Thursday 5 December 2013

The 50th Anniversary of the Arrival of the Czech Scrolls - An Invitation to Scroll-Holders

Dear Friends

On 9th February 2014 people from around the world will gather in London to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Czech Torah scrolls from communist Europe.  The tragedy of these extraordinary relics is that they are often the only surviving relics of some 153 Czech Jewish communities whose members were deported and exterminated in the Nazi death camps during WW2.  The Nazis sent the men, women and children who once used these Torah scrolls to their death, destroying their synagogues and communities but the holy scrolls survived. For 20 years following the war, they remained in a disused synagogue in a Prague suburb until the communist government, in need of hard currency, decided they should be sold. They were thus acquired by Westminster Synagogue and, in 1964, 1564 scrolls arrived in London.  Many of the scrolls were in a pitiful condition – torn, damaged by fire and water – a grim testimony to the fate of the people who had once prayed with them.  

The Memorial Scrolls Trust has given these precious scrolls a second life by lovingly restoring them and loaning them to over 1,400 communities around the world, thereby spreading their message to new generations in diverse communities and institutions such as yours.   

The particular history of these scrolls means that they are dynamic messengers, especially as we near the day when witnesses to the events of the Holocaust will no longer be with us. The scrolls are not only a reminder of the atrocities committed against our brothers and sisters in Europe, but also help us with our renewed mission:

To Remember the Czech communities before the Holocaust
To Challenge us to confront prejudice and hatred
To Inspire us into action to commit to a Jewish life and education, and build bridges across communities

We warmly invite you to join us at a Commemorative Service to be held at Westminster Synagogue, Kent House, London SW7 1BX at 6:30pm on 9th of February 2014.

We hope you can join us for what will be a very meaningful and moving occasion, bringing your Torah with you.  It would be appreciated if you could please RSVP to the following email by January 15th.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at

Wish very best wishes,

Evelyn Friedlander

Memorial Scrolls Trust

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Edith Kraus z"l

News has reached us of the death of the pianist Edith Kraus last September at the age of 100. A survivor of Terezin, we note that she premiered Viktor Ullmann's Piano Sonata Number 6 in the camp. Her obituary in the Daily Telegraph states:

"Edith Kraus performed more than 300 concerts over three years at Terezin, often of music by Brahms, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. 'Naturally this helped me to get through that time,' she later recalled.

When asked a few years ago to describe the quality of the music making at the camp, Edith Kraus berated her interviewer, explaining that tone, intonation and timing had been irrelevant: 'You'll never understand, or get close to, what music truly meant to each of us as a sustaining power and as a way of using our skills to inspire - beyond criticism - beyond any superficial evaluation. We were music.'"

The rest of the obituary may be found here.
Watch her speak here.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Have You Heard of Viktor Ullmann?

Aficionados of Czech Jewish music, and those of you who like to czech out new sounds, may I introduce you to the third in our series of composers - Viktor Ullmann. We hope to feature some of his music in the Memorial Scrolls Trust Service of Celebration on 9th February 2014 at 6:30 pm at Westminster Synagogue in Central London.

Ullmann's father was of Jewish heritage, but renounced his faith and officially converted to Catholicism, apparently to advance his career in the Austrian army.Victor was baptised as a Catholic and lived the majority of his life in the non-Jewish world. It was not until the Nazi antisemitic laws came into effect in Prague that he became identified officially as a Jew. Although he was able to send his two oldest children to England on a Kindertransport, he and his third wife, Elisabeth, were deported to Terezin in 1942. He died in Auschwitz in 1944.

In a biographical essay, Gwyneth Bravo writes:

"Educated in Vienna, Ullmann made important contributions to both Czech and German cultural life as a composer, conductor, pianist and music critic. Shaped by his engagement with Schoenberg's musical philosophy, German aesthetics, as well as the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, Ullmann understood the role of art as central to human spiritual and ethical development ... Within the context of his own compositions, Ullmann used form as a powerful commentary on his own self-sconscious engagement with the traditions of Western art music as he engaged with them in the works of Schoenberg, Mahler and Berg."

You may read the rest of the essay here.

