How did a Torah that was seized by the Nazis during World War II end up at Fort Worth’s Beth-El Congregation?
The short answer is via flights from two now defunct airlines, Braniff and Pan-Am, that terminated at Love Field.
The long answer is at the heart of a program presented by the Fort Worth Public Library’s central branch at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Nazis looted many synagogues during the war. Artifacts and art that weren’t sold, destroyed, or taken for private collections were stored.
Although the scrolls were carefully catalogued, they had been stripped of their elaborately embroidered covers and were left to sit exposed to light, dust and insects in a warehouse for more than 20 years after the war.
An art dealer living in Britain heard about the collection of over 1500 Torahs in Prague during a trip to acquire Eastern European art.
Congregants at Beth-El had learned about these scrolls and sought one to honor the memory of their late Rabbi Samuel Soskin.
Rabbi Soskin was a vocal opponent of the Nazi regime and joined the armed forces as a chaplain. He died in 1970; the Torah arrived in Fort Worth as a permanent loan the following year.
Hollace Ava Weiner, volunteer director of the Fort Worth Jewish Archives and writer, searched for more information about the scrolls and ended up on a journey that led her to the small Czech village of Uhříněves, near Prague.
The synagogue there is still standing, but is no longer used as a house of worship. A bronze plaque tells the story of the nearly 400 Jewish people in the area who were subject to ghettos and forcibly taken to concentration camps. Only 42 are known to have survived.
“It’s important that we remember them because who else is there to remember this community?” Weiner said. “To me, this Torah is like a family heirloom that we’re taking care of.”
Beth-el Congregation has five other Torahs, and the synagogue rotates through each of them for services throughout the year. But they make it a point to read from the Holocaust Torah on Rosh Hashanah and to honor the memories of those who died.
When Fort Worth Public Library was planning for Holocaust Rememberance Day, Weiner and Rabbi Mecklenburger were excited about the opportunity to put forward a hopeful story about Judiasm.
If you go:
When: Thursday, Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Central Fort Worth Public Library 500 W. 3rd St. Fort Worth
“So often, the narrative is about death,” Weiner said. “It’s morbid. It’s excruciating…” she trailed off, searching for the right word to describe the how the Holocaust Torah’s legacy is different.
“It’s a narrative of life, not a narrative of death,” Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger chimed in and Weiner nodded in agreement. The Torah and its message survived.
In a time of rising antisemitic attacks across the country and close to home, including the recent hostage situation at Colleyville, remembering the Holocaust serves an important purpose.
“There is one human family, and we need to learn and meet one another,” Rabbi Mecklenburger said. “Learn about one another and meet one another so that people are not afraid of each other, and learn to trust one another as real people and not as stereotypes.”
He hopes their program at the library will encourage that. Attendees will be able to see the scroll and those who read Hebrew will notice that it now bears a mantle that declares in needlepoint, “Am Yisrael Chai” which translates to “The people of Israel live.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.