can promise you, any monies received are used to promote the work we do.

Nehemia: And there is quite a lot of work that needs to be done. I was here, and we’re going to go in a minute, and you’re going to show me some scrolls. They have a unique collection that’s only in two places, a certain type of item that’s both here and in Prague, and some amazing things. Boy, it’s some things that are very emotional. There are a lot of things here that need to be preserved, and preservation and conservation work needs to be put in so these scrolls can last another 1,000 years.

Jeffrey: We mentioned… you pointed out a scroll I didn’t know existed.

Nehemia: Save that, we’re going to go see it!

Jeffrey: [laughing] Okay!

Nehemia: We’re here at the Memorial Scrolls Trust where they keep the Torah Scrolls. They have approximately 150 scrolls here that survived the Holocaust. The reason I first came here was that I met with a man in Jerusalem when I was studying Torah scrolls and he said, “You must go to London. They have this collection of Torah scrolls from the Holocaust.” One of those scrolls he told me, was from around the year 1250. Now, the man in Jerusalem knew that. Apparently, you didn’t know about this.

Jeffrey: I didn’t know. I’d heard we had an old scroll, but only very recently we’ve decided to clean up. It hasn’t been touched for years, and I wasn’t aware of the age.

Nehemia: So I took a photo of that about a month ago and brought it to a professor at Oxford. I asked her, “I was told this was around 1250. What do you say?” She said, “No way. 1400.” I said, “I’ll take it.” Now, I understand you’re going to try to have this…?

Jeffrey: I’ve actually been in touch with her, and I’ve had a reply from her, and she’s coming to see me, because we could have this carbon-dated… Subject to the cost, because we…

Nehemia: Right, so guys, we mentioned before. If you donate to the Memorial Scrolls Trust through Makor Hebrew Foundation, the first 10,000 will double your donation. Somebody has offered to match the donations, and this is one of the things it could go for.

Jeffrey: We would love to…

Nehemia: Can I take it out and…

Jeffrey: Yeah. It’s in very, very…

Nehemia: I’m shaking here. When I saw this about a month ago, it was together with the conservationist, and she very carefully opened it up. We were only able to get one-and-a-half sheets opened, because it’s in such delicate condition. I took that photo, and that was what I showed to the professor at Oxford. She said tentatively, 1400. She’s got to study it more, right? She’s saw a sheet-and-a-half in a photo that wasn’t perfect. When she comes here, hopefully she’ll be able to give you more information. This is exciting. I’m shaking here. It’s around 600 years old, and survived the Holocaust, and here it is. They’re all precious, every single one of these scrolls. But this one in particular, that it was there for so many centuries and it survived.

It has historical importance as well. The man in Jerusalem had studied some of the nuances, some of the specific things about how the letters are written, what are called “tagim”, the crowns, and what they call “strange letters”. I call it the “loopy Pey”, Pey mekhufaf, the swirly Pey. He studied those things, and so he wanted to see, here’s early testimony to what these looked like and how they were recorded, and here it is. Here it is now, in London.

Guys, you can be part of this. You need to come here. You need to bring your children here. My sister was here in town visiting her mother-in-law, and I said, “You must come here with your children,” and she brought her son here. This is how he’s being introduced to some of the things related to the Holocaust in a way that honors the memory of those six million.

Can you tell us just a little bit… Now, we have here something that’s really unique - I’ve never seen it anywhere else – the design of the handles, of what they call the “eitz chaim”. Guys, I love this about Torah scrolls. The handles on a Torah Scroll are eitz chaim, the tree of life. It comes from a verse in Proverbs where it says, “It is a tree of life to those who grab hold of it.” So the actual poles are called the “tree of life”. These are very unusual trees of life. Tell us about these.

Jeffrey: These, I believe, are actually bone. I don’t believe these are ivory, but I would need it to be been tested. And as you can see, the design is extremely ornate.

