The Legacy of the Czech Memorial Scrolls
The Central Synagogue of Nassau County Holocaust Scroll, brought to us by William and Mollie Rogers
Written In Commemoration of Yom HaSho’ah 5776
Rabbi Marc A. Gruber
Early in February of 1964, in the nineteenth year after the last German troops had surrendered in Prague, 1,564 Torah scrolls, representing hundreds of Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia that had been wiped out in the Holocaust, arrived in London. For many years, the scrolls lay unattended in a Prague synagogue used as a warehouse. These scrolls traveled across Europe and arrived at the Westminster Synagogue in London. From there, over the years, they have been sent to Jewish communities around the world. The members of these communities cherish these sifrei Torah as memorials to a tragic past and, more importantly, use these scrolls for study by a new generation of Jews, the guarantors of Jewish survival and rebirth.
A quarter century ago, William and Mollie Rogers brought scroll #771 from the hamlet of Neveklov, 30 miles from Prague, into the interfaith chapel at JFK while students from the Liberal Jewish Day School sang songs of hope. The school would hold this scroll in trust with the fervent prayer that one day a Jewish community would again thrive in this central Bohemian village.
Before the Sho’ah, Neveklov was 300-year-old Jewish community in Czechoslovakia. It was part of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Neveklov was already occupied by Germany in November 1938. During Kristallnacht, its synagogue was attacked and set aflame.
In 1940 the Germans entered Neveklov and deported all of the town"s Jews. They took the Torah scrolls to a warehouse in Prague that held a Nazi collection of Judaica, destined to be part of a record of the destruction of a despised people.
William Rogers believed that scroll #771, written in 1900, would serve as a living memorial for the Jews of Czechoslovakia and an inspiration to the students at the school.
He was personally connected to these sacred scrolls. His father was a spice merchant from Czechoslovakia. In 1910 he came to the U.S. on a holiday and was urged to remain here; he did not return to Czechoslovakia. How fitting that his son would bring a Czech Torah scroll to his adopted land.
William saw his dream becoming a reality. As the children learned about this scroll and studied its ancient words, they, in turn, gave the Torah renewed life
Alas, the day school closed and the Torah needed a new home. Our congregation, Central Synagogue of Nassau County, was afforded this sacred trust. William and Mollie enjoyed deep satisfaction that their granddaughters, Samara and Elissa, read from this scroll when they celebrated their b’not mitzvah and confirmations.
We continue to use this scroll for confirmation and b’nai mitzvah when there is a special connection. For example my son read from this scroll at his bar mitzvah; his survivor grandfather offered the blessings for the first aliyah. This scroll is faded in places; we have scrolls that are easier to read. Yet, whenever I share the story of this scroll with youngsters and offer them the choice: a scroll with clearly written bold letters or our Holocaust scroll, every youngster chooses to work a little harder and give voice and life to the words of this century old Czech scroll.
Scroll #771 was saved by the Nazis to serve as an artifact bearing witness to the destruction of the Jewish people. We read from this scroll and dance with it when we celebrate our cycle of Torah reading, learning, and living on Simhat Torah. It is an act of defiant hope and a joyful re-commitment to our holy covenant with God.
We pray for the day when the community of Neveklov is once more vibrant and we can return this scroll for use in its hometown.