THE PROVENANCE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PROSTEJOV SEFER TORAH  #716 AT SHAARE ZION SYNAGOGUE, MONTREAL , QUEBEC

An old and rescued Sefer Torah is displayed in the main sanctuary lobby of Shaare Zion Congregation in Montreal, but many people do not know its significance or provenance. The Torah was acquired from the Czech Scrolls Memorial Trust, at Westminster Synagogue in London, England.

This special scroll was formally dedicated in our shul to the memory of Leo Klein, a devoted member of Shaare Zion, by his family in 1983. It was his intention to house a Czech Torah, rescued during the Holocaust, at Shaare Zion before he passed away in 1982. 

The Czech Scrolls Memorial Trust was created to house 1,584 Shoah scrolls rescued from a warehouse in Prague in 1963. The scrolls had been collected from numerous Czech synagogues during the Holocaust (under the Nazis) and brought to the Prague Jewish Museum. Unused and unattended to, they were taken to the warehouse where they were brought to the attention of Eric Estorick (1913–1993), a London gallery owner, on one of his frequent visits to Prague. Contacted by Artia, a department of the Communist Czech government, Mr. Estorick immediately notified a London philanthropist who agreed to pay for the whole collection. Two trucks laden with the 1,564 scrolls found a home in London at the Memorial Scrolls Trust; they arrived at  Westminster Synagogue on February 7, 1964.

Any Jewish community can request a scroll to honour the memory of communities that perished in the Shoah. There are now more than one thousand communities worldwide that have a Czech Torah scroll on permanent loan.

Often the scrolls are not suitable for restoration.  Our scroll, #716, comes from the town of Prostejov (Prossnitz), in Moravia.  It was written between 1777 and 1890.

Although our Torah from Prostejov is unusable for worship services, we respect the wishes of the Memorial trust to include the Jews of that historic town in our thoughts and prayers. Rabbi Lionel Moses says that Shaare Zion Congregation will take out the Prostejov Sefer Torah during  the Yizkor service on Pesach, on the Shabbat before many high school students embark on the March of the Living, where they will visit communities devastated during the Holocaust. The Prostejov scroll will be held during the service and carried around the synagogue.

In commemorating the Jews of Prostejov, we will remember that the town was populated by Jews from the second half of the fifteenth century, when they were expelled from Olomouc (Olmutz) in 1454. Prostejov, a major seat of Jewish learning and culture, was a prosperous town with several synagogues.  A centre of trade, industry, and culture, over the years it also produced many prominent rabbis, scholars, writers, and doctors, including the Talmudist Jacob Steinschneider (1782–1856) and his son, the bibliographer Moritz Steinschneider (1816–1907), the father of Jewish bibliography.  

The Jewish population of Prostejev declined from 1,825 in 1869 to 1,442 in 1930. During the Holocaust, 1,390 Jews were transported from Prostejev to their deaths.  Only 170 Jews survived after World War II and in 1997 only 10 Jews remained. There are no more synagogues.

We dedicate this scroll in memory of the Jews who once lived in Prostejov. The past should never be forgotten and our scroll will remain as a vehicle for remembrance.

--Raymonde Grant

 

Check out The Memorial Scrolls Trust webpage