Ethnic minorities in Brno: Jews

by Michal Kašpárek on October 15, 2009

Without the functionalist architecture designed and financed by Jews, Brno would have a totally different, much less elegant face.

Without the functionalist architecture designed and financed by Jews, Brno would have a totally different, much less elegant face.

In a new series called “Ethnical minorities in Brno”, I’ll introduce six important ethnical minorities that have been living in Brno and shaping its face: Jews, Vietnamese, Greeks, Germans, Romas and Ukrainians. Let’s start with the Jews, living in Brno for some 700 years.

History

First Jews came to Brno in the 13th century and their population was growing fast, as Brno was among the few tolerant towns opened to the community.

The original ghetto was located roughly around the current Masarykova st.

In 1454, all Jews were forced out of the town. It was probably because of all the money Jews had loaned to the local politicians, who decided to solve their debt in this immoral way.

The expelled community settled in towns Boskovice, Rousínov, Slavkov, Dolní Kounice and Ivančice.

Until 1848, the access of Jews to Brno was strictly regulated. However, during the 18th and 19th century Jews returned to do business in the town and generally speaking they had great success. Many of the factories in neigborhoods Cejl, Židenice and Trnitá belonged to Jewish businessmen.

The great synagogue, built in the 1850s and destroyed by nazis in 1939

The great synagogue, built in the 1850s and destroyed by nazis in 1939

20th century: great rise, tragic fall

The First Republic of Czechoslovakia (1918–1938) was probably the luckiest period for Jews in Brno, even though being so short. In that era, the Jewish community gave Brno several great minds who shaped the face of the town:

Actor Hugo Haas. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Actor Hugo Haas. Source: Wikimedia Commons

  • Otto Eisler, architect; designer of the only remaining synagogue of Brno at Skořepka st.
  • Arnošt Wiesner, architect; author of several buildings in the centre, incl. today Komerční banka at Náměstí Svobody sq. and also the designer of the town’s crematorium.
  • Roman Jakobson, linguist; Jakobson’s works influenced the complete field of social sciences. Mr Jakobson was not born in Brno nor died here but he stayed here for some time and was connected to other great minds of the town.
  • Hugo Haas; actor; one of the most popular Czech film stars.
  • Alfred Stiassny, businessman; owner of villa Stiassny, later used as a hotel for diplomats.

It’s good to remind that the Tugendhat family, who built and owned the coolest villa ever, were also Jews.

There were 12,000 Jews living in Brno in 1938. One year later, nazis came to Brno and started working on their evil plan of cleaning the planet from Jews. Only approx. 1,000 of Brno’s Jews survived the war.

Beautiful “Great synagogue” was destroyed as soon as in March 1939. “New synagogue” survived the war but was torn down in 1985 to clear a space for a new hospital. (There was a plan of turning the synagogue into a theatre, which would be really cool; what a pity.)

The Jews in Brno today

There’s a small community of pracising Jews in Brno. The only “running” synagogue in Moravia is located at Skořepka st. near centre — it is a pure functionalist building built in 1934, so it looks like a gym.

Jewish cemetery in Židenice

Jewish cemetery in Židenice

The biggest Jewish cemetery at Moravia is located in quarter Židenice and is opened for public. (By the way, although the Czech word for a Jew is “Žid”, there have been almost no Jews living Židenice and even the name of the quarter is derrived from a certain Bohemian surname.)

Brno has a small museum of Jewish culture, located at Třída kapitána Jaroše st.

I myself have several friends from Jewish families. They don’t practise and I think they don’t even believe in God but still are proud about their origin.

Jewish cuisine anyone?

As far as I know, there’s no Jewish restaurant in Brno (hey, that’s a great business niche!) but I have eaten in a nice Jewish restaurant Makkabi in Boskovice, a poetic small town with a ghetto north of Brno.

To be continued

I will try to post an article about a certain minority each week. I’ll also write an article about all the wonderful Jewish ghettos and synagogues in towns around Brno sooner or later.

Links and further sources

The Jewish Community of Brno has a nice website but it lacks an English version.

