The Scrolls

Where they came from

Czech Memorial Scrolls with original Prague cards

The Scrolls which came to Westminster Synagogue were from the two provinces of Moravia and Bohemia, with a few from the Sudetenland.  None was received from the border territories of pre-war Czechoslovakia.  216 of these scrolls cannot be traced to any  particular community, either because the original label has been lost or the information on their origin is lacking.  The majority bore a card label with a number which referred to the original card Index prepared by the curators at the Prague Museum.  With the consignment was the original Index, enabling most of the scrolls to be traced.  Some also had a Czech number on the rollers.

The Arrival of the Scrolls

On a wet and windy day in February 1964 the first of two consignments of scrolls arrived at Kent House in London, the home of Westminster Synagogue.  They were met by Rabbi Reinhart and a group of his congregants.  They were unloaded from the trucks which had crossed Europe from Prague and laid out in the marble entrance hall of the Synagogue, like so many lifeless bodies in the polythene shrouds that had protected them in the Michle Synagogue.

One of the team of scribes who worked on the scrolls after their arrival at Kent House

One of the scribes who worked on the scrolls after their arrival at Kent House

On the second floor of the old Victorian building (the original house had been the home of Queen Victoria’s father), wooden shelves had been erected to receive the scrolls.  They were carefully laid out, side by side, with their labels showing.  As the labels did not always tally with the original lists, one of the helpers’ first tasks was to re-label them with a new series of numbers which could be entered on to index cards, with any information that could be gleaned about the scroll, its condition, place of origin and any other information available.

When we read from these particular scrolls, there is an emotional connection…”

Rabbi Thomas Salamon,
Westminster Synagogue

 

The task of examining every one of the 1,564 scrolls could then begin, for each one had to be carefully unrolled, scrutinised and recorded.  Some were in appalling condition, burnt, damaged by water or otherwise torn and soiled.  Many were too bad to be used again, but many were good enough to merit careful cleaning and restoration.  The new life of the Scrolls was about to begin.