The Holocaust Torah that is displayed in the synagogue lobby was|
writen in 1700 and rescued from the town of Kolin, Czechoslovakia.
It was at this time that King Ferdinand ordered all the Jews in his realm to wear the yellow circle on the left breast of their outer garment. The badge was to alert Christians that they were in the presence of a Jew. Any Jew caught without the circle lost all of his belongings, with half of them going to the law-abiding Christian who reported this crime. This yellow marking and the penalty that accompanied it were the precursor to the hated yellow star of the Nazi era.
Ferdinand's successor, Maximilian II, extended certain rights and basic freedoms to the Jews. They were allowed free trade so long as they were "honest". In return for these gifts the Jews were very highly taxed. They were compelled to pay exorbitant taxes to Maximillian's treasury and also to maintain Hebrew houses of worship and pay for the building of a Jewish prison. The Jewish community was also taxed to fund the Turkish wars. In February of 1655, the Jews were given permission to operate their own Judicial court instead of being tried by the municipal court, The Beth Din of Kolin administered its own internal matters until 1788.
Maria Theresa, who inherited the throne from her father, Charles VI, was a virulent hater of the Jews and her reign was filled with terror. Once again the yellow badge had to be worn. Severe restrictions were placed on trade and in June of 1745, the Jewish community was expelled from Bohemia. In 1748, there were still, however, a few Jewish families remaining in Bohemia. A commission decided to allow Jews to return so that they could be required to shoulder the $4 million in military taxes needed by Maria Theresa. The Jews did return and the amount of tolerance money they were compelled to pay increased.
The Jewish community was released from the stranglehold of Maria Theresa when, in 1780, Joseph II ascended the throne. He passed the Judenpatent law that declared that the Jewish population should become part of society at large. Christians could be treated by Jewish doctors. Jews were allowed in the military. The hated yellow badge disappeared yet again. Jews were allowed to attend high school and universities. As before, however, freedoms came highly taxed. Jews paid special taxes to the state treasury and restrictions were placed upon where they could live.
Kolin housed a much admired Yeshiva dating from the 1600's. Rabbi Samuel ben Nathan Ha-Levi was recognized as a child prodigy while attending the Kolin Yeshiva. The many books on Jewish law and commentaries on the Talmud that he wrote established Kolin as a center of learning. Even today, when scholars speak of "The Kolin", they are referring to this great sage. Another famous scholar, Rabbi Jacob Illowy, emerged from the Kolin Yeshiva and was the community's rabbi from 1746 to 1781, after which he emegrated to the United States. Young children were educated at the Kolin Talmud Torah from 1788 until the pre-Holocaust era, when the community could no longer afford to support the school.
The synagogue that housed our torah was located on Nahradbach Street. Construction began in 1642, and was completed in 1696. It was built on the site of a previous synagogue that dates from 1587. It is unsure under whose rabbinate the Kolin Torah was written, but we do know that it was used by Rabbi Bernard Illowy who, in 1848, delivered an address to revolutionary soldiers passing through Kolin in an attempt to strengthen the bond between Jews and Christians. He was forced to resign his rabbinic post for the crime of preaching to Christians.
The synagogue was designed in the Baroque style, housing a Baroque aron Kodesh, which had been donated by Samuel Oppenheimer in 1696, and stucco decorated vaulting. Services were regularly held until the Nazi occupation and again from 1945 to 1955. Some of the furnishings and a chandelier have survived and are now housed in Temple Emanuel in Denver, Colorado. There are currently plans to convert the Kolin synagogue into a concert hall.
On October 10, 1941, it was decided in a secret meeting chaired by Reinhard Heydrick, the Reichprotektor, to establish a concentration camp in the town of Theresienstadt, which had been named for the infamous Maria Theresa. Kolin is located just 40 miles from Theresienstadt and as such became one of the central locations from which Jews would be sent to the camp. On that same date and for just, that purpose, a ghetto was formed in Kolin. To the Jews of Kolin were added 2,202 Jews sent by transport to the newly formed Kolin ghetto. From this ghetto Jews were transported to Theresienstadt. Those who survived were then sent to Auschwitz, Majdanek, Minsk, Riga, Sorbibor, Treblinka and Zamosc.
By June 17, 1942, all of the Jews of Kolin had been deported; its synagogue quiet, yet filled with the treasures of the Jewish community. The Czech Memorial Scrolls were born of the looting systematically practiced by the Nazis, All types of treasures were sent to Prague, there to be housed until a "Central Museum of the Extinct Jewish Race" could be built. The precious belongings of the deported, and in many cases slain, Jews were dumped in synagogues that were used as warehouses.
In all, 1,564 Torah Scrolls were placed in the surviving Michle Synagogue in Prague. There they lay, until in 1963, negotiations between the then Czech government and a Jewish art connoisseur from London paved the way for the scrolls to be brought to England. They were housed in the Westminster Synagogue and became the responsibility of Mrs. Ruth Shaffer.
The Torah Scrolls were in terrible condition; blood splattered, damaged by fire and/or water, ripped and torn, unable to be unrolled. A scribe by the name of David Brand worked for twenty years repairing those Torah Scrolls that could be rendered fit for use. These were soon acquired by synagogues, schools and museums throughout the world.
As It Exists TodayOur Torah is too badly damaged to have been repaired. Still bearing the original Nazi tag with its number 443, it lay on a shelf alongside many other Torah Scrolls. It was chosen to be brought to its new home at B'nai Tikvah because of its provenance; we know where it came from and when it was written. The idea that it could be partially unrolled was very appealing and made it more special.
Our Torah from Kolin has been unrolled to Exodus Chapter 17, verses 8-16, which
describes the battle of Amalek against Israel at Rephidim. This section of the Torah was chosen because Amalek has become the embodiment of evil throughout the ages.