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Holocaust Torah Dedication

02/10/2021 01:43:36 PM


Congregation Shir Shalom dedicated our Holocaust Torah scroll on Saturday, September 28, 2019.  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 1840's. 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

Rabbi Ilene Haigh Holding Orphaned Torah, MST #959

How did this scroll survive? In 1942, as a result of instructions sent by Dr. Stein of the Jὓdische Kiltusgemeinde in Prague, the communities of Bohemia and Moravia packed their Sifrei Torah, gold and silver filials, books and textiles and sent them to the Jewish Museum in Prague. The volume was so great that no less than forty warehouses were required to house these treasures. As a result the inventory of the museum, which had been in existence since 1906, increased fourteen- fold.  The Germans had this vast hoard cataloged by Jews, who were deported to Concentration Camps once the work was finished.  Unfortunately very few of them survived.

After the war some fifty Jewish congregations re-established themselves in the Czech Republic and were provided with religious artifacts, not necessarily from their own communities.  When the Communists took over the government of the country in 1948, Jewish communal life was again stifled, and most synagogues were closed. Their possessions went to the newly refounded  Jewish Museum of Prague. The scrolls were transferred and warehoused in the ruined synagogue at Michle outside Prague where they remained until they came to London in 1964

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. 

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.

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, before 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

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

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.

Holocaust Memorial Flyer for Dedication Service 2019

Thu, February 22 2024 13 Adar I 5784