Mishkan Shalom's Holocaust Torah Scroll
Remembering the Jews of Uherske Hradiste
Mishkan Shalom is privileged to guard a Torah scroll saved from the Shoah -- one of 1,564 scrolls rescued from communities in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) and on permanent loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust in London.
Each year in January or February, the congregation holds a special Shabbat morning service to remember the Jews of the small city of Uherske Hradiste, a middle class community that was the home of about 300 Jews at the beginning of World War II. Mishkan's scroll is from the one synagogue in the town. According to the Trust, eight scrolls from the town and surrounding villages were saved, and are on loan to organizations around the world.
At Mishkan Shalom's memorial service, the week's parsha is chanted from the 300-year-old scroll. The service also includes a talk about what has been learned about the Jews of Uherske Hradiste and the scrolls and a dvar Torah on the week's portion.
At the conclusion, participants read all 236 names, gathered from various sources, of Jews from Uherske Hradiste who perished and, as their spiritual descendants, say kaddish for them.
The time of the yahrzeit was chosen to reflect the dates when Jews from the area were transported to the Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp, in the last days of January and early February, 1943. From there, most of them were sent to Auschwitz.
The names were collected primarily from German records preserved by Beit Terezin an association based in Israel dedicated to preserving the memory of those who were held in the concentration camp. Other names were culled from searches of the archives of testimonies from Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial. Link to page of names.
Mishkan Shalom's scroll, No. 463, arrived from London a few days before the congregation's official founding at Rosh HaShanah in 1988. For several years, it was the community's only Torah scroll. Its special hand-painted cover was made by Lili Perski, the child of Holocaust survivors.
Founding Rabbi Brian Walt's request for the loan of the scroll was one of the first official acts of the congregation. It reflects Mishkan Shalom's commitment to tikkun olam in its Statement of Principles.
"Our historical experience of victimization has reinforced this moral commitment (to be an ethical nation) as an essential part of our collective consciousness as Jews. After the Holocaust, the Biblical commandment 'Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor' assumes a new and urgent meaning. As people who suffered so much as a result of the indifference and passivity of others, we must actively oppose injustice and oppression wherever it occurs . . . ."
Early on, little was known about the Jewish community in Uherske Hradiste or about how the scrolls in the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust, as it was originally known, were saved. In the past 15 years, the advent of the Internet and the work of historians and volunteers has filled in some parts of the puzzle and disproved some long-standing myths.
Mishkan Shalom members Carol Towarnicky and Ron Goldwyn visited Uherske Hradiste in 2001 and have collected information about the town and the scrolls, with the help of historians and an interview with a onetime resident.
Over the years, at the annual service, the community has discussed what obligation the Shoah places on us, the living, in the modern world.