Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Community of the Czech Torah

This is the story of a Holocaust Scroll maintained in honor of the lost Jewish community of Německy Brod of Bohemia/Moravia, Czechoslovakia, by Congregation Kehillat Israel of Lansing, Michigan.

As you can see from the panel on the right, we have much more to do to learn about the scroll's origins, its history, and the people who used our Czech Torah. Members of our synagogue have learned a number of facts about the town, Německy Brod (renamed Havlíčkův Brod in 1945), where it was used by the local Jewish community for perhaps five to six generations.

In 2004, the Jewish Museum in Prague began a project called “Neighbors Who Disappeared,” and enlisted the elementary and secondary schools of the country in researching the lost Jewish communities of the Czech Republic. One school, the elementary school in Štoky, focused on the Jewish community of Německy Brod (Štoky is located 12 km south of Havlíčkův Brod).

The students produced a poster which we have translated into English here: ( that provides some very interesting information about the town's Jewish population in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They also produced a 44-page booklet containing the results of their research on one Jewish family, the Pachners, who lived in Německy Brod from the late nineteenth century until the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in the early 1940s. We have translated the brochure into English here:

The school's project page is located here: ( From this page, which duplicates some of the material from the brochure, we can locate the names of other families who were members of the Německy Brod Jewish community.

The Pachners were not the only prominent Jewish citizens of Německý Brod. The families of two of the Mahler brothers, Filip and Josef, respectively owned and operated a major textile mill and a large mercantile business. You might be familiar with the Mahler name: Gustav Mahler, the famous composer, was a nephew of the Mahler brothers of Německý Brod. You can read more about the life of the Mahlers here:

Much more information about the Jewish history of the Bohemia/Moravia Highlands, the location of Německý Brod, may be found on this page:

The purpose of this blog is to collect as much information about the Jews of Německy Brod and to attempt to trace any surviving descendants of those who lived there prior to World War II, and to learn as much as we can about their synagogue and its Torah, as discussed in the panel on the right. You can help by posting comments with any information that you may be able to find or links to sites that contain any related information.

Visit the Kehillat Israel site for additional information about the scroll and for instructions about how to contribute to a fund for its repair here:

Letter from Havlíčkův Brod

KI has received the following message from a resident of Německý Brod who might be the last known person to have seen the Torah in use.

Dear friends,

Let me introduce myself—my name is Jiří Koref and I live in Havlíčkův Brod (Německý Brod till 1945) where I was born in 1932.

There was the Jewish oratory in our house. Older members of the Jewish community (including my grandfather Alois Koref) led the worship because of the absence of a rabbi in our city. I remember brown wooden pews for approximately 60 persons.

I was a young boy in this time, that’s why I don´t remember the Torah, but my grandfather and my father used the Torah very often.

The oratory was closed after the German occupation in 1939 and the persecution of Jews began. We moved to Prague in 1940 and all the family was sent to the Nazi concentration camp Terezin.

Twenty-three of my close relatives were killed by Nazis from 1940 till 1945. My grandfather Alois Koref was the oldest one and he died of starvation in Terezin when he was 78. My cousin Věra Korefová, the youngest relative (she was 9 years old), and her parents were killed by Nazis in the Auschwitz gas chamber.

I studied at the medical faculty of the Charles University after the war. I worked as a resident at the department of dermatology in Havlíčkův Brod then and I led this department from 1974 till 1993. I am a retiree at this time.

I’m very glad that our Torah has survived and it’s in the hands of good people, now. I wish all the best to your community and I hope that the Torah will be felicitous for you.

Best regards,

Jiří Koref M.D.