While other synagogues across the world hold solemn commemorations of Yom Hashoa next month, The Jewish Center of Princeton will offer a unique way to remember the victims and survivors of the Nazi genocide.
For the first time in more than 65 years, six Torah scrolls from the small Czech village of Susice will be reunited at the synagogue in Princeton.
Another survivor at the reunion will be Hana Gruna, a 92-year-old Hackettstown woman who grew up in Susice and was one of only eight of its approximately 100 prewar Jewish residents to survive. Gruna, who was interned in the concentration camps at Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, is believed to be the last living survivor of Susice.
“These Torahs are like a miracle,” she told NJ Jewish News in a March 9 telephone interview. The six scrolls “were found in our little town in very bad condition” after the war.
“There has never been anything like this,” said Rabbi Adam Feldman, religious leader of The Jewish Center. “We believe the Torah is a living document, always evolving, always growing. Imagine if these Torahs could speak to each other, what they would say, and what they experienced during the Shoa.”
Since 1987, one of the six scrolls has been housed in a display case in The Jewish Center’s lobby. Another has been a few miles away at the Mercer County Holocaust/Genocide Resource Center at Mercer County Community College.
The other Susice scrolls will be flown in from four far-flung locations: Sha’arei Am Synagogue in Santa Monica, Calif.; Temple Emanuel in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Rose Medical Center in Denver, Colo.; and the Jewish Congregation of Venice, Fla.
They are among the 1,564 sacred scrolls from the former Czechoslovakia that the Nazis plundered along with thousands of other Jewish ritual objects, intending to display them in a museum of “an exterminated people” in Prague.
The scrolls were later rescued, restored by workers at the Memorial Scrolls Trust at the Westminster Synagogue in London, and loaned to Jewish institutions and Holocaust study and remembrance centers in many parts of the world.
The scrolls heading to Princeton are scheduled to arrive on Friday, April 20, and will be returned to their communities three days later.
“To me these Torahs represent Jewish survival,” said Feldman. “Hitler tried to wipe out the Jewish people, and the Jewish people survived.”
‘A new perspective’
The people bringing the scrolls to New Jersey — members of the host congregations — will share their experiences with children in The Jewish Center’s religious school. The plane tickets for the scrolls are being donated by United Airlines.
Feldman said the memorial weekend will include a talk by Gruna about Susice and what happened to the scrolls and the synagogue that housed them. The town, which she left at age 19, was very much like the small NJ community where she lives, she told NJJN. “Everybody knew you, and you knew everything that was going on.”
The discussion will be followed by a procession, with both Holocaust survivors and young people from the congregation carrying the scrolls into the sanctuary, said the rabbi. “It will be open to the whole community, including members of local churches and, possibly, others from all across the state.”
The rabbi said he expects that the impact of the program on local community members will bring “a new perspective on the Holocaust. Yom HaShoa is always a sad event because of the atrocities done to our people,” and a time to pay tribute to instances of “individual courage that enabled some people to survive.”
“But the reality is the survivors will not be here much longer, and this program will show that we need to talk about the Holocaust forever.”