MST #60 Rakovnik, Czechoslovakia
With Special thanks to Serena Tobias for her work in researching and documenting the history of our sacred scroll.
The story has often been told of the knock on the front door of the Westminster synagogue in London, England, where Ruth Shaffer opened the door to an elderly Orthodox Jew who asked in Yiddish, ‘Do you have any Torahs to repair?’ And her reply, ‘We have 1,564; come in!’ Mr. David Brand (no-one ever used his first name) stayed to work on these rescued Scrolls for the next twenty-seven years working side by side with Ruth Shaffer and Rabbi Reinhart.
According to Michael Heppner, the Research Director, of the Memorial Scrolls Trust at The Westminster Synagogue in London in 1942, members of Prague’s Jewish community, after already seeing destruction in a number of towns and synagogues, began sending their religious objects including their sacred Torah scrolls to the Prague Museum for safety.
The Nazis allowed them to send more than 100,000 artifacts. Among them were about 1,800 Torah scrolls that were sent to Prague from over 250 synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia. Each Torah scroll was recorded, labelled and indexed by the Museum’s staff notating their descriptions and where they were from. Although there is no direct proof of this, it was once thought that Hitler had wanted to take these prized possessions and create a museum of his own, a museum of an extinct society.
After the war, the scrolls were moved to the ruined synagogue at Michle outside Prague.
In 1963, a London art dealer was offered the opportunity to purchase the Scrolls. He contacted a client, who in turn contacted Rabbi Reinhart of Westminster Synagogue in London.
Beginning in February 1964, 1,564 scrolls were received in London. These scrolls were repaired and began being placed on permanent loan around the world. To date there are over 1,400 scrolls with new homes.
On January 11, 1968 Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, CA requested a Torah scroll from The Memorial Scrolls Trust for our synagogue. In October 1968, after ten long months, Adat Elohim was provided the honor of becoming the guardian of a scroll and carrying on the tradition of reading from the Holocaust Torah. Our Torah is tattooed #60. It came from the small town of Rakovnik, Czechoslovakia, located 60 km west of Prague and dates back to 1252. According to documentation, the first Jewish synagogue in Rakovnik dates back to 1476.
Records of a Jewish population in Rakovnik did not begin until 1623, with about ten families. The largest Jewish population was recorded in 1890. At this recording, it was estimated that nearly seven percent of the town’s population was Jewish, representing about 374 people. In 1900 Rakovnik had a Jewish population of 332, but by 1930 that number had dropped to only 153. By the time WWII ended and the Nazi’s left the small town, there was no longer a Jewish population in Rakovnik. The entire Jewish community was put on transport trains and driven away from the town between February 22nd and 26th,1942 and believed to have been exterminated.
Twenty-six years later, one of the ten Torah scrolls that originated in Rakovnik travelled from London to Thousand Oaks, CA where it found what we hope is a temporary home. Our deepest desire is to one day deliver this scroll back to the Jews of Rakovnik, where it can be read in their synagogue once again.
MST #60 is made up of two separate scrolls, joined together to make one complete scroll. We know the largest portion of our Torah is from Rakovnik. Through the years we have had scribes check on the condition of MST #60 and have been told that the Torah was written at least 200 years ago, with one scribe dating the calligraphy back 400 years.
Making its way into our synagogue, we have kept the words of MST #60 alive by periodically reading from it and teaching from it, and not just having it on display. Multiple times a year the scroll is unrolled to show the writing and share a little of the history to religious school students and their parents. We use this Torah to hand down to each bar and bat mitzvah through the generations of their lives and have them carry it into the community. On occasion we have also have our b’nai mitzvah students read directly from this scroll. Additionally, we have our students participate in the Remember Us: The Holocaust B’nai Mitzvah Project, where we twin our students with children that were killed during the Holocaust before they could become a bar or bat mitzvah. As our students hold onto this sacred scroll from Rakovnik, we especially think of the names of the children from this town who would have had the honor of reading from this scroll had their lives not been cut short by the hands of the Nazis.
We remember (this information was collected from the database at Yad VaShem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center):
Eva Abeles z”l
Eva was born on July 10, 1930. She lived in Rakovnik, Czechoslovakia. Her mother’s name was Helena. Her father’s name was Frederic. Eva died in the Shoah at Auschwitz concentration camp when she was a child. Her age when she died has not been recorded.
Eva Fischerova z”l
Eva was born in 1942. She lived in Rakovnik, Czechoslovakia. Her mother’s name was Olga. Her father’s name was Ivory. Eva died in the Shoah at Theresienstadt in 1942. She was less than one year old.
Yehoshua Klajn z”l
Yehoshua was born in Branow, in the Rakovnik district, Bohemia region of Czechoslovakia. His mother’s name was Sara. His father’s name was Dov. Yehoshua died in the Shoah at a place that has not been named. He was 13 or 14 years old.
Peter Lederer z”l
Peter was born in 1934. He lived in Rakovnik, in the Bohemia region of Czechoslovakia. His mother’s name was Eva. His father’s name was Ervin. Peter died in the Shoah at a place that has not been recorded. His age when he died has not been recorded.
Frid Pavel z”l
Frid was born in 1928. He lived in Branov, in the Rakovnik district, Bohemia region of Czechoslovakia. His parent’s names have not been recorded. Frid died in the Shoah at Theresienstadt when he was a teenager. His exact age when he died has not been recorded.
Karli Weignerova z”l
Karli was born in Rakonitz, in the Rakovnik district, Bohemia region of Czechoslovakia. His mother’s name was Marie. His father’s name was Oldrich. Karli died in the Shoah at a place that has not been recorded. His age when he died has not been recorded.
Shoni Weignerova z”l
Shoni was born in Rakonitz, in the Rakovnik district, Bohemia region of Czechoslovakia. Her mother’s name was Marie. Her father’s name was Oldrich. Shoni died in the Shoah at a place that has not been recorded. Her age when she died has not been recorded.
Aharon Zeifentreger z”l
Aharon was born in 1939 or 1940. He lived in Branov, in the Rakovnik district, Bohemia region of Czechoslovakia. His mother’s name was Khava. His father’s name was Shimon. Aharon died in the Shoah at Branov in 1942. He was 2 years old.
Hershel Zeifentreger z”l
Hershel was born in Brnow, Poland. His father’s name was Shimon and his mother’s name was Khava. Hershel died in the Shoah in the Konskowola Ghetto in 1942. He was 9 years old.