HOLESOV (Czech Holešov; Ger. Holleschau), town in Moravia, Czech Republic. A Jew was mentioned in the town in 1391. A community was founded in the first half of the 16th century; its only relic is the breastplate of a Torah scroll of 1549, as the synagogue and all archives were destroyed in a fire. The synagogue was rebuilt in 1560. There were 50 Jewish houses in Holesov in 1629, and the oldest known tombstone dates from 1647. At the Holesov synod of 1653 the 311 takkanot of Moravian Jewry were emended. The community was at its height under the leadership of R. Shabbetai b. Meir ha-Cohen (1648-62). In connection with Maria Theresa's plan to expel the Jews from Moravia (1742), the synagogue and its silver were seized and the notables arrested. Persecution, the Familiants Law, and anti-Jewish measures forced many a Holesov Jew to seek new homes, and a good number of them settled in Upper Hungary (Slovakia of today). Among other places of settlement, they founded in 1720 the congregation of Liptovsky Mikulas. For 10 years they continued to belong to the mother town, and used to go there for the High Holidays.
In 1774, when a Christian maidservant was found murdered in a Jewish house, the Catholic clergy saved the household from the mob by surrounding the building with altars. There were 194 Jewish families (1,032 persons) living in 49 houses in Holesov in 1794, as against 554 Christian families (2,973 persons) dwelling in 256 houses. In the 19th century Holesov was one of Moravia's politische Gemeinden, the local lord serving as the mayor. In 1869 the community numbered 1,764 and in 1893, a new synagogue was constructed, built in Moorish style and designed by the noted architect Jakob Gartner (who designed several other synagogues, including the Status Quo synagogue in Trnava, Slovakia.)
As a result of antisemitic riots in 1899 many Jewish families left the town. During disturbances on Dec. 4, 1918, all but three Jewish shops were plundered and two Jews were killed. From 1,200 Jewish inhabitants in 1914, the community declined to 273 (4% of the total population) in 1930.
Under the Nazi occupation, 200 Jewish families were deported from Holesov to extermination camps, with almost no survivors returning to the town. The "New Synagogue", built in 1893, was torched and destroyed by the Nazi occupiers in 1941-42. The synagogue appurtenances were later transferred to the Central Jewish Museum in Prague.
After World War II a small community was reestablished, affiliated to the Kyjov community. The Jewish quarter was restored, including the cemetery and the old synagogue, which from 1964 housed a museum of Moravian Jewry, a branch of the Jewish State Museum in Prague. Community records, ḥevra kaddisha statutes, and other documents covering the years from 1653 to 1914 were preserved in the National Library in Jerusalem and in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Johanan b. Isaac, rabbi of the Hambro Synagogue of the London Ashkenazi community at the beginning of the 18th century, was a native of Holesov, as was Gerson Wolf, the historian.
The surviving Shakh synagogue, on Příční Street, is now a tourist attraction. Originally built in 1560, it was later named for Rabbi Shabtai ben Meir Kohen, known as Shakh, a noted scholar who served as rabbi here from 1648 to his death in 1662. Opened to the public in the mid-1960s, it was one of the few synagogues fully restored in the communist period. It conserves the interior fittings, furnishings (including a central bimah with elaborate iron grille), and wall paintings dating from the 1730s. Nearby, there is also a Jewish cemetery established in the 15th century, where Rabbi Kohen is buried.
A photo gallery of still-standing graves in the Holešov Jewish cemetery can be found at https://grave-pictures.at/galleries/showgallery.php?cat=559. See also: http://www.olam.cz/pamatky/cemetery.html
The following profiles represent some of the early Jewish families in Holešov:
- Beer, Markus (1750-1830)
- Fall, Elias (b. 1779)
- Feilbogen, Rabbi Josef (1784-1869)
- Fischer, Moses Joachim (1795-1841)
- HaCohen, Rabbi HaRav Shabty (SHAKH) (1621-1662)
- Herz, Abraham (c1734-1812)
- Jelinek, Lipman (c1779-1834)
- Knöpfelmacher, Rabbi Moses (1718-1798)
- Knöpfelmacher, Rabbi Salomon (1746-1810)
- Tauber, Aaron (1747-1815)
- Tauber, Michael (1770-1847)
- Zwillinger, Markus (1732-1794)
Freimann, in: H. Gold (ed.) Die Juden und Judengemeinden Maehrens in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (1929), 233–40; idem, Kobez al Jad (1936), 111–34; R. Iltis, Die aussaeen in Traenen… (1959), 59–63; I. Halpern, Takkanot Medinat Mehrin (1952), 103–4; Madrikh la-Arkhiyyonim ha-Historiyyim be-Yisrael (1966), 129 nos. 173–8.