This article is written by Sharon Bleviss, immediate past-President of BE. It is based on the research of the confirmation class consisting of Alex Whitlatch, Andrew Whitlatch, Renee Torchio MacDonald, Lara Prosterman, Aaron Lapidus, Bryan Dahl, as well as the information handed down by the Czech Scrolls Trust. We are posting it at this time of year, the end of January, in honor of the memory of the Jews of Uhersky Brod.
On our bimah, encased in a lucite box on the wall, is a rescued Czech Torah, obtained by the Men’s Club in 1989. The Men’s Club paid $700 and Max Drimmer, who was Congregation president at the time, had a friend who was traveling in Europe retrieve the scrolls. In a well-attended ceremony, the scrolls were brought into the shul and handed from the president of the Men’s Club to Max. Henry and Louis Haertel chose to set it at the parashah about Amalek since it was analogous to Hitler.
From Deuteronomy: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.”
The Scrolls are, in fact, on loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust of London. Our scroll is # 500 from Uhersky Brod in Moravia which had a Jewish community
that existed from the mid-16th century.
“When a Memorial Scroll is entrusted to a congregation on long term loan, it is on the understanding that the congregation makes a long term commitment to give this Memorial Scroll a prominent and meaningful role in the spiritual and educational life of the congregation. This requires the rabbi and the leaders of the congregation to pledge to dedicate one Shabbat every year to the Jews of their Memorial Scroll–the people, their community, their fate and their heritage. Each Scroll is a messenger from a martyred community that depends on its new congregation to ensure that they are remembered as individuals, and that their local Jewish heritage is cherished.” How did the Scrolls get saved? Our Scroll is from the town of Uhersky Brod. This small town experienced the German presence heavily and virtually all Jews were deported to an unclear fate. In fact, most Czech Jews were deported by January 1943, leaving just half-Jews, Jewish partners from mixed marriages and empty synagogues. Fearful that the deserted synagogues and community buildings would be at the mercy of looters and plunderers, a group of Jews at the Jewish Museum in occupied Prague submitted a plan to the Nazis to save the Jewish ritual and cultural treasures in the vulnerable buildings by bringing them to the museum in Prague so that they could be cataloged and preserved. Why their Nazi overseers accepted the plan is not known. The inventory in the Central Jewish Museum expanded from under 800 to over 100,000 items as a result. The remaining Jews were deported in 1943, 1944 and 1945, and quite a number of these later deportees survived. In 1956, The Michle Synagogue outside of Prague became the warehouse for these items. After the defeat of Germany, over 50 congregations were re-established by survivors in Czechoslovakia, but in 1948 the Communists staged a coup and under the dictatorship, Jewish life was once again stifled.
Eric Estorick, an American art dealer living in London who paid many visits to Prague on business, was asked if he wanted to make a offer on the scrolls. He consulted with American Rabbi Harold Reinhard of the Westminster Synagogue in London, and one of the congregants, Ralph Yablon, offered to put up the money to buy the Scrolls. 1564 Scrolls arrived in London in 1964. The Memorial Scrolls Trust was established to carry out the task of cataloging and then distributing the Scrolls so that they would get back into the life of Jewish congregations across the world.
Today, there are about 17,000 people who live in Uhersky Brod. There were 489 Jews in Uherský Brod in 1939. In 1941, Felix Brunn, the head of the community, and seven other members were executed based on charges of anti-German activities. In the same year, local fascists burned down the main synagogue. In August 1942, 350 Jews were brought to Uherský Brod from Uherské Hradištĕ; the former became an assembly point on the way to Terezín and Auschwitz. A total of 2,837 Jews were deported from Uherský Brod, of whom 81 survived the war. Thirty Jews returned after the war, and the community was reestablished in 1949. A year later 20 Jews immigrated to Israel, with the remaining Jews served by the nearby Kyjov Jewish community. The Confirmation class of 2011 decided to take on the task of honoring the Jewish community of Uhersky Brod, whose Scrolls we now ‘own.’ The students learned that it had come from a shul in Uhersky Brod and were able to obtain the names of those deported from that town. Further research determined that few returned after the war. One student contacted the current very small Jewish community in nearby Brno to share with them that we are safekeeping their Torah. He received an appreciative response.
Congregation B’nai Emunah is committed to dedicating one Shabbat a year, around the time of the mass deportation, late January 1943, to the memory of the Jews of Uhersky Brod: the people, their community, their fate and their heritage.
May their memory be for a blessing.