Our Holocaust Torah

Approximately 150 years ago the Jewish community of Kolín, Czechoslovakia gathered to dedicate a new Torah scroll. For 80 years the words of that Torah scroll were read aloud in the Kolin synagogue. The Torah was witness to baby namings, B’nai Mitzvah, weddings and funerals. It was among the prize possessions of the Kolín Jewish community.

In June of 1942, the entire Jewish community of Kolín was deported to the Terezenstadt Concentration Camp. The Nazis looted the synagogue. The ritual items were shipped to Prague, where they were to become part of Hitler’s “Central Museum of the Extinct Jewish Race”. The Kolín Torah was among 1,564 Torahs gathered and stored by the Nazis in Prague.

After the war, these Torahs were nearly forgotten.

Following the efforts of a London art dealer, these Torah scrolls were purchased from the Communist Czech government and were later donated to The Westminster Synagogue in London. A memorial Scroll Trust was established to loan the Torah scrolls’ to Jewish institutions around the world in an effort to perpetuate the memory of the original Jewish communities destroyed by the Nazis.

Thirty-six years ago, the Memorial Scrolls Trust loaned Scroll #559 to Manetto Hill Jewish Center. To learn more about this wonderful organization, please click on memorialscrollstrust.org.

Our Holocasut Torah, Scroll #559, originally belonged to the Jewish community of Kolín, Czechoslovakia. Our Torah has remained in a museum case as a silent memorial to the decimated Jewish community of Kolín.

We spearheaded a campaign that culminated in the Re-dedication of this Kolín Torah. It was our obligation to transform this Holocaust Torah into a living memorial to the Jews of Kolín.

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to perpetuate the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. Each time the Torah is used, not only is it a living part of our community, it is a testament to the continuity of Jewish life and the failure of Hitler’s final solution.

The Israeli and Jewish Affairs Committee

Judy Nitkin, Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia, RabbiLowey/Scribe, Rabbi David Senter and Sue Moskowitz with our Holocaust Torah

Left to Right: Judy Nitkin, Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia, RabbiLowey/Scribe, Rabbi David Senter and Sue Moskowitz

  1. To restore our Holocaust Torah (#559) so it can be used for Lifecycle Events.
  2. To continue to educate our congregation and our community about the Holocaust, our Jewish Heritage and about the 480 Jews of Kolin, most of whom were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.
  3. To perpetuate the memory of the Jews of Kolin and to carry on their legacy.

We need your help to accomplish these goals. Please donate to the Holocaust Torah Fund. Together, we can make our dreams a reality.

Kolin Synagogue

Kolín was the home of approximately 475 Jews in the late 1930’s. Almost all of these Jews were killed in the Holocaust. An empty synagogue and two Jewish cemeteries are what remain of a once thriving Jewish community.

The Jews of Kolín were professionals, artisans, businessmen, fathers, mothers, and children. They paid the ultimate price just because they were Jewish. Hitler tried to destroy all the Jews. Help us restore this Torah from Kolín, Czechoslovakia and let it stand as a symbol of our survival.

Jewish Encyclopedia article about the Jewish Community of Kolín written prior to the Holocaust.

Note this article is in the public domain.

cemeteryKolín – Town in Bohemia. Its Jewish community is one of the oldest in the country. A number of Jews were living here in the fourteenth century, and they had their own synagogue. A stone inscription from a former synagogue, preserved in the present synagogue, bears the date 1642. When King Ferdinand I. expelled the Jews from Bohemia in 1541, the Jews of Kolín went with their movable goods to Poland. At Braunau the emigrants encountered thieves, who robbed them of 20,000 Bohemian schock. In 1551 the Bohemian Jews were permitted to return; but the Jews of Kolín could find no rest in their city. For unknown reasons King Ferdinand granted them safe-conduct in 1557, enabling them to remain for one year in the country to collect their debts, after which period they were to leave again. Their affairs delayed them, however, and they did not leave the city until 1561. After Ferdinand’s death, in 1564, his successor, Maximilian II., permitted the Jews to return to Kolin; but the wealthiest among them did not avail themselves of the permission. In 1618 the Jewish community of Kolín was, next to that of Prague, the largest in Bohemia. It had to pay heavy taxes into the royal treasury; in 1618 the sum amounted to 18,000 thalers, or 47 thalers per head. In 1603 the municipal council forbade the Jews to appear on Sundays and and other Christian holidays in those parts of the city inhabited by Christians; it prohibited them from keeping dogs; and forbade also Jewish butchers to sell meat to Christians. In 1611 a special prison was built in the Jews’ street for the Jews, at their request and at their expense; it has only recently been demolished, after having served as a dwelling for poor families for more than one hundred years. No Jew was permitted to own any real estate except his house, for more than one horse. Jews were forbiddenalso to engage in those trades or lines of business in which their Christian fellow citizens were engaged; they were obliged, therefore, to establish connections with foreign houses. The municipal council, which was intent upon isolating the Jews from the Christian population, forbade the latter to enter the service of the Jews; even washerwomen were not allowed to do laundry-work for them. As the Jews were accused of having brought the plague into the city on returning from their business trips, they were not permitted to remain outside of their own street for any length of time, nor to draw water with their vessels from the Christians’ wells. During this appearance of the plague (1613-14) the municipal council had both entrances to the Jews’ street walled up.

