Nottingham welcomes Austerlitz scroll after 50 years

3 January 2017

The congregation at Nottingham Liberal Synagogue (NLS) have welcomed a Torah scroll from Austerlitz, in the Czech Republic… finally putting a 50-year mix-up to an end.

The community was founded in 1965 as Nottingham Progressive Jewish Congregation and immediately applied for, and received, a Torah from the Westminster Synagogue Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust, on permanent loan.

They were given scroll number 886 – of the 1,564 that survived the Nazis – which was believed to have originated in Austerlitz, now known as Slavkov.

On confirming the details at a conference chaired by Liberal Judaism president Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein, 26 years ago, the community then spent the last quarter of a century visiting Austerlitz and forging links with the town’s people. Ruth Matiovska, the one remaining Jewish resident, even became an honorary member of NLS.

However, last year the community discovered that their Czech scroll was actually number 887; not from Austerlitz, but the small Moravian town of Kamenice nad Lipou, about 80km to the west.

Thus began a search for a true Austerlitz scroll to reside alongside the other four Torahs that are used for Shabbat and High Holy Days services at NLS.

Neil Pike, chair of the NLS Austerlitz group, said: “Around 15 years ago, to our surprise, the Westminster Memorial Scrolls Trust wrote to tell us that our scroll was numbered 887 and came from Kamenice rather than Austerlitz.

“We presented photographic evidence to them of its 886 marking and the matter languished until 2015 when, with a new management team in place at Westminster, and through the dogged persistence work of our own researcher Debbie Moss, the truth was discovered.

“It emerged that back in 1964, two scrolls were inscribed with the same number, 886, and the number 887 was omitted. We possessed the scroll that should have been inscribed 887 and the true scroll 886 is in the care of Finchley Progressive Synagogue. This came as a rude shock!

“However, through our links with another ‘Austerlitz community’ in the United States, we discovered that there was another Austerlitz scroll of undoubted provenance. The efforts of Bev Karp of the Florida synagogue eventually revealed that it had long ago been given to the now-closed theology department at Leeds University.

“A big thank you is due to the Memorial Scrolls Trust, whose strenuous efforts led to the retrieval of the second scroll originating in Austerlitz, from Leeds University, and its placing in the safekeeping of Nottingham Liberal Synagogue.”

The community are planning to visit both Austerlitz and Kamenice nad Lipou in the summer of 2018.

Neil added: “We will ensure that the memory of the 47 Jewish souls who once used this scroll, and the 93 who formed the Austerlitz community, will never be forgotten and will always be honoured. We will do the same for those from Kamenice nad Lipou.

“Because, as Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein said at that conference, 26 years ago, if we don’t, the chances are that no one else is going to.”


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