New Old Torah for Central

February 22, 2013 by Henry Benjamin
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Thanks to investigative work by New York-based George Klas, a Torah captured by the Germans from a synagogue in Czechoslovakia has been Sydney.


George Klas and the Czech Torah

George Klas, the Czech Torah and his grandfather’s tallit. Photo: Henry Benjamin

The 71-yr-old advertising executive had sought out a Torah for his Shul in New York where he lives after reading an article telling the story of how Prague Jews had catalogued 1,564 scrolls seized by the Nazis in 1939 following their invasion of the Sudetenland.

In 1966, an English philanthropist bought all the Torahs and they were moved to London from where they were distributed to communities throughout the world.

The Torah is numbered by the Nazis

The Torah is numbered by the Nazis

Klas, although a New Yorker, asked Sydney’s Central Synagogue’s Rabbi Levi Wolff if there was one in the Shul and was surprised to learn that that there was not.

He told J-Wire: “I was born in England where my parents had fled to at the beginning of WWII. We moved to Sydney in 1949 where I was educated and spent my younger years. My mother Rose is 97 and my father Henry died six years ago at the age of 92. I wanted to find a Torah for them and present it to Central in memory of all those we lost in the Holocaust.”

Klas contacted the organisation in London which had been the repository for Czech Memorial Torahs but found they had all been distributed. However, one had found its way to the Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney and was being cared for by Joseph Toltz who was at that time the congregation’s cantor. Klas could not purchase the scroll but a special contribution to the CMT secured it for Central on permanent loan.

This weekend, the Torah will be officially handed over to the synagogue in the presence of George Klas, his sister Miriam and their 97-yr-old mother Rose.

Klas said: “The Torah has been damaged and is not Kosher. So it is planned to put it on permanent display in the vestibule of the shul. But it can be, and I understand will be, used for ceremonial purposes.”

Klas’s family came from Topolchany…and the Torah which will honor the family Klas never knew will find a new home in Bondi, far away from the tiny Czech town of Pribram where it began its life over 100 years ago. Dedicating it will be George Klas…wearing a tallit that belonged to his grandfather Lajosh Kohn…a grandfather whom he never knew and who perished in Auschwitz shortly after George was born.



One Response to “New Old Torah for Central”
  1. LIZZIE says:

    What a beautiful story! The One Thousand Year shame for Germany. We host German exchange students here in Australia and one of the first things we found when we started [my French uncle very narrowly survived Theresianstadt in Bohemia] & it was a bit of a shock, is that current Germans never ever, speak about the War or the Holocaust/haShoa.

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