Nehemia: Yeah, it’s very intricate.

Jeffrey: It’s really beautiful work. Unfortunately, partly damaged, but still something very, very special. As you can see…

Nehemia: You have a bunch like this, that have a white…

Jeffrey: A lot of the eitzim do have bone and ivory elements. Rarely would you find anything of that quality.

Nehemia: Yeah, this is very high quality. Now guys, we’re to see a scroll, this was on display in…

Jeffrey: In Berlin, of all places.

Nehemia: Guys, in Berlin, at a Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. If that’s not poetic, I don’t know what is. Can I take it out?

Jeffrey: Yes, yes.

Nehemia: It has these silver handles. When I examined this scroll, I said, “Jeffrey, this isn’t really from the Holocaust, is it? This looks like a brand-new scroll.” It’s in incredible condition, and even on the inside it’s in incredible condition.

Jeffrey: It’s a really… Survival is extraordinary, and the fact that it came to us. As you can see, it’s beautiful. The eitzim are made of wood, but the rollers and the top are made of silver. It’s extraordinary, and the condition – it’s a kosher scroll. It’s in beautiful condition.

This is very, very unusual because it’s gilt.

Nehemia: Gilt meaning gold?

Jeffrey: I don’t think so.

Nehemia: It think it’s plated in gold.

Jeffrey: I don’t think it’s is plated gold, but very, very unusually the eitzim, the pole, is made of iron.

Nehemia: Even though eitz means wood, [laughing] the wood is made of iron!

Jeffrey: I’ve never seen or heard of another example. Also, if you look very carefully at the top, there are signs of the Zodiac. This was something that the Jewish people in that area, Bohemia and Moravia, are always fascinated with. I think Jews were always fascinated with the Zodiac, but in this area particularly to the extent that you see examples of it on the Torah.

Nehemia: That’s really interesting. There are synagogues in Israel from around the 3rd and 4th century where they have mosaics of the Zodiac, and here’s something that’s preserved…

Jeffrey: Carried on.

Nehemia: …over 1,500 years. Wow, that’s pretty cool. Let’s go see the binders. They have a unique collection here of binders. Tell us what a binder is.

Jeffrey: Binders, often they’re called wimples, are the material that is used to hold the scrolls together, because when you wind the parchment on two scrolls, if you don’t hold it together, it’s going to fall apart and break. The tradition in ancient times was actually that the binders were made from the swaddling cloths of the boys who were circumcised, brit milah. Of course, over the years, over the generations, people used all different types of materials.

In fact, in our collection we have over 400 here, and stored. It represents something of a historical record of textiles from Bohemia and Moravia over 200 or 300 years, so it’s quite extraordinary.

Nehemia: What’s interesting to me about it is that a Torah scroll – generally there are few exceptions – but generally, there’s no writing in a Torah scroll other than the Torah. So you don’t know when it was written or by whom, unless you do a carbon-14 date, or you have some historical information in some cases. It’s really hard to tell when and where it’s from. Whereas these have dates on them, and we’re actually looking at one here that is incredible. This one is amazing. It’s dedicated to this child who was born, as you said, it was a swaddling cloth. It says, “Isaac, the son of Judah Leib.” Then Leib is a Hebrew name - or really a Yiddish name - that means lion, and there’s a picture of a lion coming out of the Lamed.

Then it says, “who was born,” and there’s a stork coming out of the flag of the Lamed, the top of the Lamed has a stork on top, and it says, “Le Mazel Tov.” Tell us about the Lamed here, of le mazel tov. What does it have on top?

Jeffrey: This is quite extraordinary, because at that time the Czech Republic was part of the Hapsburg Empire, and here you can see the flag.

Nehemia: So that’s the Hapsburg flag of Austria and Hungary.

Jeffrey: Yeah, sure.

Nehemia: Wow. Then instead of what they call girshayim, the two dashes, it has a Star of David, and actually the star of David, as I understand it, is first documented as a Jewish symbol in what became Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic.

