Czech Archival Sources on the History of the Jews in the Czech Lands
Czech National Archives, First Department
M. Horakove 133, 166 21 Prague 6
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to begin by thanking you for the invitation to come and speak to you today about Czech Archival Sources on the History of the Jews in the Czech Lands. In this lecture, I will be explaining the origins of registers of Jewish vital events (births, marriages, and deaths), and the ways in which they can be exploited by genealogical researchers. I will also discuss the types of archival records available at each level of the Czech archive system, focussing on those records that are of particular interest for Jewish genealogy. Later I will use some actual archival sources to give you a brief concrete demonstration of the kind of results one can get. At the end of my lecture, I will introduce you a big research project called “Bohemia, Moravia et Silesia Judaica”, which seeks to bring together our knowledge about the Jews of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia – all, at one time or another, part of the Czech Lands.
The political and social changes that took place in the Czech Republic after November 1989 opened up access to archives and documents, not only to professional historians interested in the history of the Jewish population in the Czech Lands, but also to ordinary people of Jewish origin looking for their own roots. For many such individuals, their interest in genealogical research was spurred by the new, post-1989 Czech laws concerning restitution of property and indemnification of victims of racial persecution in World War II. For many people, applying for a relative’s property or for financial indemnification has meant going back and opening a door to memories of hardship, sorrow, and bereavement. Others began their genealogical research under the stimulus of questions posed by their children or grandchildren – apparently simple inquiries such as “Where did our family come from? Who were our ancestors? How did they live and where did they die?”
1. Registers of births, marriages and deaths of Jewish communities
The path to discovering one’s family history usually starts with looking for information in registers of vital events – births, marriages and deaths. Such registers – English “parish registers”, Czech “matriky” – already existed for the Christian population of the Czech Lands from the sixteenth or seventeenth century onward, but were only extended to the Jewish population in 1784, through a decree of Emperor Joseph II. This decree ordered that registers of births, marriages, and deaths of the Jewish population should be written up in a precise format, with a distinct column for each type of information about the individual whose vital event was being recorded. It put Catholic priests in charge of writing up these registers and ensuring they were kept carefully. In order to guarantee standardized registration, it ordered that vital events should be filled in on pre-printed forms. The decree also instructed Jewish registrars to keep the same type of registers, but allowed them to adapt the columns to the categories used in the Jewish religion. In localities where there were rabbis, it was they who were made responsible for ensuring that the registers were maintained. Where Jewish families were living scattered in the countryside, without a community or a rabbi of their own, the master record was supposed to be kept by the rabbi of the nearest Jewish community; an alternative option was for Jewish vital events to be recorded by the local Catholic priest on the final pages of the Catholic parish registers.
Three years later, in 1787, the authorities made further efforts to improve and standardize the master records of Jewish vital events. This led to a second decree which ordered that parish registers and circumcision registers were to be kept for the Jewish population in the German language, and all Jewish records were to assign prenames and surnames to every individual. In practice, this mean that all Jews permitted to reside in the Czech Lands by virtue of the so-called „Familiant“ – licensed Jew – law of 1726 were compelled to accept family names, which they and their families were henceforth to use in all formal activities.
The relationship between the Jewish population and the state in the Czech lands underwent a fundamental change in 1797 with the so-called „Systemal Patent“. This was a decree which outlined the rights and obligations of the Jewish population. Jewish teachers were put in charge of keeping registers of Jewish vital events. In localities where there were no Jewish schools, the responsibility devolved on men who were appointed and sworn in by the local manorial authorities. Catholic priests were made responsible for checking the Jewish registrars and for keeping duplicate registers of Jewish births, marriages and deaths, the so-called „Control Registers“.
In 1848-9, there were liberal uprisings – sometimes called „Revolutions“ – in many parts of Europe, including the Czech Lands. These events saw the beginning of the full emancipation of the Jews in the Czech Lands, and the abolition of all the discriminatory laws against them which had existed up to that point. These changes can also be seen in the master records of Jewish vital events. The Jewish registers administered by Jewish registrars were declared to be authentic records which could be used as evidence in a court of law. The supervision of Jewish vital registration by Catholic priests was abolished. Instead, the Jewish registrars were ordered to keep duplicate originals with appropriate indexes and to submit them to the district authorities annually at the end of each year. The district authorities were instructed to place the duplicate Jewish registers in safekeeping and to compare them with the original registers. As late as the first half of the twentieth century, the district authorities in the Czech Lands were still checking up on the keeping of the original registers of Jewish communities and storing the duplicate Jewish registers.
During the period when Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Germans between 1938 and 1945, both the Jewish registers and other documents of Jewish communities suffered a similar fate to the Jewish population itself. The first thing to happen was that in October 1938 the registers of the Jewish communities in the German-occupied Czech borderlands were closed down. The registers from the Bohemian border regions were collected in Liberec, the center of the so-called “Sudetenland”. Between 1939 and 1945, the registers were not written up, and were completed after the liberation of the country by referring retrospectively to the master records, especially the death records. The registers of the Jewish communities from the border regions of northern and southern Moravia did not survive at all and are thought to have been lost at the very beginning of the German occupation.
In 1942 the Office of the “Reichsprotektor” ordered that all original Jewish registers in the so-called “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia” were to be passed to a special authority called the “Central Office for the Regulation of the Jewish Question” in Prague. In April 1945, on the orders of the Gestapo, the originals were transported to a paper mill in the Bubeneč district of Prague and destroyed. In 1943, the duplicate volumes of the registers had also been collected, but thanks to the care of the Czech employees of the so-called “Central Office for the Regulation of the Jewish Question”, they were stored in Český Šternberk together with the older Control Registers. The duplicates from the period 1880-1945 were saved by being deposited outside Prague, and in October 1945 they were declared to be valid originals for issuing certificates, official documents, and licenses. All the registers that had been preserved were transferred to the Prague Jewish community, which was then entrusted with the further administration of the registers for both Bohemia and Moravia.
