PRAGUE (May. 28)
Jews from six congregations around the world plan to gather soon in a Czech town to remember a transport that has become known as the Lost Train of Kolin.
The train left the town of Bohusovice, near the Terezin transit camp, on June 13, 1942. No record exists of its final destination or the fate that awaited its occupants.
It was one of three transports arranged by the Nazis in reprisal for the assassination about a week earlier of Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s chief SS official in Prague and a key architect of the “Final Solution.”
The Lost Train of Kolin was last known to have reached Poland, but no one survived to tell the story. Historians are still trying to learn the train’s final destination.
Now, exactly 60 years later, Jewish congregations from the United States, England and Israel will pay homage to those who never came back.
The three-day event, from June 7 to 9, has the support of officials in Kolin.
The congregations taking part are B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Glenview, Ill.; Temple Emanuel in Denver; Cape Cod Synagogue in Hyannis, Mass.; Temple Sholom in Floral Park, N.Y.; synagogue Tifferet Shalom in Ramat Aviv, Israel; and the Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue in London.
Each of the congregations has a Torah scroll from Kolin, a town where today only one Jewish person remains.
The visitors want the townspeople to remember that Jews were a part of Kolin’s lifeblood for 600 years.
The trip’s co-organizer, Michael Heppner of the Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue, said the visitors would remember all of the 480 Kolin Jews who died in various death camps, but focus on the 43 who were on that lost train.
“The names of those 43 are going to be spoken as if they were standing there,” said Heppner.
“The event is to honor those who died because there is no one left in the town to do it. We have taken on the role of being their descendants who honor and remember them as individual people, not just as part of an anonymous 6 million.”
“Secondly, we want the people of Kolin and their leaders to realize that the Jews keep coming back. They may live thousands of miles away, but they keep coming back,” Heppner added.
The event is being co-organized by Hana Greenfield, a Kolin-born Israeli who was one of 50 Jews taken off the train, along with her sister, Irene, before it left Bohusovice.
Their lives were spared only because of the Nazis’ ruthless efficiency. After the Nazis found that 1,050 Jews were on a transport ordered to take just 1,000, 50 were selected at random and made to walk the two miles to Terezin dragging their luggage.
Of more than 1,500 Torah scrolls from across wartime Czechoslovakia that were rescued nearly 40 years ago from the abandoned Michle Synagogue in Prague by the Czech Memorial Scrolls Trust, 18 congregations holding Kolin scrolls have so far been traced.
Last year, representatives of 22 Jewish congregations and institutions from the United States and Britain gathered in Chicago for a workshop to share the legacy of those scrolls.
The conference was held under the auspices of the Czech Torah Network, a group dedicated to showing congregations how they can explore the legacy of their Czech connection.