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Etz Chayim – the ‘Tree of Life’ – is the Hebrew name of Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue.
This is an extract from a letter.
Dear Reverend Reinhart
I am writing to you to ask if your committee would consider loaning us on of the Baghdad* Scrolls which I understand you have.
This congregation has been established exactly one year and now has nearly 45 families. We run a religion school with 4 classes and nearly 40 children attending weekly. We hold fortnightly services on Friday evenings with additional Saturday services for parents and children in the school holidays.
If your committee could consider us when distributing these Scrolls it would be most helpful to us and we would be very grateful indeed
The Memorial Scrolls Trust receives a lot of letters like this. Congregations that would like to have a Holocaust Scroll. Today, Scrolls are allocated on 4 criteria ;
The allocation criteria are applied with flexibility, especially with respect to the first three criteria, but the fourth requirement – the dedication of one Shabbat to the Scroll, its Jews and their congregation – is firm.
No commitment – no Scroll.
That letter was written on 29 March 1965, and it came from Pinner and District Liberal Jewish Congregation, and their wish was granted when they were entrusted with Scroll 1469 from the little town of Trebon. The Scroll was collected on 6 January 1966, and was received in its new home with much rejoicing.
Back in those early days, the allocation criteria had not been spelt out. We were not asked to give a commitment to honour and remember the Jews of Trebon (wherever that was) and to cherish and preserve their heritage. For this reason you could say that this obligation to the Jews of Trebon cannot retrospectively be applied to us. Thank goodness we don’t think that way.
Any attention would have been focussed solely on Trebon. In the big picture of the holocaust, Trebon scarcely counts. Against the big Jewish centres of Prague, Krakow, Warsaw, Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, Amsterdam, Trebon does not figure.
Today, people ask “why bother with the little places” ? Because people matter. People from little places like Trebon also matter, and they deserve to be valued. And they are easily overlooked.
The Jewish congregation of Trebon drew its members from all the little villages surrounding the little town and also from nearby Suchdol. It was very modest congregation with a small synagogue, and it could not afford a rabbi since Rabbi Moijses Blann had left to go to Golcuv Jenikov.
The Jews of Trebon were deported to Terezin along with the Jews of Ceske Budejovice on 18 April 1942, and all that was left was the synagogue the cemetery and their 5 Scrolls. At the end of the war, there were a couple of survivors including Dr Karel Veleminsky, who had not been deported until late 1944 because he came from a mixed marriage.
When a congregation starts to take an interest in its Czech Memorial Scroll, the first task is to get the Transport List. This has to be obtained from the Jewish Museum in Prague or from the Terezin Museum,
* for some unexplained reason the Scroll was wrongly thought to have come from Iraq.
and it often involves effort and persistence. For us getting the Transport List was no problem and involved no effort. Figuratively speaking it was handed to us on a plate
There is something almost biblical about the story.
I drove to Trebon in 1980 in search of a survivor who lived in Trebon, but who turned out not to have come from there – but my finding her was not an as unproductive and it seemed. She told me about a Dr Veleminsky, who was also a survivor and from Trebon and who still lived in the town. Finding Dr Veleminsky was another matter. I went back to the town square to have some lunch and to have a think. I was frustrated when I found that the picturesque restaurant that I had earmarked when I first got to the town was closed for a private function, and I wandered across the road to the town hall restaurant. It was one of the ways of Communism that one was made to sit at a table that was already occupied. As I tried to make out what was on the menu, the professor, easily recognising a foreigner, offered to help and I found that I had ordered carp. The professor from Prague University had a weekend cottage in Trebon, and he had come to plant some flowers in the garden. It was my good luck that he spoke German, so that we could converse and I told him why I had come to Trebon and that I was wondering how to find Dr Veleminsky. No, he didn’t know Dr Veleminsky. That was too much to hope for, but he was interested in the man from London who was trying to find out about the Jewish story of Trebon. He disappeared into the kitchen and evidently got on the phone. He came back triumphant – he had found Veleminsky and we would go there together after lunch. He paid for my meal and we left. Carried along on this tide of good fortune, with my enthusiastic mentor and translator, we came to the Veleminsky home and, faced with considerable reluctance on the part of old Veleminsky and obstruction on the part of his son young Veleminsky, the professor coaxed the old man to come out and meet me, and to show us both around the important Jewish sites. What would I have done without the professor ? What would I have done in the non-Communist culture of “separate tables” ? What would I have done if my first choice restaurant had not been closed to me ? There was something almost biblical about my progress.
Some months later I returned to Trebon bringing Rabbi Andrew Goldstein, and poor old reluctant Veleminsky again felt himself under pressure. However, he had his trump card. The shoebox.
Over the garden gate he handed us the shoebox which we found contained the last pathetic remnants of the administration of the Trebon Jewish community. As we examined the contents, Andrew and I found the Transport List. It was as easy as that. On one sheet of paper were the typed names and birth dates of the Jews of Trebon who were deported. We brought the sheet of paper back to London.
Now we had the Scroll and the names of the people who were depending on us to remember them as individuals – to save them from the oblivion of being lost among the Six Million. But would we do it ?
If you have been to Prague, and if you have stood in the Pinkas Synagogue and seen the exquisite calligraphy in red and black which lists the 77,297 names of the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia who died, you will have had a brush with anonymity. All those names and none that mean anything. Like faces that make up a crowd, but those faces in the crowd go home to people who know them and care about them. The names on those walls go nowhere, scarcely anyone knows them, and scarcely anyone cares about any particular one of them.
And that is the anonymity of being lost among the 77,297.
Which brings us back to our Scroll – the last messenger from Trebon – and the shoebox – the last message from Trebon – and our commitment to be among the five congregations in the whole world who have any reason to care about the Jews of the unimportant town of Trebon and their little world that collapsed and died while we lived on and founded a new congregation – and were entrusted with their Scroll.
And today, just before Kaddish we make our commitment to the Jews of Trebon.
We thank them for their Scroll, and promise to treasure it.
We promise that we shall ensure that they are remembered as people.
We promise that we shall find out about their lives and their heritage and that we shall cherish it
And we shall make sure that their names will once again be heard in a synagogue.
© Copyright 2008 NPLS