Among the prized Torahs in our ark is one, #625, that belonged to the community of Vlašim in the Czech Republic and that Mishkan Torah received on loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust.
Vlašim is a town in the Central Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic. The local chronicles first mention Jews in 1570. As was the case throughout Czechoslovakia and most of Europe, the Nazis murdered the Jews in Vlasim and ransacked their synagogue. However, several of Vlašim Torahs survived.
In 1942 a devoted group of eight Jewish historians and communal leaders devised a way to bring the religious treasures from the deserted communities and destroyed synagogues in Czechoslovakia to the comparative safety of what had become the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. The curators labored under appalling conditions to preserve these holy objects that had previously been at the mercy of vandals and plunderers. Each one was meticulously recorded, labeled and entered on a card index by the Museum’s staff with a description of where it had come from. The curators hoped that these treasures would be protected and might one day be returned to their original homes. All of the museum’s curators were eventually transported to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, with only two survivors.
After the war, with fewer than 8,000 Czech Jews having survived – from a population of more than 100,000 before the war – the objects remained warehoused in an unused synagogue. The surviving remnant of the Prague Jewish community lacked the resources to maintain the museum, so it came under the control of the Czech state authorities. The 1,564 Torah scrolls in the collection could not effectively be displayed as museum exhibits, and they would eventually deteriorate if they remained rolled up and unused. In 1963, Ralph Yablon purchased the scrolls and entrusted them to Westminster Synagogue, which in turn distributed the scrolls to various synagogues, educational institutions, and other bodies wishing to have a memorial to the communities destroyed in the Shoah. The Torah that made its way to Mishkan Torah is identified as MST #4. A sofer has repaired the scroll at Mishkan Torah, making it fit for ritual use.
To learn more about about the Jewish community of Vlašim, their Torah, and how this Torah journeyed to Mishkan Torah, please check out this article by Rabbi Jonathan Cohen - the above account is a condensed version of this article.