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Mel Lazareck

 
Mel Lazareck: The Holocaust Torah from Czechoslovakia

By Mel Lazareck, January 2014

Following the death of my father in 1976, my mother spent her winters in Los Angeles at which time she volunteered at the Skirball Jewish Museum.

 

Having an Orthodox background, fluency in Hebrew, and a degree in anthropology, she was well suited for many of the museums projects.

 

One of these projects centered around interpreting and identifying Torah binders. These binders served as the wrapping of the Torah scrolls and, as was the custom in Europe, the binders portrayed by illustration and word the life cycle events of that particular community.

 

She was intrigued by the stories the binders told. Tracing the source of the Skirball Museum Torahs to the Westminster Synagogue in London, England, she made the acquaintance of the curator Ms. Ash, the daughter of Shalom Ash.

She learned from Ms. Ash that the real accumulation of Torahs and many other Jewish articles was located at the State Jewish Museum in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

 

The Prague Museum came into being as a result of the Nazi Germany directive to accumulate Jewish religious articles in order to establish a museum for the “former” Jewish race. The government of Czechoslovakia ended up with a large accumulation as the majority of these religious articles from destroyed synagogues throughout Europe were sent to Prague. Thus the Jewish Museum of Prague came into existence.

 

My mother wished to visit Prague, and through business associates in that region, I arranged for her to spend several weeks there in the late 1970’s. During her stay, she worked on identifying and translating a variety of these artifacts.

 

She made many new friends who, I had the opportunity to meet when we stopped over on a trip to Israel (mother, my son Ada and myself) and spent a few days in Prague (1985).

 

Following her original stay in Prague, she wanted our community to have a connection with an article from the former Jewish communities in Europe.

 

She arranged to acquire under the term “permanent loan” from the Westminster Synagogue in London, a Torah that came from a Czech town called “Slenaie”. Apparently the Czech government would not allow any items to be moved from the State Jewish Museum. However, the Westminster Synagogue had a lot of influential former Czechs now living in London, as members. These members managed over the years to obtain some articles and, fortunately for my mother, they were prepared to provide a Torah for our synagogue on “permanent loan”.

 

Regardless, the Torah, which at one point was dedicated at our synagogue became known as the Holocaust Torah and is used for Yizkor.

 

We probably received the Torah in the late 1970’s or early 80’s. I believe she had some input on the Torah cover, and possibly the crown and/or pointer adorning it.

 

As a matter of general interest, my mother and her family lived for a while at the synagogue located at the time on Dagmar Street. She was born in the basement of the synagogue on Simchas Torah.

 
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