A Symbol of Hope & Healing

Story of the Torah that survived the Holocaust



Saved from the Holocaust: Greenwich Reform Synagogue’s historic Torah

This month marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of a particularly dark time in our world’s history. And yet Greenwich is home to a symbol of triumph and perseverance. On November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht or “The Night of Broken Glass” began. It was a Nazi-sanctioned massacre of Jews throughout Germany and parts of Czechoslovakia. During Kristallnacht the contents of more than fifty synagogues along with their Torahs (sacred handwritten scrolls containing the five books of Moses) were destroyed, and the demolition of Jewish artifacts continued throughout the war. Today the Greenwich Reform Synagogue is home to one of those historic Torahs in danger of destruction.

“The Nazis aimed not only to rid the world of all Jews but every trace of our existence,” says Rabbi Andrew Sklarz of Greenwich Reform Synagogue. “The parchment of Torah scrolls often became lamp shades, or inserts for shoes, and I once saw a banjo made from the parchment of a desecrated Torah scroll,” he explains.

But the Greenwich Reform Synagogue’s Torah scribed in 1860 in Tabor, in what is today part of the Czech Republic, was destined for a different fate. In 1942 the staff at the Jewish Museum of Prague convinced the Nazis to set up the Central Jewish Museum where Jewish artifacts could be saved. It is believed the Nazis had a macabre motivation for allowing the project—after the Final Solution was complete the plan was for the museum to reopen with the name, A Museum of An Extinct Race. This collection would house the world’s last remnants of Judaism. The Greenwich Torah was one of 1,564 Torahs saved from destruction by the Central Jewish Museum.

Eventually, several decades after the war, the Torahs were transferred to London and were lent to synagogues throughout the world as a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Greenwich Reform Synagogue received its Torah in the 1980s.

Sklarz shares the story of the Torah at every Bar and Bat Mitzvah at the synagogue.

“Despite what Hitler tried to do we continue to thrive, we are alive, and this scroll is a testament to that,” he says.    

 

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