On Sept. 8, 1621, the Jewish communal director David was elected to the municipal council. Various petitions which the council of Kolín sent to Prince Lichtenstein, with a view to interfering with the trades of the Jews, were not granted. In Dec., 1621, the knight Jan Vazlav Grizl of Grizlov was made captain of the imperial estate of Kolín and Bieberitz. He permitted the Jews to engage in those trades and lines of business which had hitherto been open only to Christians; and on several occasions he showed them favor. When an epidemic of dysentery appeared in Kolín in 1660, Rabbi Borges and his son Schaje (Isaiah) were accused, June 25, of having killed a pig which had escaped from the house of the widow Sperlink into the Jews’ street, and of having thrown the same into the communal well, thereby poisoning the water. Both fled from the city.

Jurisdiction and Organization

A resolution of the Bohemian royal chamber, of Feb. 3, 1655, was of great benefit to the Jews, removing them from the jurisdiction of the municipal council, and directing them to organize themselves as a community with their own court, which was to be under the direct supervision of the imperial judge of Kolín acting in the name of the royal chamber. Only in criminal cases were the Jews to be tried by the judge of Kolín. The affairs of the community were conducted by a primator, two councilors, and a certain number of elders, assisted by a secretary, a treasurer, and two servants. This arrangement was in force down to 1788.

Empress Maria Theresa decreed, Dec. 18, 1744, that all the Jews should leave Bohemia by the end of the following month. In 1745 there were at Kolín forty-two houses belonging entirely to Jews and valued at 19,210 gulden. On June 12, 1745, a contract was made between the Jewish and the Christian community, that when the Jews left the country their debtors should remain in possession of such houses; but if the Jews should obtain permission to return within two years, the houses should be restored to them at a price to be fixed by valuation. The empress’decree was, however, rescinded.

In 1750 three Jews of Kolín received from the municipal council the concession for the sale of tobacco in Kolín. During the dearth in the winter of 1846-47 the Jews of Kolín distinguished themselves by twice contributing large sums for the relief of 100 Christian families.

Down to 1849, when full civic equality was given to the Jews, they were not permitted to buy houses or land belonging to Christians, but from the time of Emperor Joseph II. they were permitted to rent stores from Christians.

The community for a long time had a primary school near the synagogue, in which Hebrew also was taught. In 1788 forty-one children attended the school, and in 1789 fifty. At present (1904) the Talmud Torah Society of the Jewish congregation also supports a school for the study of Hebrew and the Bible. The affairs of the congregation are administered by a board consisting of a president and seven trustees together with twenty-four members chosen from the congregation at large.

The following rabbis of Kolín deserve notice: Abraham Borges, 1653; his son Schaje (Isaiah), 1660; Simon Oppenheim, author of “Nezer ha-Ḳodesh,” middle of the eighteenth century; Jacob Illovi of Ungarisch-Brod, 1775-78; Eleazar Kallir, author of “Or Ḥadash” and “Ḥawwot Yair,” 1780-1800; Wolf Löw Boskowitz, 1806-12; Wolf Löw, 1812-26; Joachim Deutschmann, 1828-36; Daniel Frank, 1839-60; Dr. Josef Gugenheimer, 1861-96; his son, Dr. Raphael Gugenheimer, the present incumbent

