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Jewish Families from Brno (Brünn), Moravia, Czech Republic

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This project seeks to list representatives of all of the Jewish families from the Moravian town of Brno (Brünn) in the Czech Republic.

BRNO (Ger. Bruenn), capital of Moravia, Czech Republic. A community was established there in the first half of the 13th century by Jews invited by the margrave of Moravia. A charter granted in 1254 guaranteed protection to Jewish lives and property, freed Jews from restrictions on trade and occupations, and exempted them from wearing distinguishing dress; the community had to contribute a quarter of the amount required for the upkeep of the city fortifications. The charter was renewed in 1268 and incorporated in the city statutes in 1276. There were about 1,000 Jews living in Brno in 1348. A charter granted in 1345 encouraged Jewish settlement. There was then a Jewish quarter with its own "Jews' Gate." Jewish tombstones have been discovered dating from 1373. In the first half of the 15th century Israel *Bruna officiated as rabbi. The Jews were expelled from Brno in 1454, after John of *Capistrano preached there, and were formally excluded from Brno until 1848 by the privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis. Individual Jews, however, paid for permission to attend the markets in the city with an admission fee. This license was extended in 1627 and 1648, but curtailed in 1661. A special inn (leased in 1724 by Jacob Dobruschka) was assigned for Jewish travelers who were officially permitted to spend one night in the city, but often stayed longer illegally. In 1706 the authorities prohibited Jews from holding religious services in public, although these services were tolerated in private. There were then 52 Jews living in Brno. In 1722 the chief representative of Moravian Jewry, the Landesjudensollicitator, was permitted to settle near the city gate. The exclusion of the Jews from Brno was renewed in 1745. In 1764 the brothers Hoenig took over the city bank but in the following year, when two of the brothers were permitted to lease houses in Brno, there was an outbreak of rioting. In 1769 Solomon Dobruschka received permission to hold services in his house and to keep a "small" Torah scroll there. However, the authorities still made attempts to prevent the holding of services in public and in 1812 levied a special tax for "keeping a Torah."

A Hebrew printing press was set up in Brno in 1753 by Franz Joseph Neumann. Jacob *Frank lived in Brno between 1773 and 1786. Following the revolution of 1848 the Jewish community was organized and received official recognition in 1859. The first rabbi was David Ashkenazi. A cemetery was consecrated in 1852, and a synagogue built in 1855. Baruch *Placzek, when rabbi of Brno, also held the title of *Landesrabbiner from 1884 until his death in 1922, when it was discontinued. Jewish industrialists, such as Lazar *Auspitz, Julius Ritter von *Gomperz, Loew-Beer, and others, played an important part in developing the textile industry in Brno. During World War I about 16,000 refugees from Eastern Europe were received by the community and many remained there after the war. The Jewish school network established there included the only Jewish high school in western Czechoslovakia. The Jewish population numbered 134 in 1834; 2,230 in 1859; 4,505 in 1869; 7,809 in 1890; and 10,202 (6.9% of the total population) in 1930, of whom 3,295 declared their nationality to be Jewish. Jewish students from Eastern Europe studied at the University of Brno between the two world wars. Largely members of Zionist student groups, they influenced the local Jewish youth in the national spirit. Brno was the seat of the Juedischer Buch- und Kunstverlag and the weekly Juedische Volksstimme, founded by Max *Hickl.

During World War II the mass deportation of Jews from Brno and its surrounding commenced on Nov. 26, 1941, when 1,000 Jews were sent to the Minsk ghetto. Another 2,000 were sent to Theresienstadt on Dec. 2 and 5, and 7,000 more were deported between Jan. 28 and May 27, 1942, most perishing in Auschwitz. A memorial plaque to the Jewish victims of Nazism deported from Brno has been affixed to the building where the transports of deportees were concentrated. The survivors who returned to Brno after the Holocaust numbered 1,033 in 1948. The Orthodox synagogue (built in 1932) was restored in the 1950s and was in use in 1968. The rabbi of Brno, Richard *Feder, in 1969 was also chief rabbi of Bohemia and Moravia. The community numbered c. 500 in 1959 and c. 700 in 1969, but by the early 2000s the number had dropped to slightly less than 300. The community was responsible for the management of 10 synagogues and 45 cemeteries throughout Moravia, including restoration work.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Engel, in: JGGJČ, 2 (1930), 50; Kahan, ibid., 9 (1938), 62, 90, 141; M. Brunner, in: H. Gold (ed.) Die Juden und Judengemeinden Maehrens in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (1929), 137–72; L. Levy, ibid., 23–29; B. Bretholz, Quellen zur Geschichte der Juden in Maehren (1935), index; idem, Geschichte der Juden in Maehren im Mittelalter, 1 (1934), index; idem, Geschichte der Stadt Bruenn, 1 (1911), 363–81; Rabinowicz, in: JQR 75 Years Anniversary Volume (1967), 429–45; Pick, in: The Jews of Czechoslovakia, 1 (1968), 359–438; A. Charim, Die toten Gemeinden (1966), 29–36; Cada, in: Festschrift Guido Kisch (1955), 261ff.; W. Mueller, Urkundliche Beitraege zur Geschichte der Maehrischen Judenschaft (1903); Germ Jud, 2 (1968), 137–40; Freimann, in: ZHB, 20 (1917), 34–44; A. Hellmann, in: A. Engel (ed.), Gedenkbuch des Juedischen Museums (1936), 131ff.