Jeffrey: You’ve taught me something new. You can learn something new every day.

Nehemia: Yeah, it wasn’t originally a Jewish symbol, it was just a geometric design. Everybody used it. Then the Jews were granted a flag, and on that flag they had the star that was called the Star of David.

Jeffrey: I thought it was older than that. I didn’t realize.

Nehemia: There’s some debate about whether it’s older, but where it definitely was a clearly Jewish symbol per se was on the Czech flag, the Czech Jewish flag, I believe in Prague. That goes back not that long, a few hundred years.

Then it says, “Taf-Reish-Pey-Bet”, which is 5682. That is… let’s see, that had to be just before World War I. It’s like 1912, is that right? Something around that. I’m really bad at the math. It’s beautiful. It says, “May God magnify him in Torah,” and there’s a picture of the Torah. “And for a chuppah,” it says, and there’s a picture of a chuppah. “And for good deeds, Amen, sela.” Tell us about this one over here. This is not in Hebrew.

Jeffrey: This is rather unusual, because it belonged to the actual Jewish community of Kutná Hora, which was one of the towns our scrolls came from.

Nehemia: But it’s not in Hebrew. What language is that?

Jeffrey: That’s Czech. That’s Czech.

Nehemia: Wow. There was another one you showed me before, that we’ll also put the picture of here. What language is this? Here, instead of Bar Mitzva it says, “Confirmation”. What? [laughing]

Jeffrey: The Czech Republic, being halfway between Berlin and Vienna, was a very unusual place, because on the east side nearer Poland it was a very traditional, very Orthodox community with a lot of Chassidic tradition. More on the west side, it was very involved with the Haskalah, with the enlightenment. Because it was a small community, if you can image in 1850 there were over 400 communities of less than 50 people. The communities assimilated and they had a lot of Progressive Jewish communities, and as you can see, they were already using the term “confirmation” rather than “Bar Mitzva” on that.

Nehemia: So this is a sign, essentially, of assimilation.

Jeffrey: Progressive Judaism. [laughing]

Nehemia: To me, it’s something you won’t get from the Torah scrolls in these binders, there’s all this biographical information about the people and the communities that were wiped out.

Guys, if you’re ever in London, come here to the Memorial Scrolls Trust. Contact them. Let them know. Maybe go to your local Jewish community and see if they have a scroll from the Holocaust that came from here, and see if you can get involved, somehow. Thank you.

Jeffrey: Thank you.

Nehemia: Shalom

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Related Posts:
The Lost Scrolls of Auschwitz
Nothing is Forgotten
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Nehemia Gordon's Teachings on the Name of God

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  • Walter Schwenk says:

    A remnant shall be saved. Thanks to yhwh.

  • eshetchayil says:

    This is wonderful. I was intrigued by the last part on the binders because I have a commercial embroidery business and have actually been commissioned to make them. They are also called wimpels – from Yiddish. Originally cut from the swaddling used after the birth, I use new linen and they are used to wrap the baby’s arms close to his body during the brit. Often, they are kept and incorporated into the chuppah at the time of marriage. Really cool. Thanks.

  • Marty Shrabel says:

    Absolutely fascinating! Great to see you doing video Nehemia, this episode needed it.

  • Debra Wroblewski says:

    The “value” of the silver adorning the Torah Scrolls/Scrolls reminds me of a verse in Matthew 23:16-21 where Yeshua was Condemning the Pharisees concerning swearing by the temple/gold of the temple and the altar/gift on the altar. Amazing how many times in listening to your program I have noted a like similarity.

  • mcgordon1 says:

    Thanks for this fascinating look into this important work of historic preservation. My cat will be blogging on this information soon at http://www.georgiacat.com. No bias here, but Nehemia is my nephew of whom I am extremely proud. I know he will continue his enthusiatic effort of educating himself and others about Torah and Judaism.