CURRENT CZECH NAME: Boskovice
OTHER NAMES/SPELLINGS: Boscovice; Boskowitz (German name, as it was known before 1918)
A town in the Drahanska Highlands of Moravia about 35 kms north of Brno, near Prerov and Olomouc which also have former Jewish communities. One can drive to Boskovice from Brno in about half an hour and the former Jewish ghetto is well signposted. There is a small Jewish Museum at 6 Plackova St in the middle of the fomer ghetto and many of the houses and the synagogue have been, or are being, renovated and repaired.
The first mention of a Jew in Boskovice was around 1343. Klenovsky says in his booklet (The Boskovice Ghetto) that the Jews of Brno went to Boskovice after they were banished from the Moravian Royal Towns in 1454. At that time the Jews had restricted rights and paid high premiums to be allowed to live in the town. But, by 1589, there were 148 Jews living in 25 family houses. In 1727 when the ghetto was set up and the the first complete register written, the numbers had grown to 1531 Jews living in 38 family houses, 97 extensions and 40 cottages. Jews in the 17th century worked as butcher, tailor, barber, purse maker, goldsmith, red and white tanner, leather worker, sword blade maker, cabinet maker, furrier, cap maker and others. In a real estate survey of 1677, Jews owned nearly 23 hectares including arable land.
The town's memorial books mention fire and epidemics which affected both Christians and Jews. In 1715 and the following year, a plague ravaged the entire population and 200 Jews died.
Before the Josefinian reforms, Jews used mostly Hebrew/Yiddish or Czech names - for example: Jakub Markus, Kalman, Israel, Pinkas, Lev Kain, Lebl Salomon, Abraham, Nathan and, for women, Lida, Manda, Juettl, Resi, Nettl, Friedl.
Further Jewish settlement was prohibited by the "Familianten "law of Emperor Charles VI in the 1820's which allowed residence of only 326 Jewish families. Bransky's book includes the list of all male heads of those families taken in the tax census of 1799. The first ten names in the list are: Dawid Thorsch, Jakub Beamt, Dawid Schreiber, Salomon Friedmann, Markus Friedmann, Abraham Lewue, Simon Husserl, Jakob Husserl, Dawid Eisner, Feit Husserl.
At the turn of the 18th century there was an active yeshiva and by the mid-19th century the Jewish population comprised one-third of all Boskovice inhabitants.
The Jewish town had serious problems with fires, most likely due to overcrowding. The worst one occurred in 1823, when practically two-thirds of the entire town burned down.
The emancipation struggles in Europe culminated in 1848; by then, the Jews benefited from a relaxation of restrictions dating to the Middle Ages. By 1848, Jews were allowed to live where they wished. The zenith of Jewish settlement recorded in Boskovice occurred in 1857 when the restrictive laws were repealed At that time, 1810 people of the Hebrew faith lived in the town. Under the Josefinian laws, Jews no longer had to wear special insignia on their clothing, but they had to choose German names and German was decreed to be the official language for Jews. To obtain permission to marry, a Jew had to pass a German test.
The Boskovice Jewish Quarter was established as a separate political entity with its own authorities, existing until 1919, just after the first Czechoslovakian Republic was established. In the Second World War, only 14 of the 458 Boskovice Jews survived a forced deportation to Terezin and other concentration camps. Among those sent to Terezin were my grandfather's cousin Izidor THORSCH and his wife Henrietta (nee BERGMANN).
Boskovice was one of the largest Jewish communities in Moravia and was known as a centre of prominent Talmudist scholars. The most famous of these scholars was Samuel ha-levi Kolin; he is buried in the local Jewish cemetery.
In 1851, the Boskovice Rabbi Placek was appointed Chief Rabbi of Moravia until 1884.
Boskovice Jews worked mainly in the restricted occupations of trade, commerce and crafts but, in the 19th century, they began to establish industrial production in Boskovice and other nearby Moravian towns. Families who built up factories in Boskovice included Eisler, Czaczkes and Ticho, and in other towns, Loew Beer, Popper and Biach.