Listen to some of his music here.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Have You Heard of Gideon Klein?

As we begin to prepare the liturgy and music for the Memorial Scrolls Trust Service of Celebration on 9th February 2014 at the Westminster Synagogue in London, we thought it might be interesting to introduce you to some of the Czech Jewish composers whose music we hope to feature on that day. Last week we highlighted the work of Pavel Haas. Today we'd like to present the life and works of Gideon Klein.

Born in Moravia, Klein studied composition at university, but when the Nazis closed all institutions of higher learning after occupying Czechoslovakia, he had to continue under the radar. Since Jews were banned from composing and performing, he worked under several aliases as a concert pianist. He was offered a scholarship by the Royal Academy of Music in London but anti-semitic legislation prevented his emigration and  by the end of 1941 he was deported to the concentration camp at Terezin. In fact, this terrible event gave him the opportunity for artistic expression and alongside Hass and Victor Ullmann he became a major composer from the camp. In 1944 he was sent to Auschwitz, and thence to Fuerstengruber, a coal mine c. 20 miles from the extermination camp. He died in January 1945, as the Fuerstengruber camp was being liquidated.

You may learn more about Gideon Klein and his work here.
A discography of his work may be found here.
Listen to some snippets of his music here.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Have You Heard of Pavel Haas?

Have you heard of Pavel Haas? Probably not. If you are interested in Czech music, you should czech him out :-) He was a composer, sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp for being Jewish. He was a student of Leos Janacek. He was murdered in Auschwitz on the orders of the notorious Josef Mengele.

You may read more about him here.
You may listen to some of his music here.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Buried in Bury

The Memorial Scrolls Trust was on the front page of the most recent edition of the Jewish Chronicle, the main national Jewish newspaper in the United Kingdom. The JC was reporting the schande that is the burial of one of our scrolls. Although it is Orthodox Jewish tradition to bury sacred text that is no longer kosher, the congregation did not have the right to do this because the scroll did not belong to them. It was on loan from the MST. The fact is that they did not even consult the Trust to discuss the matter. Since a torah scroll is made of biodegradable matter it is likely that it has decayed since its burial and thus the prospect of disinterment is unlikely. We are not sure what will happen next.

This is the online text of the JC story:

Buried in Bury: how a synagogue cast historic Sefer Torah aside

By Simon Rocker, August 21, 2013
A Sefer Torah from a historic Czech collection saved from the Nazis has been buried by a Manchester synagogue without permission from the trust that loaned it.
The London-based Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust is furious at the action of Bury Hebrew Congregation and wants the scroll to be returned.
Evelyn Friedlander, chairman of the trust, attacked the burial by Bury shul: “Everyone here is extremely angry. They had no business taking it on themselves to bury it.”
Traditionally, Sifrei Torah which are considered no longer fit for ritual use and beyond repair are buried in a Jewish cemetery.
More than 1,500 scrolls preserved by the Jewish museum in Prague during the Holocaust arrived in London in 1964.
Although some were irreparable, others were restored by the trust, which is housed at the independent Progressive Westminster Synagogue. Over the years 1,400 have been loaned to synagogues across the world.
The 18th-century scroll, loaned to Bury in 1966, comes from Lostice in Moravia. Fifty-nine Jews from Lostice were deported by the Nazis and only three returned after the war.
Mrs Friedlander said, “The scroll is of historical interest.
“They were told at the time that it was on loan and not theirs to dispose of.”
It is unclear when Bury decided to bury the scroll.
Ian Joseph, Bury’s chairman, said this week that “the events referred to with respect to the scroll predate the current shul executive. 
“We will investigate internally the matter and then respond via the appropriate channels with any findings”.
You may also link directly to the JC story here.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Background to Busting the Myth

For those of you who have asked for more details about the Memorial Scrolls Trust's current initiative to remove the myth of the Nazis creating a 'museum of an extinct race' in Prague during World War Two from the history of the Czech Scrolls, may I present our main source.