If you are looking for a grave of some person burried in Brno, try this search engine.

I highly recommend a bilingual book “Brno židovské” by Jaroslav Klenovský. The book contains a great list of further sources:

Literature and sources about the Jews in Brno

Literature and sources about the Jews in Brno

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Simon Buxton June 24, 2010 at 12:08 PM

Hello, thanks for the article. Where was the Great Synagogue demolished in 1939 situated?

Michal Kašpárek June 24, 2010 at 4:41 PM

At Spálená st., close to Tesco and Vaňkovka shopping malls at Dornych st. (map)

anne feibelman June 25, 2010 at 4:52 PM

Hi Michal,
I am looking for information on Rabbi Louis Levy, a rabbi in Czeckosovakia, Brno, until 1938. He was born in Alsace, Sultz-haut-rhin, ordained as a rabbi in Breslav and became a chaplain in th Czeck army during WWI. He was a reform rabbi. Do you have any information? Thank you,
Anne

Michal Kašpárek June 28, 2010 at 12:19 PM

Anne, I was not able to google anything but that he started working in Brno 1906. I will try to get more information when I get back to my book about the history of Jews in Brno.

Merrill Mack August 9, 2010 at 1:31 AM

Looking for the Anne Feibelman that I was friends with from the Bay Area.

Ann if this is you please contact me.

Merrill
415-927-3172

elaine October 4, 2011 at 12:39 AM

I am doing reasearch on our Torah scroll which was originally from Brno. I am particularily interested in pictures of the various synagogues, and from hearing from anyone who was in was from Brno prior to the war, and survived.

elaine October 4, 2011 at 12:39 AM

Sorry should have left my contact info 905 762*-1964

Yael Friedman Vatury October 8, 2011 at 8:21 PM

Hello,
I’m going to be in Brno this week and wanted to knew if the synagogue will be open on Wednesday evening, Oct.12 for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
Thank you so much,
Yael

Katharina November 14, 2011 at 10:24 PM

Hello,
I’m student of architecture of Vienna and am working on my final thesis “Virtual reconstruction of the New Synagogue in Brno”.
@elaine: I have quite a few old pictures of the Max Fleischers Nova Synagoga. Maybe wo should share our research.
@all: anyone has further information about the synagogue than what I can read in Klenovsky’s books?
I could also need someone who can read and write Hebrew (just 2 sentences ;-)

thanks for your help.

Katharina November 14, 2011 at 10:25 PM

sorry, I forgot, this is my email: kassy23@a1.net

Cynthia Sherwood February 25, 2012 at 4:33 PM

Trying to get info re my grandfather who was a rabbi in Brno in very late 1800′sor very early 1900′s . Name to best of my knoawledge was Gordiolevitz.

cynthia sherwood February 25, 2012 at 4:39 PM

I am looking for information about my grandfather who was a rabbi in Brno. He died in either the late 1800′s or the earlly 1900′s .The only name I have may not be exact. It was Gordiolevitz. Thank you for your help.

Shaul Wiesen June 17, 2012 at 11:31 AM

Thank you for caring! From Israel

Hansel October 7, 2012 at 1:15 PM

Is your book on Jews in Brno already available ?
In your research did come across the name “Scherbak” who had a big factory there before WWII or by any chance the name “Hansel” ?
Best regards,
David

Stanley Dub October 18, 2012 at 3:58 AM

My father was born in Subcarpathian Ruthenia and lived in Brno from about 1928 until deported by the Nazis after 1939. His name was Alois (Avraham) Dub. He survived the Holocaust and emigrated to America. He died in 2000. He told me he owned a small kiosk on the town square in Brno that sold ice cream and snacks. I wonder if there is a collection of photos of the Brno town square in the period 1936-1938 that might show this kiosk? Also, I hope to visit Brno around April next year and would be interested in finding a good guide.

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Joyce Bynum June 24, 2014 at 1:40 AM

Thanks for the interesting article about Brno. I have been there three times. But don’t say “ethnical”. We always just use “ethnic”.

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