Torah
It all began with an observation. “The Holocaust Torah that is in your glass case was meant to be used”, said our former Rabbi, David Senter, in one of his initial visits to Manetto Hill Jewish Center. With that one comment, the seed was planted for the start of an incredible journey; a journey that encompasses the rededication of our Holocaust Torah, the renewal of our commitment and the rejoicing in our heritage.
sofer handsOn August 23rd, for the first time since we were privileged to receive scroll #559 thirty-six years ago, our Holocaust Torah left its protective glass case and was unrolled. As we viewed this magnificent 150 year old Torah, Rabbi Loewy of Sofer on Site inspected the Torah, noting the parts that were damaged and those many sections that remained intact. Then he said the words that we were hoping to hear, “this Torah can be re-koshered”. We knew right there and then that we had a moral obligation to restore our Torah and, together with that restoration, to perpetuate the memory of the 480 Jews of Kolin, the town from which our Torah originated.
judy
On Kol Nidre our Holocaust Torah was carried through the congregation and took its rightful place in the Aron Kodesh, among our other Sefer Torahs. Then, on Yom Kippur day, in a very moving speech, Judy Nutkin (right), a daughter of Holocaust survivors and co-chairperson of our Israeli & Jewish Affairs committee, announced our plans to restore our Torah. The history of our Torah and our commitment to restore the Torah were then encapsulated in a power point presentation which is on display for all to see in our lobby.
scrollOn October 17th, we moved from words to action. Once again we unrolled our Torah, this time not for an evaluation to see if the Torah could be re-koshered and restored but, rather, to give everyone an opportunity to view the Torah that will be re-koshered and restored. We reached out to our congregants to help us in bringing our dream of restoring the Torah to fruition. In the weeks that followed, our congregation responded, as we always do. Committees were formed and our hard work began.
torah eval
Understanding that we have a duty to educate our children, we once again unrolled the Torah for them to view. How fitting it was that this took place on November 10th, the anniversary of Kristallnacht. The children were joined by adult members of our congregation, as well as Rabbi Loewy, who explained the process involved in writing a Torah. The children presented Rabbi Loewy with their written good wishes for a safe journey. In yet another first for our Holocaust Torah, we were able to lift Torah for all to see as we recited the words that are said each time we lift a Torah – “This is the Torah which Moses placed before the children of Israel. It is in accordance with the L-rd’s command through Moses.” We then took part in a moving ceremony to bid farewell to our Torah so that we could send the Torah to Sofer on Site to begin the restoration process.
Having touched everyone’s hearts with her speech about the Holocaust on Yom Kippur, Judy Grunwald Nitkin now shared with us her family’s personal story. She told of the struggles her parents and brother faced during the Holocaust, what her father went through at the labor camp, the oppression her family faced. It was only because the concentration camp ran out of gas when her father was in the gas chamber, that he was able to survive.

Judy has been speaking in schools and other venues for many years, telling of her family’s plight and raising awareness about the Holocaust.

Our youth group performed a play entitled Dr. Yanush Korczak.

The play takes place in Warsaw, Poland and tells the story of Dr. Yanush Korczak, educator and leader of the Warsaw Orphanage. Given a chance to leave his children behind and seek refuge from the Nazis, Korczak made the decision to stay with his children. He was, consequently, killed, along with the children, at Treblinka concentration camp. Today, a sculpture of Korczak and his children stands outside of the orphanage as a reminder of his courage and devotion to the children.

This project has given Manetto Hill Jewish Center and its youth the opportunity to reflect on this turning point in Jewish history, in addition to ensuring such a tragedy will never be allowed to take place again.

On March 6th, Gisele Warshawsky, the President of the Hidden Children’s Society, spoke about her experiences as a Jewish child living in Germany and Belgium after Hitler came to power. Born in Leipzig, Germany in 1934, Gisele was the youngest of three children. Although her family led a comfortable life in her very early years, this changed after November 9, 1938, known as Kristallnacht – the Night of the Broken Glass.

Her family fled Germany in 1939 and moved to Belgium. Her father had left for Belgium first but he was caught and jailed. Months later, he died of pneumonia.

When the Germans invaded Belgium in 1940, her family tried to escape to England but, like so many others, was unable to do so. In 1942, her brother and sister were told to report to the train station. They were warned that if they did not obey, Gisele and her mother would also be taken. Her brother and sister had no choice – they had to report. Years later Gisele found out that her siblings were taken to Auschwitz, where her sister was immediately murdered in the gas chambers. Her brother was taken from camp to camp and eventually perished as well.

Gisele’s mother made the painful decision to separate from her daughter in order to protect Gisele. The Belgium Resistance hid her in a Catholic orphanage for close to a year in deplorable conditions. The meager food that she received was infested with worms. Later the Belgium Resistance hid her in a boarding school under an assumed name, where she remained until the Allies liberated Belgium in 1945. While she was raised by her mother and father as an orthodox Jew, for the three years that she was hidden she posed as a Catholic and could not practice her religion nor reveal her true identity.

In speaking of her life as a hidden child, Gisele said that for many years she was riddled with guilt, questioning why it was that she survived but her brother and sister perished. She then came to the realization that she survived so that she could talk about her brother and sister, so that their memories would be preserved.

It is said that our youth is our future. Once again, our youth proved that with them at the helm, our future looks bright. Their activities are described below.

