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Temple Israel of Northern Westchester Holocaust Rescued Torah

Our Torah belonged to the Jewish community of Austerlitz, in what is now the Czech Republic. The Jewish cemetery at Austerlitz dated from the 12th century. Over the years, the population of the community waxed and waned. In the 19th century the community flourished as it restored its synagogue, introduced a more modern service with a cantor and a choir and had a German-Jewish school that educated three classes of students. By the early 20th century, the Jewish population began to decline following an anti-Semitic outrage in 1905 in which many Jewish houses were destroyed. In 1938, the Nazis occupied the region, and two years later, all the Jews from the surrounding area were taken to Austerlitz. Members of the local Jewish community were required to take these new residents into their own homes, giving them food and shelter. In 1942 the Jews of Austerlitz, together with their new guests, were given orders to prepare for deportation. The community was given a few days to prepare for the journey. Early one morning they were taken by truck to the nearby large town of Brno before being sent to Terezin not too long afterwards. From there most of the community were sent to the death camps in the east never to return.

When they were in power, the Nazis collected religious artifacts from plundered synagogues, including this Torah scroll, and brought them to Prague, intending to open an “Exotic Museum of an Extinct Race.” After the war, the Czechoslovakian government gained control over this collection. The Torah scrolls lay in storage for several years until the 1960’s, when they were sold to a London businessman. This man brought the Torah scrolls to the Westminster synagogue, and a trust was established to re-house them in synagogues all over the world. Ted Stone, a member of our congregation who used to blow the shofar during the High Holy Days, heard of the effort to re-house these Torah scrolls. Through his efforts, the Torah scroll in our Ark came to Temple Israel in 1967.

The Torah is on permanent loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London.

Wed, July 24 2024 18 Tammuz 5784