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The Walter Fried Holocaust Memorial Scroll

Beth Israel Synagogue is the proud custodian of the Walter Fried Holocaust Memorial Scroll. The scroll is Number 806 of 1564 Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) stolen from the Jews of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) by the Nazis between 1939 and 1945. After the war, these scrolls were housed in a derelict synagogue in Prague before being acquired by the Westminster Synagogue in London and are now part of the Memorial Scrolls Trust. The Trust has distributed many of these Sifrei Torah to synagogues all over the world to serve as a living memorials to the Holocaust in individual Jewish communities.

Beth Israel took possession of this scroll on permanent, indefinite loan in 1984 through the work of its spiritual leader, Rabbi Michael Manson. Rabbi Manson worked with members of the family of Walter Fried. Walter’s mother Elsa was born outside the Czech town of Klatovy. Walter visited Klatovy many times in his youth and the cousins who facilitated his and his family’s escape from the Nazis came from Klatovy. Jews had lived in that town since the 15th century and numbered over 1000 souls toward the end of the 19th century. At the time of the Nazi occupation those numbers dwindled to around 300. They were all deported to extermination camps in the fall on 1942. None returned.

Walter Fried was a pillar of the Beth Israel Community, serving as its president and its treasurer at his untimely passing. He held leadership positions in the Kiwanis Club, the United Synagogue and the March of Dimes. Rabbi Manson said of him, “Few people have done so much in such short time granted to them. But very, very few have done all this with so much love, with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their might.”

As a memorial to Walter, Rabbi Manson and his family sought out this Torah, written in the 19th century and the possession of the Jews of Klatovy. It arrived here in December 1983. On May 20, 1984, it was dedicated in a ceremony attended by Wallingford Mayor William Dickinson and US Congressman Sam Gejdenson. In his remarks on that occasion, Walter’s son Jordan said

Our new Torah, brought to us by the memory of all of us for my father, signifies his faith in Judaism and the Jewish people and his belief that we should remember our past, not to brood, but to temper our existence while looking forward and forging a better future.

The Walter Fried Holocaust Memorial Torah is housed in our synagogue’s lobby in a beautiful cabinet designed and built by Bernard Frydenberg, himself a Holocaust survivor. On Yom Kippur it is held by Walter’s son David along with the rest of our congregation’s Sifrie Torah during our Kol Nidre prayers. It has also been used on the Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies of Walter’s grandchildren. We hold it in sacred trust to the memory of Walter Fried and to the Jews of Klatovy.

To learn more about this scroll and the other rescued scrolls, visit the website of the Memorial Scrolls Trust.

Sun, November 27 2022 3 Kislev 5783