Temple Beth Tikvah and the Czech Torahs
Temple Beth Tikvah (TBT) in Fullerton, CA is the only synagogue in the world that has three Holocaust Torahs from Czechoslovakia on permanent loan. (One other Orange County, CA synagogue has three as a result of a merger with another temple). In addition, TBT has one Holocaust Torah that was literally plucked out of the flames of Kristallnacht in Germany.
Each Czech Scroll Was Catalogued and Tagged
There were originally 1,564 Torah Scrolls from the Holocaust, which were brought from Prague to Westminster Synagogue in London in 1964. Each was catalogued and given a tag number by the scribes that repaired them. Only one of TBT’s Torahs has the original tag from the 1960’s. A few years ago, we made substitute tags to replicate the original ones that were somehow lost or misplaced. The numbers come from Westminster, England, where the collection of Torahs were taken in 1964.
The Torahs housed here at TBT were acquired by Rabbi Haim and Elaine Asa and are on permanent loan (a symbolic meaning). The Asa family donated all three Czech Torah scrolls to Temple Beth Tikvah. A few years ago, Rabbi Kenneth Milhander registered the Torahs with the Czech Torah Network, an organization that documents where all the Torahs currently are. Even they were surprised to learn that Temple Beth Tikvah has three Czech Torahs, the only synagogue in the world to have three (without mergers).
Brief History of the Czech Scrolls during Nazi Occupation
The Torah scrolls from Czechoslovakia were part of a huge collection of Jewish ceremonial objects that were collected at the Jewish Museum at the instigation of the Jewish curators who worked there. Under the watchful eye of the Nazis, Jews in Prague sorted, classified, and catalogued these treasures and arranged the scrolls in stacks reaching from the floor to the ceiling. For the Jews thus employed, it was a short reprieve; even before their task was completed, they were deported and all but two eventually perished in the death camps. However, one would like to believe that as the Torah scrolls and the other sacred objects, including some of great value and antiquity, passed through their hands, these martyrs took comfort in the hope that ultimately Hitler would fall and that the ceremonial objects, in some cases hundreds of years old, would be returned to the restored Jewish communities.
Nineteen years after the liberation of Prague, the 1,564 Torah scrolls representing hundreds of Jewish communities in Bohemia and Moravia that had been wiped out in the Holocaust, arrived in London.
The Four Holocaust Torah Scrolls Housed at Temple Beth Tikvah
Below is a brief history of each of the four scrolls housed at Temple Beth Tikvah and of the area they came from.
Scroll #1200 – Pisek-Strakonice
This was the first Czech Holocaust Torah scroll that was donated to Temple Beth Tikvah by Rabbi Haim and Elaine Asa. The Asas acquired this scroll after a trip to Westminster Synagogue in 1968, shortly after the scrolls became available. This Torah scroll was donated by the Asas to TBT to honor the beginning of the new congregation. Scroll #1200 dates back to the early 19th century.
The earliest known Jewish community in Pisek-Strakonice was in the late 17th century. Jewish fez manufacturers and factories were there since 1811 as the main local industry. Peak Jewish population was in late 19th century (over 300).
Pisek-Strakonice is the native town of Austrian physiologist and biochemist Otto von Fuerth (1867-1938), director of Milan Music Academy Ricardo Pick-Mangiagalli (1882-1949), and of American writer and journalist Owen Elford (formerly Otto Furth, b. 1894).
The synagogue was built in 1860, but the area (including the Jewish ghetto) was demolished and replaced by a modern housing area for sport and leisure time activities.
Scroll #297 – Domazlice
This scroll was donated to Temple Beth Tikvah by Rabbi Haim and Elaine Asa in March 1971 in honor of Elaine’s parents. Scroll #297 dates back to at least 1870.
The earliest known Jewish community in Domazlice was a religious society with a prayer room in the 1860’s. An independent congregation originated in 1873 with 180 paying members. In 1930, the Jewish population was 69. Before 1850, at most three Jewish families were permitted in town. After 1850, Jews moved to Domazlice from surrounding villages. The largest Jewish population was in the late 19th century with approximately twenty families. In the 20th century, movement was to large towns and abroad. Only 33 persons were subjected to racial laws in 1942.
The synagogue dates back to 1880, but was destroyed by the Nazis in 1940.
Scroll #1008 – Klatovy
Scroll #1008 was acquired by Rabbi Haim and Elaine Asa and donated to Temple Beth Tikvah in 1985 in honor of their 25th wedding anniversary. Scroll #1008 dates back to at least 1857.
The earliest known Jewish community in Klatovy was in 1867. Chief Rabbi of Bohemia and Moravia, Gustav Sicher (1880-1960); painter and writer Karel Fleischmann (1897-1944); poet Frantisek Gottlieb (1903-1974); and Lewis Weiner, organizer of The Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews and editor of “The Jews of Czechoslovakia” and of “The Review of the Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews” (b. 1910) were born there.
The synagogue dates back to 1879 but has since been converted and is now used for residential and industrial purposes.
“Little Red” Torah from Hanover, Germany
This little Torah, the parchment only 9 inches high, was saved from the Holocaust on Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, November 9-10, 1938. Aenna and Leopold Gruenbaum lived above the sanctuary of the synagogue and after the riots ceased, Leopold went down to the synagogue to see what he could salvage. He brought this Torah home and made a red mantle using one of his wife’s broaches for decoration and brought it to America where it remained in their linen closet until the 1970’s.
One day, TBT Temple Administrator, Miriam Van Raalte (Aenna and Leopold’s great niece), was visiting and Aenna remarked, “I have something that might be of interest to you.” She brought out the Little Red Torah and requested that it be brought to Temple Beth Tikvah for a permanent home.