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Keeping the Memory Alive

The journey of a Torah scroll from Czechoslovakia to East Kent. A student intern was closely involved in a research and knowledge exchange project that explores the fascinating history of the nearly 1,600 Torah scrolls that were saved in the Holocaust.

Interview with Evelyn Friedlander, Chairperson, The Memorial Scrolls Trust, London

A Precious Legacy

Following the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, synagogues were looted and Torah scrolls and their ritual adornments stolen. Employees of the Jewish Museum in Prague sorted, classified, and catalogued the scrolls but were deported and murdered before they finished these tasks and only two Jews involved in this work survived. For many years following the war, the Torah scrolls remained unused and unattended in a synagogue that had become a warehouse.  Eventually, they were discovered and in 1964 brought to Westminster Synagogue in London. In the last 40 years, these scrolls have been restored and loaned to many Jewish communities all over the world by the Memorial Scrolls Trust.

Torah scrolls are very precious objects. Regarded as sacred objects by many believers, writing a Torah scroll is seen as a religious act. They are hand-written with a quill and specially prepared ink by highly trained scribes on parchment, following minute details in preparation and writing. It takes about a year to write an entire Torah scroll. Each scroll contains 304,805 letters but a single missing or wrong letter invalidates the whole scroll. Some of the scrolls in the collection are several hundred of years old.

Thanet and District Reform Synagogue

The Thanet and District Reform Synagogue, based in Ramsgate (East Kent), treasures a scroll saved from the Bohemian town of Klatovy. Very few Jews from Klatovy survived the Holocaust but their Torah scrolls are being used by several Jewish communities worldwide for their worship.

Dr Maria Diemling, Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies in the School of Humanities, leads a project that examines how these Torah scrolls link Czech communities that perished in the Holocaust to existing Jewish synagogues. The research investigates how these precious and highly valuable sacred texts create a strong bond across history between very different communities. The scroll are important memorials of the devastation caused by the Holocaust but at the same time they are powerful symbols of Jewish survival and rebirth, as they are being read and studies by a new generation of Jews all over the world.

Student Involvement

Andrew Miller, currently a year 3 student in History and Politics & Governance, visited Auschwitz while still at school and has worked as student ambassador for the Holocaust Education Trust since. Working for this project as a paid student intern, Andrew interviewed oral witnesses with a personal link to Klatovy, researched in archives and museums and organised the filming of video footage. Andrew's involvement was funded by the University's Research, Development and Enterprise centre (RED).

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 07:05:00