Remembering the Jewish community in Blatná
Woodford and Blatná
In 1964 the Memorial Scrolls Trust purchased 1,564 Torah Scrolls from the communist government in what was then Czechoslovakia and brought them to London. The Torah Scrolls had been brought together during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and remained unused during the communist occupation. Many of the Torah Scrolls came from Jewish communities that were lost in the Holocaust and Synagogues destroyed by the Nazis. Some of the Torah Scrolls have since been sent on permanent loan to Synagogues around the world – one of them, a Torah Scroll from the now non-existent Jewish community of Blatná (now in the Czech republic), is on loan to Woodford Liberal Synagogue.
In 2011, thanks to a donation from the Sclaire family, a new mantle was made for our Blatná scroll. The mantle has 26 gold stars one for each of the 26 members of the Jewish community transported from Blatná in November 1942 – only one is known to have survived. Every year in November, we hold a memorial service when we remember those lost from Blatná and we use the Torah Scroll from their community.
This year the memorial service was held over the weekend of 21/22 November; it included an exhibition of photographs, letters, and other material from Blatná. We are grateful to Helena and Chris Underhill who provided material for the exhibition and provided personal testimonies from their recent research into the Jewish community of Blatná.
Helena came to Woodford earlier in the week to put the exhibition together, she was helped by Judita Berndorff – a former resident of Blatná – Judita will be writing an article for the Blatná paper about our memorial service.
Judita attended the service on Friday evening, while Helena and Chris attended both of the weekend’s services.
Many of the old black and white images used in the exhibition were taken from a book by Dr Slonim (see next paragraph). Newer ones were taken by Helena and Chris during their recent visit to Blatná where they met Dr Slonim and his wife.
Bringing Blatná To Life
During the services Chris read passages from his translation of a book by Dr Dimitrij Slonim about the Jews from Blatná and surrounding areas. Dr Slonim knew all the Jews in Blatná, his father was a Russian Jew who escaped from the communists in 1917. He grew up in Blatná with his grandparents, and the Germans didn’t know that his father was Jewish. His grandfather was arrested on 1/9/1939 together with Emil Kohn and other officials from Blatná.
Chris told us about:
Emil Beck a shopkeeper and a keen football supporter who put his wireless on a table outside of his shop so that others could listen to matches.
Emil Kohn who was murdered a few weeks after being arrested in September 1939 – the first Jew from Blatná to be killed in the Holocaust.
Erna Kohn who invited all his friends into the family shop in 1940 so that they could all eat together one last time and use up all the food before the Nazis took all the food away; his friend would end the dinner by shouting out insults about Hitler in the town square!
Hedvika Blochová known to everyone as Auntie Blochová who, before the invasion, always had sweets for children and clothes or food for the poor; she was a friend of Dr Slonim’s grandmother who shortly before the mass transport asked Dr Slonim to pray for poor Auntie Blochová.
Woodford was always under the impression that there were no survivors of the Jewish community from Blatná who were transported to Theresienstadt/Terezin and then on to Auschwitz or other camps. However, in his book Dr Slonim remembers “a pale girl Eva Druckerová – the only survivor of the 1942 transport”. He is in touch with her now through her son who lives in Canada.
The Services and Har Nof
Both our Erev Shabbat and Shabbat services recalled the names of those from Blatná who perished in the Holocaust. It was also a time to pause and remember the five victims earlier this week from Har Nof in Jerusalem. Four were killed whilst praying in a Synagogue and the fifth a Druze police officer was the first officer on the scene. Rabbi Jacobi read out the names of the Har Nof victims – on Friday Judita Berndorff, and on Saturday Helena Underhill, read the names of the Blatná victims. As they did so members of the Woodford community came forward to place stones next to the Blatná scroll.
Restoring The Blatná Scroll
The Blatná scroll on loan to Woodford is currently being restored by Soferet Aviel Barclay so having the scroll back at Woodford meant that we could see how the restoration work is progressing. A restoration that will ensure that the scroll is usable for many years to come – and in so doing we will always remember the community that lived in harmony with their neighbours in Blatná.
Memorial Weekend Photographs
Helena, Judita and their guest took a number of photographs after the services – they have kindly shared some of them with us.