Czech Scrolls

KLADNO – The Scrolls, the Church, the Mystery

By Michael Heppner

Why has Northwood got three Czech Scrolls? Two of them – from Trebon and from Kolin - came because we needed them for our services when we were a young congregation. The Scroll from Kladno came because we offered to care for a seriously damaged Scroll – or half a Scroll – from the last part of Numbers to the end of Deuteronomy - the one in the glass case.

We have done quite a lot to fulfil our responsibility to our memorial Scrolls over the past 30 years – yes it is 30 years since Andrew's landmark sermon on Yom Kippur 1978. We have held a Scroll Shabbat every year and we have set an example to congregations across the world. We have collected information. We have held seminars and workshops. We have visited the Kolin and Trebon places and tried to make an impact. Congregations in this country, in many parts of the USA and beyond have copied us and shown us what more can be done to build the lost congregation of their Scroll into the life of their living congregation.

How was I to know that in October of that year an enquiry would come to the Memorial Scrolls Trust from an American congregation that wanted to know something about the history of their Scroll 458 which had come from Kladno? I was able to get her off to a flying start by sending her my notes from January 1981, and the talk I gave here on 10 June 1988 – 20 years ago in four days time. She was not starting from scratch. She knew that the synagogue was a church. She now knew about Rudolf Salus, the survivor whom I had met and who had told me about the hidden Scrolls of Kladno. She knew that Jews had lived there since 1685

Christmas at the Hussite Church (2007)

In December 2007 a party from Fairfield went to Kladno on their way to Israel . Their schedule meant that they had to be in Kladno on Christmas Day, which seemed an unfortunate choice since the museum and other places of interest would be closed, the church would want to focus on the importance of Christmas and families would want to be left alone.

A few of days before the Americans flew to Europe Eva reported that they had found a survivor – Petr Hermann – who was deported from Kladno as a 16 year old boy, and who, after living for 30 years in Venezuela, had come back to live in Prague. The day before they left, Ellin emailed him and asked if they could meet.

Christmas 2007 at the Hussite Church was different. After the Christmas service, there was a special ceremony in the synagogue cum church. Instead of staying at home with their families many people came to be there. The church which normally attracts 30 to 40 people was full.

The Mayor – Dan Jiranek - was there
The town historian
The Director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem – Karel Sedlacek
The Pastor and his wife
and Petr Hermann

The pastor's wife began the ceremony by making a public apology to all the Jews for the Czech complicity in not doing enough to save the Jews. One has to wonder if there was much that they could have done.

After the prayers and presentations, the choir sang Jewish and Israeli songs and Mr Sedlacek sounded the shofar

The Hidden Scrolls

And there is the small matter of the hidden Scrolls. Jarmila Chytilova told Eva about Vera Laznovska, who used to work in a shop on the high street. She remembers a lot about the Jews who lived in Kladno. She gave the names of the Jews who had shops on the high street. She remembered many of the Jews who used to come into her shop. As the time of deportation grew near, she remembers the people coming to her shop and asking advice on what to take to Terezin.

Then Vera said to Jarmila "Can you remember? It was when the painters found the books, built in somewhere here. It was when your father was pastor here." She was referring to the Hidden Scrolls. Pastor Benes did not want the Communists to find out about the Scrolls. But Rudolf Salus was told. And Salus to me – and didn't know whether to believe him. So at last we know that it was true. But what happened next to the Scrolls. That is something that we have to find out.

On Sunday 8 June 2008 in Fairfield Scroll 458 from Kladno will be re-dedicated. And who will be there?

Mayor Jiranek, Irena Veverkova (the town archivist) and Eva Bodlakova - Kladno's Ellin Yassky

And what are we going to do? Our neglected Scroll from Kladno deserves our attention. It has a story to tell, and it can put us in touch with a group of Kladno people who want to share our link with the Jews of Kladno. Fairfield has shown how to connect with the Jews of Kladno and the Czech congregation that shares our interest in the Jews of our Scroll, their fate and their heritage.

We need to build on the partnership with the Americans. We need to go there and review the information that the local people had dug up and get to know the people who have provided so much background information. They should receive our recognition and encouragement. The Mayor, the museum, the archives, the church.