The history of the Czech Scrolls is remarkable. The Czech Memorial Trust describes it as follows: The legend that there was a Nazi plan to create a ‘museum to an extinct race’ in Prague has never been proved. The saving of the Jewish treasures of Bohemia and Moravia should be credited instead to a devoted group of Jews from Prague’s Jewish Community and to what had become the Central Jewish Museum in Prague.
They devised a plan to bring the religious treasures from the by then destroyed provincial communities to the comparative safety of Prague and managed to persuade the Nazis to accept it. More than 100,000 items were sent to the Museum, among them about 1,800 Torah Scrolls. Each was meticulously recorded on a card index by the Museum’s staff with a description of the Scroll and the place from which it came, hoping that one day they might be returned to their original homes.
All the Museum’s curators were eventually transported to Terezin and later Auschwitz; only two survived. At the end of the war Czech Jewry was decimated, fewer than 10,000 Czech survived and some 50 congregations were re-established, but the Communist coup in 1948 stopped the revival of Jewish life in its tracks. Most congregations closed and their religious treasures were once more returned to what by 1950 had become the State Jewish Museum in Prague.
In 1964 Westminster Synagogue managed to purchase the 1,564 Czech Memorial Scrolls from the Czechoslovak Communist State, and became their new custodian. Most Scrolls arrived at Westminster Synagogue with a number label attached, which referred to the original German Card Index that had been prepared by the Jewish curators at Prague’s Central Jewish Museum. Unfortunately 216 of the Scrolls that came to Westminster Synagogue cannot be traced to any particular community, either because the number label for that Scroll became detached or because the information available is insufficient to relate them to a particular place. They became known as the ‘orphan Scrolls’.
Horni Cerekev is located approximately 3 miles (5km) from Batelov, near the border with Moravia. Until 1918 the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Between the two World Wars, and from the end of World War II until 1993, it was part of the Republic of Czechoslovakia.
The Jewish cemetery has about 130 tombstones, dating from the 18th to the 20th century and includes a mortuary.
It is unclear when, exactly, Jews first began to settle in Horni Cerekev, but a Jewish cemetery was established by the 18th century. A synagogue was built later, in 1867. Following the emancipation of Jews throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the subsequent lifting of economic and residence restrictions, many Jews began moving to larger towns and cities, in search of greater educational and economic opportunities. As a result, communities such as Horni Cerekev saw their populations decline. By 1922 only 40 Jews remained in the town.
The Republic of Czechoslovakia was dissolved following the Munich Agreement of September 1938. A few months later, in March 1939, the region of Bohemia and Moravia became a protectorate of Nazi Germany, ushering in a period of violence and discrimination against the region’s Jews. Beginning in 1941 the Jews of the protectorate were concentrated in Terezin (Theresienstadt), before being deported to concentration and death camps. Before being sent to Terezin, 48 ritual objects from Horni Cerekev were transferred to the Central Jewish Museum in Prague.
The synagogue building was demolished by Czech authorities in 1951.
The Memorial Scrolls Trust, a U.K. non-profit organization, has recently begun to reach out to synagogues and other instititutions who received the Czech scrolls to gather updated information about them. They plan to continue to enhance their website so it becomes “a repository of all knowledge concerning the 1564 scrolls, the Jewish history of the towns they came from, the Jews of those towns, their fate, survivors stories, photos etc. Also where the scrolls are now, how they are used and honoured etc.” More information about the Memorial Scrolls Trust is available on their website.