In particular, the Jews founded the textile industry, with the Schwarz family being most prominent. The Loew Beers established a woolen plant, and Salomon Biach, Markus Ungar and Moritz Knopfelmacher started making alcohol and liquers. Jews were especially well-recognized for founding the fashion industry in machine-equipped factories. The Ticho brothers and Sigmund Munk were successful producers of ready-made clothing.
After the first Zionist groups began at the turn of the 20th century, the 1930's saw the start of migration to Palestine.
The Jewish Quarter that remains today is a vast complex between the castle area and the historical core, encompassing 5 hectares, 13 streets and 79 preserved houses (of the original 138). More than 25 of the existing and remaining Jewish buildings have been declared national monuments and so are protected by the State. Remaining sites of interest include a school at 7 Bilkova street, a spa at u Koupadel 8, a hospital ve Spitalku 10, a rabbinate at Plackova St 45, a mikvah in the house at Zborovska St 9, the ghetto gate and a fountain from 1875. In the house at Plackova St no 6 is a small museum with exhibits of the history and memories of the Jewish community, open from 10 A.M. to 4.30 P.M. daily except Mondays.
The town information center has copies, in English, of a pamphlet written by local historian Dr Jan Bransky, "The Boskovice Jewish Ghetto Sights." It locates and describes nearly 30 houses, the synagogue, the mikvah, the hospice, yeshivah, the butcher shops and some of the history of the thousands of Jewish families who lived and worked in these buildings.
Archival records for Boskovice:
In the State Archives in Prague the following registers are held by Dr Lenka Matusikova for Boskovice. They are known in Czech as Zidovske Matriky and their catalogue identification is HBMa.
Some of the registers have an index at the back, for others one must look at every entry. For Boskovice, many of the registers were destroyed either by fire or during World War II.
NOTABLE RESIDENTS AND DESCENDANTS:
Boskovice is the native town of the oculist Abraham Albert Ticho (1883-1960 Jerusalem) and of the writer Hermann Ungar (1893-1929 Prague). Ungar was one of the Prague circle of writers associated with Franz Kafka.
The synagogue on Traplova St., built in 1698 in Baroque style, displays adaptations in empire and neo-gothic styles. In 1705, Jeshaya Maler and Loeb from Krakow painted the interior walls with Hebrew liturgical texts. Up to the 1990's, the synagogue was used as a storehouse but, in 199, restoration began. There were two other synagogues in Boskovice, a smaller one built in the 18th century and the Loew Beer's synagogue in 1884. Both were destroyed after WW II.
It is hoped with the renovation of this last existing synagogue to establish an exhibition of Jewish life in Boskovice. If one wishes to contribute to the renovation, please contact the submitter of this article for more information. The Maisel Synagogue in Prague has as part of its permanent exhibition a lot of information and many liturgical objects from Boskovice and Moravia. It's well worth a visit.
The Jewish cemetery, claimed by Dr. Bransky to be the third largest Jewish cemetery in today's Czech Republic, is about 800 metres (southwest of the town) down the end of Plackova Street on a hillside with the intriguing name of "Scheissberg," colloquially known as "the mountain of shit." We entered with a key Dr. Bransky arranged via the Information Centre. The 2500 tombstones are in reasonable condition, some better than others. Many of the older sandstone tombstones are crumbling. Some gravestones have fallen over and some have been desecrated by vandals. The later marble gravestones in are in quite good condition, although the ivy and other vegetation is now spreading across the entire hillside. About 12,000 people are buried in this cemetery.
The local town authorities have given priority to repairing the synagogue, so the cemetery remains under threat of further deterioration in future. No manager exists and there is no plan of the cemetery available either. There are no existing cemetery records for Boskovice in the Jewish Museum in Prague. Some of the death records are listed in the registers held at the Prague State Archives.
The cemetery on Potocni St. was founded no later than the 16th century on an area of 14,528 sq. m., with the oldest existing grave dating to 1670. The ruins of a Chevra Khaddisha are in the middle of the cemetery, with the Kaddish inscription and the dedication stone still remaining.