The Jewish Trail – the history of Jihlava’s Jews

The Haberská Road, connecting Prague with Vienna, was an important road in our territory. It passed through the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands via a ford over the Jihlava River, where the Slavic settlement of Jihlava with the Church of St. John the Baptist (Kostel sv. Jana Křtitele) was located on a hill on the left bank of the river at the beginning of the 13th century. Thanks to the discovery of silver deposits in the vicinity, the German colonisation of the area, and the construction of the royal upper town of Jihlava in the area above the right bank of the river of the same name took place before the middle of the 13th century. There can be no doubt that the town did not escape the attention of Jewish merchants and traders, who not only stopped by there, but also settled and traded briskly. This was made possible by the 1262 Statuta Judeorumcode issued by King Ottokar II of Bohemia, and later by the 1345 charter issued by Charles, the Margrave of Moravia, which ordered the residents of Jihlava to accept all Jews, especially those from Brno, in the town. They settled in Platea Judeorum, Židovská Street, where they built a synagogue, a school, a bathhouse, and their own houses. In May 1353, a great fire broke out in the town. The flames destroyed all the town's documents, including the town books and records of the local Jewish community, including the records of about one hundred Jewish inhabitants who lived and did business there. The end of the local Jewish community was brought about by Albrecht, Margrave of Moravia, who had all Jews expelled from the town in early 1425 for allegedly collaborating with the heretical Hussites. The Jews took refuge in nearby villages and serf towns. Their traces can be found in Puklice, Trhová Brtnice, Střítež, Větrný Jeníkov, Úsobí, Třešť, Batelov, and Telč.

The houses on Židovská Street were acquired by Catholics and the synagogue was to become the Chapel of Corpus Christi, All Saints and 10,000 Martyrs (Kaple Božího těla, všech svatých a 10 000 mučedníků), which was confirmed by Pope Martin V in his 1427 deed. However, the chapel was only reconstructed and consecrated in 1511 thanks to Merbot, a burgher from Jihlava, who also established an infirmary next to the chapel. Later on, the chapel was desecrated by Protestants and used as a treasury. During the 19th century, it became a stable for horses from the nearby inn, which had served Jewish travellers as early as the 14th century. In 1870, the corner part of the former synagogue was demolished and the Jewish tycoon and senior councillor Franz Müller had a luxurious two-storey restaurant with a flat built on the vacant site. The remaining part of the former synagogue was used as a house. In the 1960s, the buildings on this site were demolished, including most of Židovská Street.

The Jews living around Jihlava did not just do business where they lived. From the 16th century, pedlars from Třešť, Batelov, and Úsobí visited the local town estates. After the Swedish occupation of Jihlava, Jewish merchants even travelled freely around the town, which the City Council complained about in 1648. From 1708–1782, Jews had to pay a toll of 15 and later 17 kreutzers to be able to enter Jihlava. Door-to-door sales were banned for them, with the exception of selling at annual markets. They had to enter the city individually, exclusively through the Gate of the Mother of God, where they were charged a toll. They were not allowed to stay in the town for a long time and had to spend the night outside the town. The Taubenkobelswirthshaus Inn (the Dovecote), built by Jihlava maltsters in 1775, was used for this purpose. After 14 years, the inn was purchased by Johann Smutny. He decided to add a storey to the ground floor, and to create a special room on the ground floor, "das Judenzimmer", with three windows facing the courtyard and a special entrance at the end of the passage. On weekdays, the room served as a Jewish dining hall, the Jewish kitchen was in the adjacent room, and had a separate entrance from the garden. On the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays, the 8 × 4 metre space was used by Jews as a prayer room. Another large local of the Dovecote, with a second kitchen, was separated from the areas for Jews. The house designs were drawn and the construction was carried out by the town builder Johann Michael Thoma. In 1868, the inn was demolished along with the neighbouring house and replaced by Hotel Czap, later Morawetz, Jihlava Court (Jihlavský dvůr), Deutsches Haus, and finally the Workers’ House (Dělnický dům).

In 1780, Nathan Pinkas, a Jewish merchant, received a special permit to reside in the town permanently. He established a major tobacco warehouse there. Similar permission was granted in 1795 to Isaak Kern and Jakob Lichtenstern, wick makers. Johann Bondy, a prominent Jewish merchant, set up a Jewish foundation for the poor in Jihlava in 1808. Its purpose was to help poor people from Třebíč, Velké Meziříčí, and Brtnice, while one sixth of the proceeds was given to the poor in Jihlava, where Bondy died on 9. 1. 1809. Also worthy of mention is the Jihlava Latin Grammar School (Latinské gymnázium), which was also attended by Jewish students. In 1837, there were 15,843 inhabitants in Jihlava, of which only 17 were Jews.

