Czech Scrolls: An introduction
In 1964 the Memorial Scrolls Trust (MST) purchased 1,564 Torah Scrolls from the communist government in what was then Czechoslovakia and brought them to London. The Torah Scrolls had been brought together during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and remained unused after the communist occupation. Many of the Torah Scrolls came from Jewish communities that were lost in the Holocaust and Synagogues destroyed by the Nazis. Some of the Torah Scrolls have since been sent on indefnite loan to Synagogues around the world.
Two of these scrolls were loaned to Bet Tikvah and Woodford Synagogues. Following the creation of ELELS the MST contacted us to discuss the status of our loaned scrolls – their policy is to only lend one scroll to a community and therefore they would prefer to have one of the two scrolls at ELELS returned to them.
After discussions our Rabbis, Council and R&P Committee agreed to return the scroll lent to Bet TIkvah. This decision reflected the fact that we knew less about the history of that scroll. It also recognises the wider connections made by Woodford with Blatná – the community and Synagogue (now lost) where their scroll came from.
Woodford and Blatná
Our research into history of Blatná, now in the Czech republic, led us to understand that there was no longer a Jewish community in the town and identified 26 people who were transported – first to Theresienstadt/Terezín and then on to the death camps.
In 2011, thanks to a donation from the Sclaire family, a new mantle was made for the Blatná scroll. The mantle has 26 gold stars one for each of the 26 members of the Jewish community transported from Blatná in November 1942 – only one is known to have survived. Every year in November, WLS held a memorial service to remember those lost from Blatná where we use their Torah Scroll to help keep alive the memory of their community.
We hope this tradition will continue in future years at ELELS.
The 2014 Exhibition
In 2014 the memorial service was held over the weekend of 21/22 November; it included an exhibition of photographs, letters, and other material from Blatná. The exhibition drew on material provided by Helena and Chris Underhill from their recent research into the Jewish community of Blatná; which included photographs and personal testimonies
Helena came to Woodford earlier that week to put the exhibition together, she was helped by Judita Berndorff – a former resident of Blatná – who also wrote an article for the local newspaper in Blatná about our memorial service.
Judita attended the service on Friday evening, while Helena and Chris attended both of the weekend’s services.
Many of the old black and white images used in the exhibition were taken from a book by Dr Slonim (see next paragraph). Newer ones were taken by Helena and Chris during their recent visit to Blatná where they met Dr Slonim and his wife.
Bringing Blatná To Life
During the services Chris read passages from his translation of a book by Dr Dimitrij Slonim about the Jews from Blatná and surrounding areas. Dr Slonim knew all the Jews in Blatná, his father was a Russian Jew who escaped from the communists in 1917. He grew up in Blatná with his grandparents, and the Germans didn’t know that his father was Jewish. His grandfather was arrested on 1/9/1939 together with Emil Kohn and other officials from Blatná.
Chris told us about:
- Emil Beck a shopkeeper and a keen football supporter who put his wireless on a table outside of his shop so that others could listen to matches.
- Emil Kohn who was murdered a few weeks after being arrested in September 1939 – the first Jew from Blatná to be killed in the Holocaust.
- Erna Kohn who invited all his friends into the family shop in 1940 so that they could all eat together one last time and use up all the food before the Nazis took all the food away; his friend ended the dinner by shouting out insults about Hitler in the town square!
- Hedvika Blochová known to everyone as Auntie Blochová who, before the invasion, always had sweets for children and clothes or food for the poor; she was a friend of Dr Slonim’s grandmother who shortly before the mass transport asked Dr Slonim to pray for poor Auntie Blochová.
We were always under the impression that there were no survivors of the Jewish community from Blatná who were transported to Theresienstadt/Terezin and then on to Auschwitz or other camps. However, in his book Dr Slonim remembers “a pale girl Eva Druckerová – the only survivor of the 1942 transport”. He is in touch with her now through her son who lives in Canada.
Restoring The Blatná Scroll
The Blatná scroll is currently being restored by Soferet Aviel Barclay – some of this work having been sponsored by members of the community. This does mean that we do not have the scroll in our Ark and we have to arrange to bring it back to our Synagogue when we use it for the memorial or other services. However, in doing so, we get the chance to see how the restoration work is progressing. It is hoped that the restoration work will ensure that the scroll is usable for many years to come – and in so doing we and future generations will always remember the Jewish community that once lived in harmony with their neighbours in Blatná.