Our Czech Torah came from the synagogue in the village of Humpolec which is about an hour’s drive southeast of Prague. You can spot it easily in our Ark because it is the tallest Torah scroll we have.
During World War II the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia. On June 12, 1942 the Jews of Humpolec were transported to the Czech town of the Kolin and from there a short distance to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, which the Germans had renamed from Terezin. Many Jews were sent on railway transports from Theresienstadt to death camps of Trawniki, Treblinka, and Auschwitz where they were murdered. We know the names of 63 Humpolec Jews who were killed in the camps. We don’t know how many Jews there were in Humpolec in 1942; however the census of 1939 showed 148 Jews out of a total population of about 5,000 persons. Only one Jew from Humpolec survived the war.
The Humpolec Torah scrolls were sent by the Germans to the Michle synagogue of Prague, which was used as a warehouse for 1,564 Torah scrolls from all over Czechoslovakia. They were to be used as part of a museum of the “Extinct Jewish Race.” Nineteen years after the war ended the Torah scrolls were “rescued” from this warehouse and shipped across Europe in five sealed railroad cars. Eventually they were delivered to the Westminster Synagogue in London. Many of them were restored and placed under the auspices of the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust. These scrolls have been distributed on permanent loan to synagogues all over the world.
Our Founding Rabbi, William Frankel z”l, asked for one of these repaired scrolls. Scroll number 672 was flown from London to O’Hare airport in 1970 and was formally dedicated on Friday evening, November 6, 1970. This Torah scroll speaks to us, telling us that those Jews of Humpolec must be remembered. It is the link between that destroyed community and us and fulfillment of the mitzvah, zikaron, remembrance, a sacred obligation in Judaism. We are privileged to have this Torah scroll in our Ark and we honor the memory of those Jews from Humpolec every time we read from it.
We thank our founding member, Don Kraft z”l for putting together the history of our Czech scroll and keeping the memories alive.