In 1848, Jews gained freedom of movement and residence, followed by state citizenship in 1867, which meant the same rights as those enjoyed by other inhabitants in Bohemia and Moravia. In 1861, the Jewish Religious Association, Cultusverein, was founded in Jihlava and Moritz Leopold Baruch, a native of Třešť, became its chairman. A year later, the association was upgraded to the Jewish Religious Community, Cultusgemeinde. In 1863, the new local synagogue was inaugurated. In 1864, the Jihlava directory listed one local inn with a public Jewish kitchen for the last time. The innkeeper Bernard Mahler, father of the musical genius Gustav Mahler, was one of the members of the Jewish community committee. Its first rabbi from 1860–1912 was PhDrJoachim Jakob Unger.

In 1870, the Chevra Kadisha fraternal burial society was established. The Šir Zion synagogue choir was of particular importance. The Hanukkah Society actively worked to provide clothes for poor pupils. Another such organisation was the Jewish Ladies' Association (Israelitischer Frauenverein) founded in 1866, which had 175 members. The Jewish Association of Theodor Herzl, Jüdischer Volksverein, Theodor Herzl, with Richard Weissenstein as its first chairman, operated from 1906 and had 102 members from the beginning. The Jewish Academic Holiday Association of Hasmonea (Jüdisch-Akademische Ferialverbindung Hasmonäa) was founded in 1909, with 23 members and Walter Pollak, a student, as its chairman. Another youth association was the Makabi sports club (Iglauer Jüdische Turn- und Sport-Verein) founded in 1910, which owned the tennis court on what is now Štefánikovo Square and also had a football and athletics club. In May 1919, the Association of Czech Jews for the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands (Spolek českých Židů pro Českomoravskou vysočinu) was founded, headed by JUDrAlois Feigl, a lawyer based in Jihlava. The association comprised 95 members from Jihlava and more than 200 others from the whole Vysočina region. On 1. 11. 1919, the association convened the first Czech-Jewish National Congress in Prague. In Jihlava itself, Jewish children could be sent to Czech schools, including the Grammar School, and the lecture activities of the association were meritorious and rich. In 1921, the Techeleth Lavau Jewish Scout Association (Spolek židovských skautů Techeleth Lavau) was founded in Jihlava by MUDrSigmund Werner, a dentist and general practitioner.

In connection with the new organisation of the Jewish Religious Community in Moravia in 1895, the community in Jihlava grew to include the entire Jihlava judicial district, i.e. 31 municipalities including Jihlava. In 1900, there were 1,468 Jews registered in Jihlava, 27 in Dřevěné Mlýny, 9 in Handlovy Dvory, 9 in Hosov, 6 in Hruškové Dvory, 5 in Jamné, 3 in Kostelec, 5 in Kozlov, 16 in Puklice, 29 in Velký Beranov, and 4 in Vysoké Studnice.

During the First World War, 33 Jews from Jihlava perished. Their names are listed on a memorial plaque in the local Jewish cemetery. In 1921, the synagogue was repaired and the foundation house at Benešova Street 30, bequeathed to the community by the Jewish couple Jan and Marie Lewit from Větrný Jeníkov, tenants of the local distillery and brewery, was rebuilt for the needs of the local Jewish Religious Community. The first floor of the house contained two clubrooms, an assembly hall where the synagogue choir rehearsed, and a winter prayer room, while the second floor contained the rabbi's flat.

After 1931, the Jewish Religious Community Council changed for the last time. The manufacturer Richard Weissenstein was elected its chairman, the merchant JUDrOtto Seidner was the deputy, the position of assessors was in the hands of the freight forwarder Karl Bondi, the lawyer JUDrAlois Feigl, commercial council and director of the company Humanic Karel Kačer and the merchant Berthold Ornstein, while JUc. Karel Meisel was the treasurer. After the declaration of the Protectorate in March 1939, Meisel was appointed as the representative of the Jews in the entire Oberlandrat Iglau, and for this purpose he had sole access to the Gestapo in Jihlava, where one of the departments oversaw the "final solution to the Jewish question” ("Endlösung der Judenfrage"), including the transport of all Jews from Jihlava to prisons and concentration camps. The new seat of the Jewish Religious Community and JUc. Meisel became the ground floor of the residential building at what is now Palackého Street 30, where Jews would come to get information and hand over various valuables, including driving licences and car keys.

