As the Nazis destroyed Jewish communities around Europe, historical congregations were closed down and their synagogues ruined or deserted. In 1942, a group of members of Prague’s Jewish community worked hard on a plan to bring religious treasures from the damaged communities of Bohemia and Moravia to the Central Jewish Museum in Prague, and over 100,000 artefacts were successfully brought to the museum. This collection included around 1,800 Torah scrolls such as the one pictured above, which is on display here at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum. The staff at the Central Jewish Museum in Prague worked tirelessly to catalogue the scrolls, ensuring as much provenance as possible was saved for each scroll. All the curators at the museum were eventually transported to Terezin (Theresienstadt) and Auschwitz, and only two survived.

The Jewish community continued to hope that one day these treasures would be returned to their original homes. After the war, some of the artefacts were given to congregations who re-established themselves in Czechoslovakia, although they were not always original items from their own communities. However, Jewish practice was once again suppressed when the Communists came to power in 1948, and most synagogues were closed. In order to keep the items safe once more, London Jews purchased 1,564 scrolls from the Communist government and took them back into Jewish hands at Westminster Synagogue. The Memorial Scrolls Trust of Westminster Synagogue have since cared for and sent the scrolls to synagogues and organisations across the world.

Our Torah Scroll, pictured above, is number 737 and is kindly on loan to us from the Memorial Scrolls Trust. It was written in the 19th century and originates from Prague, although we do not know from which synagogue. According to Jewish custom, scrolls which have no use should be buried, and although scrolls such as this one are not necessarily used in the usual ceremonial way, they do have an important memorial and educational role and so are not buried.

For more information on the Memorial Scrolls Trust please click here.