Congregation Shomrei Torah is honored to be the custodian of one of 1,564 Torah Scrolls rescued from the ashes of Jewish communities destroyed during the Holocaust in what is now the Czech Republic.
On permanent loan to the synagogue since 1975, our scroll was recovered, restored and provided to us by Memorial Scrolls Trust, an organization founded in 1964 at London’s Westminster Synagogue.
The name “Shomrei Torah” translates as “Keeper of Torah,” chosen by the synagogue’s founding families in honor of our Holocaust Torah, which was rescued from Strakonice, Czechoslovakia.
After the war, the Scrolls were transferred to the ruined synagogue at Michle outside Prague where they remained until they came to London. Some fifty congregations re-established themselves in the Czech Republic and were provided with religious artifacts, not necessarily from their own communities.
When the Communists took over the government of the country in 1948, Jewish communal life was again stifled, and most synagogues were closed. Their possessions went to the newly re-founded Jewish Museum of Prague. In 1942, a group of members of Prague’s Jewish community devised a way to bring the religious treasures from the deserted communities and destroyed synagogues to the comparative safety of Prague.
The Nazis were persuaded to accept the plan and more than 100,000 artifacts were brought to the Museum. Among them were about 1,800 Torah scrolls. Each was meticulously recorded, labelled and entered on a card index by the Museum’s staff with a description of the Scroll and the place it had come from.
In 1963 Eric Estorick, a London art dealer, was offered the opportunity to purchase the 1,564 Scrolls of the Law, stored by the Museum. He contacted a client, Ralph Yablon, who in turn approached Harold Reinhart, Rabbi of Westminster Synagogue. Together they asked Chimen Abramsky, a Hebrew scholar, to go to Prague and examine the scrolls.
Through the generosity of Ralph Yablon, the scrolls were bought and transported to the Synagogue, from where, through the vision of Rabbi Reinhart and the meticulous administrative work of Ruth Shaffer, they were sent out to synagogues and organizations across the world. The full story of how the scrolls came to London can be found in the book Out of the Midst of the Fire by Philippa Bernard.
Today, more than 1,000 rescued Torah Scrolls are in use by Jewish communities all over the world.