Magda Veselska, Head of Collections Management at the Jewish Museum in Prague, has written a monograph on the history of the museum,  "The Ark of Memory:  The Journey of the Prague Jewish Museum through the turbulent 20th Century". Ms Veselska has had complete access to the archives and has thoroughly researched the extant information. Details of the contents of the book may be found here. Although the writing is in Czech, there is an English summary at the end. In the summary, Ms Veselska states:

"Journalistic and publicity texts, however, frequently refer to the Prague museum as the “museum of an extinct race”, which it was allegedly supposed to be. There is no support for such a claim in the preserved archival documents. More than a characteristic of an alleged propaganda objective of the Nazis in Prague, it is an attempt to provide an additional explanation for the wartime events; from the perspective of the Prague museum, this refers more to the outcome of the wartime events rather than to any clearly defined aim. The form of the “museum of an extinct race” slogan was influenced by several authors and did not become definitively established until the 1960s."

So there is no documentary evidence of any Nazi intentions, plans or acts to collect artefacts in order to set up a museum with the aforementioned theme. There IS evidence that a project to catalogue and preserve Czech Jewish artefacts was developed within the Jewish community, long before the arrival of the Nazis. Veselska writes:

"“Related to the efforts aimed at putting together a representative museum collection was an endeavour to systematically document the Jewish cultural heritage in the Czech lands and to collect the information in one central institution (the museum), which was brought about by the rapid process of assimilation of the Czech Jews. The first project involving a detailed documentation of all the movable and immovable properties belonging to Jews was prepared by the Jewish Museum in Prague in collaboration with the umbrella organization of Jewish religious communities in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia at the beginning of the 1930’s".

As they realised how dire the situation was becoming, the Prague Jewish community staff working at the museum saw an opportunity to preserve the movable assets of the Jewish communities under the rule of the Protectorate by using the museum as a repository to keep them safe during the war. It is thanks to the efforts of these Jews - people like Tobias Jacobovits (former librarian of the Prague Jewish community) and Josef Polak (the chief curator) - that the scrolls for which we care survived to tell their story. We owe it to them all to make sure we get it right.

Tuesday 23 July 2013


Many of our scroll-holders like to share information about the history of their Czech torah through display notes near the scroll and articles on their synagogue websites. As we visit their virtual pages, we have noticed that many sites are currently perpetuating some inaccuracies that were previously believed to be facts.

Although in the past it was said that there were plans by the Nazis to create a so-called “Museum of an Extinct Race” in Prague, the fact is that this is a complete myth. 

There is no documentary evidence to support this assumption, and recent studies show that the saving of the scrolls and ritual objects in the Jewish Museum in Prague were the result of the actions of members of the Jewish community. 

In 1942 The Jewish communities of Bohemia and Moravia were instructed by the central offices of the Jewish community in Prague to send their artefacts and Torah scrolls to the Jewish Museum in Prague where they were catalogued and stored. The project to catalogue community artefacts had begun in the late 1920’s. 

It is our hope that, rather than perpetuate a myth demonstrating the evil deeds of the Nazis, we can highlight the actions of the brave Jews who worked to save what has become the precious legacy for which we care today.

If you come across the old version of the story, do please let us know so we may contact those involved and encourage them to update their text!  

Thursday 24 January 2013

Happy Tu Bishvat!

This could be one of the all-time great Jewish cartoons! It is by Yaakov Kirschen, and celebrates the upcoming holiday of Tu Bishvat, aka the New Year of the Trees. Here at the MST we love to think about how what we do now will give sustenance to the future - much like planting seeds and trees. Wishing you all a happy Tu Bishvat!

Thursday 3 January 2013

A New Year's Resolution: to visit the MST in 2013!

The Scrolls Museum on the third floor of Kent House in Knightsbridge is one of London's best-kept secrets. We'd like to change that, and let everyone know we are here and waiting to meet you. If you have an interest in history, Judaism, Torah scrolls; or want to learn something from a world different to the one you usually inhabit, come and see us this year. The photograph above is of a recent article in the Hendon Reform Synagogue magazine and describes a typical visitor's experience.

We are open on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10 am and 4 pm. Entry is free (although of course there is a box discreetly displayed for voluntary donations). E-mail us at for further information, or leave us a message at 0207 584 3741.

See you soon!