Our Holocaust Torah

Congregation Shir Shalom dedicated our Holocaust Torah scroll on Saturday, September 28th. A Torah is a scroll of parchment inscribed with the Five Books of Moses. Congregation Shir Shalom’s orphaned Torah, a survivor of the Holocaust, came from Švihov (Bohemia) which is now part of the Czech Republic and likely dates to the end of the 19th century. Celebrating the arrival of our special Holocaust Torah will honor those lost in the Shoah and connect us to a lost Jewish community.

This permanent loan was made possible through the generous gift of Zecil Gravitz and her family and the work of the Memorial Scrolls Trust.

What do we know about the town of Švihov and its Jewish community? Jewish settlement in the town began as early as 1570, with a permanent presence of a prayer room established a century later. After the first synagogue was burned down in 1773, a Rococo style building was built in 1783, and remained until 1960. Aside from its Jewish life, the town of Švihov is known for a gothic-era castle (a major tourist destination for the region).

Rabbi Ilene Haigh Holding Orphaned Torah, MST #959

How did this scroll survive? In 1942 the Nazis ordered all communities in Bohemia and Moravia to send all historically valuable items to the Jewish museum in Prague. More than 212,000 Jewish religious artifacts, including about 1800 Torah scrolls, were brought there to be meticulously catalogued by the Jewish curators before they too were sent to their deaths. By the end of the war, these artifacts filled no less than 40 warehouses.

Each surviving scroll is a messenger from a martyred community that depends on its new community to ensure that their heritage is cherished as well as their remembrance as individuals.

Three men surround an open shipping crate which contains items such as books, Torah scrolls, embroidered cloths and pillows, candelabra. One is writing a list. Surrounding them in the background are other numbered shipping crates.
Workers cataloging items such as books, Torah scrolls, embroidered cloths and pillows, candelabra.

Why do we do this? Shir Shalom makes a long term commitment to give this Sefer Torah a prominent and meaningful role in the spiritual and educational life of the congregation. We pledge to dedicate one Shabbat every year to the Jews of our Memorial Torah Scroll – the people, their community, their fate and their heritage. We will hold our annual commemorative service dedicated to the Jews of Švihov this fall on Saturday, September 28th at 2pm.

The Czech scrolls are survivors and silent witnesses. They represent not only the lost communities of Bohemia and Moravia, but all those who perished in the Shoah. You can read more about modern Švihov (German/deutsch Schwihau b. Klattau).

Want to know more about Jews from Bohemia/Moravia (Czechslovakia)? You can read about the history of the Jews in Bohemia or visit the Jewish State Museum in Prague. The museum has synagogue silver and other archivalia from more than 100 Bohemian communities, most of them brought there in 1942 by Nazi orders when the communities were deported. The types of objects in the collection cover all aspects of the religious, social and personal lives of Jewish community members.

Click to learn more about the Memorial Scrolls Trust — the www.memorialscrollstrust.org

Has your family been touched by the Holocaust and do you have a story to tell? The Vermont Holocaust Memorial would like to hear from you! The Vermont Holocaust Memorial is a non-profit organization committed to teaching to the lessons of the Holocaust. They envision a time when prejudice, bigotry and hatred will be replaced with respect for all. Find out more about what they do at www.holocaustmemorial-vt.org

Shir Shalom Board of Directors affirmed in their May 2019 meeting: “We wholeheartedly accept this gift from Zecil Gravitz and her family and will assume the obligations of the Memorial Scrolls Trust.  We will use it as a tool to teach about the Holocaust to our community and the greater community in Vermont.”

Link to Article in the Valley News (9/20/2019): Torah that Survived the Holocaust Finds Home at Woodstock.