We Must Never Forget

The Survivor Torah

This magnificent Torah Scroll, in a display case at Temple Emanuel in Newton, Massachusetts, is open to the Ten Commandments and to Deuteronomy 6:4:“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”   This is the “Survivor Torah,” and its story speaks to us of the very survival of mankind.

On the external glass frame surrounding the case are etched their names; Helena Tomasova, age 66; Luis Gelber, 42; Zdenek Susicky, 16; Lota Hermina Schifferova, 10; and some 95 others.  They were not survivors.  All members of the Jewish community of Dvur Kralove in Czechoslovakia, they were rounded up and sent to death camps by the Nazis in June, 1942. Of the 350,000 Czech Jews, only 44,000 lived through World War II. None of the survivors were from Dvur Kralove.

The Nazis killed the people, but they preserved this Torah Scroll for their planned “Central Museum of the Extinguished Jewish Race” in Prague. The Torah remained there until 1963, when it was taken to the Westminster Synagogue in London along with 1,563 other scrolls. Many of them, like this one, had been desecrated beyond the point where they could be used in the liturgies.

In 1979, a member of Temple Emanuel obtained this scroll and brought it to America on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Rabbi Samuel Chiel’s service at the temple. Once a year, on Shoah Remembrance Day, the scroll is carried through temple in solemn procession. The names of the martyred faithful are remembered that day, and all through the year.

I feel a profound sadness when I contemplate their earthly fate, and a melancholy that sometimes verges on despair when I realize the depths of depravity to which members of the human race have sometimes descended, as they did during World War II.  I do take a measure of comfort in knowing that the names of Helena, Luis, Zdenek, Lota Hermina, and the Jews of Dvur Kralove will forever live in memory while the names of their captors and tormentors lie buried deep within the ash heap of human history.

Nazis, and their vile cousins who still infest the earth, are thuggish soldiers of the forces of darkness which, I am sorry to say, will be with us until the Last Day. But comforting, too, is the knowledge that even in times when evil is ascendant, there are the righteous among us who take up arms and thwart that evil – ordinary people like Wallenberg, Schindler, Socha, Sugihara, and the most heroic them all, Irena Sendlerowa.

I agree, as well, with the quote from a Shoah victim’s diary that my sister learned of in a visit to Yad Vashem in Israel. A young girl, who died in the camps, wrote that she hoped that somehow the victims would be remembered not by monuments but by the good deeds of people who learn the story of what happened.

Yes, we must learn and we must remember, just as the good people of Temple Emanuel have done.  In the display case is written, “This was their Torah. Now it is our Torah.”

May it be everybody’s Torah.  May we all remember the people of Dvur Kralove, and may we honor them – by knowing their names, by learning the story of what happened, and by courageously speaking the truth to evil. If we do that, we may yet ensure the survival of mankind and the ultimate victory of light over darkness.

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