Home     Current Projects     How You Can Help!     The Jewish Cemetery of Velké Mezíříči     Jewish Sites in the Czech Republic    

 

 

The History of the Jews and Jewish Sites of Velké Mezíříči, Czech Republic

Velké Mezíříči is located in Moravia, approximately 135 km SE of Prague. The town is set between two rivers, in a hilly, canyon-like area. Its name means between the rivers in old Czech. There is a beautiful chateau started in the 13th century, several gothic churches and a renaissance town-hall. The town also has the notoriety of having the Czech Republic's tallest highway bridge.

The Jewish community of Velké Mezíříči was among the most notable communities in Moravia. The earliest records of its history were lost in fires that destroyed much of the Jewish Ghetto in the 1800s. However, it is thought that Jews first made their homes there in the 15th century. The first written records of their presence are from the year 1636.

In 1679, at least 22 Jewish families are recorded in the town; in 1790, there were 888 Jewish residents which accounted for 26% of the total population. The population peaked at 1,116 in 1857, still around 1/4 of the total population. In 1851, the Jewish Town was administratively and politically joined with the city. The Jewish population steadily declined, as the increased freedom and opportunity encouraged migration to more urban or even foreign locations. The Jewish population dwindled below 100 in the 1930s. When the last permanent Rabbi, Dr. Michael Weiner died in 1901, the position was not filled. The duties of the Rabbi were performed by the Head Cantor until his death in 1925, and afterward, by rabbis from the near-by towns of Trebic and Znojmo.

Records indicate that of Velké Mezíříči's permanent Jewish residents after the German Occupation, 13 left for other locations prior to deportation, four died after the occupation but before deportation, 52 were deported to Terezin, 7 were arrested and killed. Only six people survived the war and returned.

The Jewish quarter of Velké Mezíříči was built in the northeastern part of the city, within the protection of the city walls, but separated from the Christian section of the city by the Oslava and Balinka rivers. Originally there were 32 houses, all for single family use. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish quarter contained 101 individual buildings, 63 of which are still standing today. These included the rabbinate, a mikva, and Jewish school. The Jewish quarter is an interesting and important example of early city planning with distinctive architecture, and much effort has gone toward preserving its character.

In Velké Mezíříči, there are many well-preserved signs of the former Jewish community. The synagogues and cemetery in Velké Mezíříči are under the administration of the Jewish Community of Brno, and they are responsible for all the maintenance of the sites.

Of the original three synagogues, two remain. The oldest and smallest one (of unknown origin) served as a "Winter Prayer Room" until the Second World War, but was demolished during the communist period, in 1962. The older of the two remaining ones is thought to have been built in the beginning of the 16th century. It is built in the gothic-renaissance style. It has a very valuable classicist style portal above the main entrance. The vaulted ceiling and interior walls were decorated with traditional paintings and liturgical inscriptions in Hebrew. After the construction of the new synagogue in the year 1870, this synagogue was used as a warehouse. The old synagogue was restored and opened as a museum and landmark in 1996. The upstairs "women’s' gallery" has a permanent exhibit dedicated to the history, religion and culture of the Jews of Velké Mezíříči. The downstairs area is used as a gallery space to host special exhibitions and occasional concerts of chamber music.

The newer synagogue was completed in 1870 to the designs of the well-known architect August Prokop. It is a very large structure of red brick. The interior is lined with beautiful dark wood, embellished with painted and embossed decorations. The interior of the synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis in 1940 and it was used thereafter as a warehouse. It was recently been converted to a shopping center, but the lease ended in the summer of 2002 and was not renewed. It was a very interesting conversion because they constructed false walls in front of the interior walls so that no further damage was done to them, and at least the building was well-maintained and occupied. They are hopeful that a new tenant and use for the building can be found because the restoration of the building is estimated to cost around $400,000. Both the Jewish Community of Brno and the municipal authority of Velké Mezíříči lack the resources to restore the building and neither has an immediate use for it. There is no Jewish community left in Velké Mezíříči.

The Jewish cemetery is across the river from the synagogues, on a hill overlooking the Oslava River. Local Jews purchased the land in 1650. The cemetery is enclosed by a massive stone wall with a metal gate. The wall underwent repairs in the 1980s and again in 1999. There is a ceremonial hall built in the year 1880 which has also been restored. In the ceremonial hall, there is an inscription which reads "The truth will grow from the ground and the just will be looking down from the heavens". There are around 1300 gravestones in neat rows, the oldest legible one dates from the year 1677. The area is strongly prone to an overgrowth of vegetation which must be cut regularly. As the cemetery is built on a slope, there is a problem of gravestones falling over. Also, in an attack by vandals in 1974, 100 gravestones were toppled. Currently, approximately 13% of the gravestones are fallen.

. These statistics taken from: Jewish Sights in Bohemia and Moravia, Fiedler, Dr. Jiri. Prague:Sefer, 1991

. This information taken from Zidovske Pamatky Velkeho Mezirici Klenovsky, Jaroslav Brno