Generations tied together by eventful 120-year history of family Torah scroll
Sam Vecht, with the scroll, alongside father Philip and grandfather Romeo
When Sam Vecht reads his barmitzvah portion next Shabbat, he will use a very special Sefer Torah scroll - one that has passed down five generations of his family, and in the process has been hidden from the Nazis, been shot at and even had its own seat on an El Al flight.
The scroll was commissioned by Sam's great-great-grandfather, Aaron Vecht, when he moved his family to Australia in 1890.
"He was very Orthodox and needed his own scroll for the journey," said Sam's father, Philip Vecht, from north-west London. "The family later moved to Antwerp. When Aaron died in 1909, it was handed down to the oldest of his 10 children."
When the Nazis invaded in 1940, the family hid the scroll from the Gestapo, who regularly searched their home.
"My father was a young child at the time. He remembers them bashing on kitchen chairs and bayoneting the mattresses, but they never found the scroll," Philip said.
His father, Dr Romeo Vecht, added: “After the war, the Germans came back in December 1944 for one final battle.
“We had to flee in a big hurry – the only possession my father took was the Sefer. Our car was shot at but the Torah survived.”
Over the next 70 years, the Torah passed from Synagogues and minyans in Belgium, London and Israel.
Sam's great-great-grandfather Aaron Vecht (back centre) with his family
Dr Vecht moved to London at the age of 18 and, as the only son, soon inherited the Torah, which he leant to Lauderdale Road Synagogue for children’s services. When he made Aliyah six years ago, he took the scroll with him, using it to start his own minyan in Caesarea.
Now it is back in London, ready for Sam to read from it at St John's Wood Synagogue.
Philip, who leyned from the same scroll at the same shul 32 years ago, said: "It will be incredibly poignant. The scroll forms a connection between all our generations. It adds an extra closeness to our family."