On March 21st, we opened The Neighbors Who Disappeared exhibit. We will house the exhibit through May 1st. Please check our home page for the viewing dates and times.

Formerly a nineteen panel exhibit, The Neighbors Who Disappeared was compiled by Czech school students, using eye witness accounts, local chronicles, visits to local cemeteries and other research. As is set forth on the C.H.A.I. (Czeck Heritage Action Initiative) website, “The exhibition demonstrates the ability of students to help report history and to give a voice to the voiceless. It further shows how students, using a little initiative, their abundant energy, and natural curiosity can educate themselves and others.”

Clearly, the children of Manetto Hill Jewish Center were educated and enthused by this exhibit. They set off on a “Scavenger Hunt”, searching for answers in the panels to a list of questions compiled by our Holocaust Torah Education Sub-committee, and soon were engrossed in the project itself, reading about the neighbors who disappeared as their interest was peaked by this wonderful exhibit.

The children were also able to view an extra panel, added by Rabbi Senter. That panel spoke to those who disappeared from Kolín, Czechoslovakia.

After viewing the exhibit, our Hebrew school children and members of our youth group sat rapt as Dr. Robert Goldman read his father’s book, I am a Holocaust Torah. A number of our congregants also joined us for this reading.

Everyone was moved as Dr. Goldman read, recounting the story of how One Thousand Five Hundred Sixty-Four Torahs stolen by the Nazis were saved. This remarkable book told the story from the perspective of one of those Torahs. Listening to that story just further crystallized for us the journey that our Torah Scroll, #559, has been on; a journey that will be completed on May 1st when our Holocaust Torah, having been re-koshered, will take its rightful place in our Aron Kodesh.

Manetto Hill Jewish Center has undertaken the obligation to preserve the memories of the 480 Jews of Kolín, Czechoslovakia, (from where MHJC’s Torah originated) who were murdered by the Nazis. The congregants of Manetto Hill Jewish Center regularly say Kaddish for them, continue their legacy, who will remember them as the Torah is read at life cycle events and who will honor and perpetuate their memory by committing to educate the community about the Holocaust and to speak out and stand up for those who are oppressed.

To date, over two hundred twenty Jews of Kolín have been memorialized. The cost of memorializing a name is $118. Of course, any donation is appreciated. If you are interested in participating in this very special project, please call the main office at 516-935-5454 or send an email to our main office.

MAY 1, 2011

May 1st was a very special day in the life of Manetto Hill Jewish Center, as we re-dedicated our Holocaust Torah. We walked through the streets of Plainview with our Holocaust Torah, accompanied by our other Torahs, from our parsonage to our synagogue. As our processional made its way to Manetto Hill Jewish center, we also carried placards with the names of the Jews of Kolín, as they are, and will forever more, be in our hearts. There legacy will live on through Manetto Hill Jewish Center.

The processional began at 10AM at 38 Gilbert Lane in Plainview. Our program was held outside in the Manetto Hill Jewish Center parking lot at 10:45. We proceeded to our sanctuary, where we formally re-dedicated our Torah, displayed the wimple (Torah tie) that beared the names of the 480 Jews of Kolín and our very special Mantel (Torah cover). We also commemorated Yom HaShoah and paid tribute to the six million Jews who lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis.[/toggle][toggle title=”Kolín Memorial Names” open=”no”]Please click here to access a listing of Memorial Names. This list was compiled by Judith Nitkin, using lists provided by Yad Vashem Thresienstadt Concentration Camp Prisoner List and Temple Emanuel of Denver Memorial List.

Rabbi Dr Richard Feder, who later became Chief Rabbi of Czechoslovakia, survived Terezin but his family and community did not. In his grief and desolation, he wrote a book containing this dedicatory letter:

Dear Jews of Kolín and friends,

Out of love, respect and gratitude I have built you a memorial in this book. It is only a humble paper memorial, but I hope it is more telling than those of stone and more permanent than those of metal. Your names are mentioned in the following pages. When reading them, those who knew you will remember you with feelings of loyal friendship, and those who did not know you will deplore that you were murdered for no reason by evil, cruel, base, callous Germans.

You died a martyr’s death and we trust that God, the Father of all peoples, opened the gates to his kingdom of eternity for you and that you were admitted with love into the great family of celestial beings. Our only hope is that, when our pilgrimage on Earth comes to an end, we can meet up with you and partake in the eternal bliss.

The Germans murdered you. They obliterated your bodies. They destroyed your ashes. Nothing remained except your names, your good names, your honest, untainted names, names that deserve to be preserved for generations to come.

I honour your memory,

Your loyal rabbi,
Dr. Richard Feder Kolin
30th November 1945