The history of the Jewish Community of Brno

The first record of the presence of the Jews in the region of Brno dates back to the mid-13th century. Thanks to the Royal Prerogative granted by King Ottokar II of Bohemia the Jewish self-government was constituted in 1333. The Jewish settlement was situated in the south part of the city, around the lower part of the present-day Masaryk Street. The Jewish gate (Fig.1) used to stand where now the Masaryk Street opens towards the central railway station.

The Jewish Community was autonomous. It ran its council hall and a school. The cemetery was situated outside the city fortifications. A disastrous change came in 1454, when King Ladislaus V (Ladislaus the Posthumous) ordered the Jews to be banished from the royal cities. The period of almost 400 years when the Jews were not allowed to settle within the territory of the city of Brno began. Smaller concessions were made during the 17 th century, such as allowing the Jews to enter the city on payment in order to sell their goods on the markets. However when two-day fairs were held, the Jews were not allowed to enter the city before eleven o’clock the first day and had to leave before two o’clock on the other day. They were allowed to enter the city through the Jewish Gate (Fig.2) only and they were not permitted to sleep over within the city walls, only in a herberk (a coaching inn) in the suburb (where the present-day Křenová Street is).

The 19th century brought a rapid growth in the textile industry. The factory-owners Jakub Häller, Löw-Beer, Samson Franckel and Israel Popper were among the leading textilists. Another impulse was the construction of the North Railroad from Vienna to Brno and further to Bochnia in the then-Galicia (in Central-Eastern Europe).

But it is no sooner than in the revolutionary year of 1848 when the essential changes occur. The Jews are allowed to settle wherever they want; they can marry without any limitations (1849), carry on any trade or profession and enjoy the freedom of belief.

One of the first steps the newly established community took was acquiring a strip of land for a new Jewish cemetery. The cemetery was opened in Brno-Židenice in 1852. The first modern synagogue – the Synagogue Maior – built in Romanesque Revival style was finished as soon as 1855 (Fig.3) It was the first building in Brno equipped with electric lighting. German Nazis burnt down the Synagogue Maior on the 16th of March 1939. The Religious Society, the predecessor of the Jewish Religious Community, was established in 1858 and Philipp Gomperz was elected its first chairman. The Jewish Religious Community of Brno was established in 1859.

Baruch Jacob Placzek was appointed its rabbi and remained at the post until his death in 1922. Not only was he one of the notable personalities of the Jewish world, but he was also a renowned naturalist. Gradually, a mikvah and a matzah bakery were built in Brno and a temple for orthodox Jews of the Eastern type opened in Křenová Street, called the Polish Temple. The population of the Jewish community had reached as many as 7,087 by the end of the 19th century.

The New Synagogue was built in Ponávka Street (Fig.4) in 1904. Several thousand of refugees from Galicia came to Brno during WWI. At the time the new Czech Republic was established, the Jewish institutions were all in a compact area in present-day streets tř. Kpt. Jaroše (formerly Legionářská) and Koliště. The Nazis later displaced the administrative to the house at 31 Legionářská Street, while the social and charity institutions resided in the Wiesner Foundation house at 3 Legionářská Street. The house at 54 Štefánikova Street was used as an old people’s home, an orphanage was situated at 46 Křenová Street until 1927 and in the recent-day Hybešova Street a Jewish grammar school opened. The Agudas achim synagogue was built in Skořepka Street in 1936. The Makkabi sports ground was situated at Brno Riviéra.

The Jewish population in Brno reached 11,102 in September 1941. Over 10,000 Jews were deported to Terezín in 13 transports. The very first transport, referred to as “F”, departed to Minsk in November 1941; the last one, “Dg”, headed for Terezín in June 1943. The point of departure was the elementary school in Merhautova Street. On the house a memorial plaque can be seen (Fig.5). Mere 700 survived of all those who were deported.