From 1939, 538 Jewish inhabitants were moved from Jihlava to Prague. Their flats were inventoried, assessed by an expert, and the furnishings moved to warehouses in the Students’ Mill (Studentský Mlýn) in Heulos and to the Jewish Lang’s factory in Staré Hory near Jihlava. Precious Persian carpets and luxury furniture ended up in warehouses of the Jewish shipping company Bondi. There were only two Jewish shops for Jewish inhabitants in Jihlava, a butcher's shop at what is now Palackého Street 3 and a bakery at Mrštíkova Street 30. Other repressive measures included the expulsion of 9 Jewish doctors from the hospital and from their surgeries in Jihlava and the expulsion of 13 lawyers and notaries from the entire Oberlandrat Iglau. Most of them became factory workers or labourers cleaning up the city. All Jewish teachers and professors had to leave schools, no Jewish employees were allowed to work in pharmacies, all Jewish shops and trades were closed, and the German administration replaced the Jews with Aryans, mainly Germans. All Jewish factories suffered a similar fate. Some of them focused on war production, such as the shoe company Humanic, which produced parts for the V-1 and V-2 rockets, the Adam-Seidner knitwear company, which switched to packaging for explosives, and Lang’s weaving mill, which repaired aircraft engines. The Jewish residents of Jihlava had to leave all offices and were not allowed to use the city transport, swimming pools, spas, parks, sports facilities, libraries, cinemas, or theatres. They were not allowed to use the pavement, and had to walk next to it, and had to have a Star of David sewn on the left side of their clothes on a yellow background with the inscription JUDE.

There were 1,090 Jewish inhabitants in Jihlava in 1869, a total of 1,415 inhabitants in 1880 and a total of 1,897 inhabitants in 1890. In 1900, the Jewish Religious Community of Jihlava had 1,468 members. The 1921 census recorded 1,126 Jewish inhabitants in Jihlava, of whom 196 persons stated Czech nationality, 441 German, 486 Jewish, and 3 Slovak. In 1930, there were 1,025 Jews living in Jihlava. On 17. 8. 1940, the regional councillor Fiechtner reported to the Reich Protector that 12,477 Germans, 17,727 Czechs, and 435 Jews lived in Jihlava. On 30. 9. 1941, according to the registry, only 20 Jewish inhabitants were left in Jihlava. From Třebíč, where all the Jews from the entire Jihlava region had to be concentrated, two transports left for Terezín. On 18. 5. 1942, the Av transport departed, of which 678 people perished in various concentration camps and only 42 lived to see the liberation. This was followed by transport Aw on 22. 5. 1942, of which 632 people died and only 18 survived. More than 150 people were dragged by the Gestapo directly into prisons and concentration camps. Most survivors came from mixed marriages. The Jews had to leave them for Hagibor in Prague at the end of 1944 and for Terezín at the beginning of 1945. Their non-Jewish partners were interned in mixed-race camps and worked in factories and fields.

After the war, attempts to renew the former local Jewish Religious Community and some other Jewish associations were futile. The necessary number of co-religionists did not return to Jihlava. Based on the decision of the Ministry of Education and Enlightenment of 30. 9. 1946, the Jihlava community became the sole representative of the lost Jewish communities in Dačice, Jemnice, Slavonice, Telč, Třešť, Třebíč, and Velké Meziříčí. On 6. 11. 1948, the District National Committee in Jihlava received a notice that a joint rabbinate for Kolín, Poděbrady, Hradec Králové, Pardubice, and Jihlava had been established, with Kolín as its headquarters and DrFeder as the rabbi. At that time, there were only a few dozen people of the Jewish faith living in Jihlava, some of whom left or emigrated abroad, mainly to Israel, after 1948. As late as 1951, the Regional National Committee and the regional headquarters of the State Security (StB) monitored the closure of the Jewish Associations in Havlíčkův Brod, Polná, Humpolec, Pelhřimov, Třešť, Velké Meziříčí, Moravské Budějovice, Žďár nad Sázavou, Třebíč, Nová Cerekev, and Ledeč nad Sázavou.


Objects on the trail