Ethnic minorities in Brno: Jews

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