On 9th April 2019, The London Library had the privilege of hosting a special reception to mark the latest chapter in the journey of a rare Czech Torah scroll, created in 1898 and a remarkable survivor from the darkest days of World War II.

The Library has been looking after the scroll for the past 40 years and is now handing it into the care of the Memorial Scrolls Trust who have been central to safeguarding over 1,500 Czech scrolls seized by the Nazis and eventually rescued by leading members of the UK Jewish community.

The scroll in the Library’s care is a sacred relic from the Jewish community of Domažlice in Czechoslovakia, which was eradicated by the Nazis. The Domažlice Synagogue was destroyed but many of its documents and ritual objects survived - as was the case with many other objects of worship from other desolated Jewish communities across Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia.

Somehow Jewish leaders in Prague managed to persuade the Nazis to gather these items together in the capital’s Central Jewish Museum (itself an extraordinary survival throughout the war). After the war they largely remained there as repression continued under the post-war communist regime.

In 1964 the London art dealer, Eric Estorick, with the financial support of Ralph Yablon, negotiated with the Czech Communist regime to purchase these 1,564 Torah Scrolls with the purpose of restoring them to Jewish communities abroad. The scrolls arrived in London and were taken in by the Westminster Synagogue; a Memorial Scrolls Committee (later Memorial Scrolls Trust) was formed to oversee their safekeeping and a number are now housed in their Czech Scrolls Museum in Knightsbridge; others have been returned to diaspora communities linked to their original Czech communities.

Sadly, no such community exists for the Domažlice scroll (Czech Torah Scroll no. 614), which was entrusted into the safe-keeping of The London Library in 1979, through the auspices of the London Library’s Treasurer Lewis Golden - a prominent member of the Westminster Synagogue.

In recent years, the Library has worked with the Memorial Scrolls Trust to enable this scroll to join the collection in their Knightsbridge Museum, where its own history can be properly linked with that of the many hundreds of scrolls that are catalogued, conserved and displayed there.

Philip Marshall, Director of The London Library commented: “We are very proud to have played a part in the safe-keeping of this rare scroll and delighted to be able to place it into the safe keeping of the Memorial Scrolls Trust who have done so much to make the history of these extraordinary relics a living one.”

Jeffrey Ohrenstein, Chairman of the Memorial Scrolls Trust added, “Torah which binds all Jews together, is also the Pentateuch revered by Christianity and Al Tarwat (the Five Books of Musa) revered by Islam. The Memorial Scrolls Trust hopes our scrolls are used to remind people of what they have in common, rather than of what divides them”.

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