Then, in December 1949, a law was passed which removed the administration of vital registers by any churches, instead establishing standardized civil registers supervised by non-religious authorities – initially district committees, nowadays municipal offices and town councils. In compliance with this law, the Prague Jewish community transferred the entire collection of Jewish registers, along with all other master documents, to the district committee of Prague 1. There it remained until 1983, at which point the entire collection was transferred to the Central State Archive in Prague, which has now become the National Archive. This priceless collection of more than 3000 volumes of Jewish birth-, marriage-, and death-registers, covering Bohemia, Moravia and the Czech part of Silesia over the period 1784-1949, is now held in the First Department of the Czech National Archive in Prague (email@example.com). The inventory of this collection is available on the website of the Czech National Archive at www.nacr.cz.
The earliest Jewish birth registers resembled the Christian baptism registers of the time in including date of birth, child’s name, parents’ names, and witnesses’ names. But they also included details specific to the Jewish religion – of circumcision ceremonies for boys and name-giving ceremonies for girls. The entries in these early registers were very simple, often including only names and dates. How the register was written up depended very much on the individual decisions and conscientiousness of the man who was responsible for making the entries in it. It was not until 1838 that standardized rules were issued on how the master registers were to be kept, with strictly designated columns for each category of information.
It is important to recognize that most of the registers were not filled out in such an ideal form. It was always up to the registrar how much information he really wrote down. The duplicate registers in particular were often kept only in outline form. Thus, for example, the duplicate birth registers sometimes only recorded the names of the parents and left out all the other information that was supposed to be entered. It must also be realized that the so-called “Familiant law” permitted only 8 500 Jewish families to reside in Bohemia and 5 400 Jewish families in Moravia. In these families, only the first-born son had the right to marry and replace his father as head of the family – the so-called called “Familiant” in German and Czech documents. Second and later sons had to wait for a vacancy to open up in the official number of families and had to apply for a state permit to get married. Some Jewish marriages were concluded by rabbis but without the requisite state permit. Any child of such a marriage was officially defined as “fatherless” and was recorded in the Jewish birth registers under its mother’s maiden name. The father could take responsibility for such a child. If he did, then his declaration of paternity, together with the signatures of two witnesses, was recorded as a note. Children of parents who married after 1848 were retrospectively legitimized and received their fathers’ surnames subsequently to their birth. This fact is not widely known by their descendants and often makes research in pre-1848 registers quite difficult.
In 1838, the same year that standardized forms were introduced, registration districts were specified in such a way that the community with the largest Jewish population would be at the center of the registration district. That was where the registrar was supposed to reside. If the office of registrar was not filled in a particular locality, then births, marriages, and deaths were supposed to be notified to the nearest alternative registry office, which in many cases meant going beyond the boundaries of the original registry office. This fact complicates genealogical research, especially in Jewish communities on the inland border between Bohemia and Moravia.
A little while ago, I mentioned the “master documents” which were transferred to the Central State Archive in December 1949 along with the Jewish registers. These documents included the originals of autopsies from the ghetto of Terezín between 1941 and 1943, and official declarations of death for many victims of the Holocaust (issued in the period 1946-1948/1950). These “master documents” were used retrospectively to fill in the master records of Jewish deaths. Those who survived had to start their new lives – to find work, apply to inherit relatives’ property, marry, or adopt children. To do so, they needed new personal documents for themselves and in many cases death certificates for their relatives which were replaced by judicial confirmations of death. For genealogical research, the two above-mentioned documents are very useful because they provide not only personal data (such as birth-date, birthplace, and parents’ names) but also information about where the person in question had been born and their last place of residence before deportation. In many cases, this makes it possible to begin genealogical research just with the most basic information. In some cases, these documents also contain the address and name of the person applying for a declaration of death, who is usually a relative of the deceased person.
This file of “master documents” also contains a small group of applications for change of surname and for permission to adopt an orphan. Especially the former type of document can help verify the identity of applicants for citizenship or confirm kinship in applications for property or indemnification. Applications for change of surname were made by a number of concentration camp survivors with typical Jewish surnames (such as Kohn, Roubitschek, or Abeles) or typical German surnames (such as Adler, Schwarzkopf, or Weissmüller), with the intention of putting the past behind them and integrating into a non-Jewish social environment. It is also important to recall the existence of the deportation registers which were drawn up during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in connection with deportations to the Ghetto of Terezin and to other camps in Eastern Europe. Up to the present day, one card-index is still deposited in Prague and used for official purposes by the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic. Another is stored in the Third Department of the National Archives and in the archives of the „Terezín Memorial“ located in a small fortress in Terezín. Records on the cards in this index also provide information helpful for genealogical research – details such as names, dates of birth, last address before deportation, transport number, and so on.
Alongside this collection of “master documents”, the First Department of the Czech National Archive also contains the so-called “Jewish Control Registers”. As I have mentioned, these are duplicate registers which were kept by the Jewish community so they could be checked by the Catholic priests, who were officially required to keep their eye on all Jews living in their parishes.
According to the Czech Law of Registration, the personal data recorded in both sets of registers and in the card-index files have a legally protected status. Birth registers for 100 years after the last record was entered in them, and marriage and death registers for 75 years after the last record, are accessible only to direct relatives of the individual concerned or to a plenipotentiary body or the state authorities. For genealogical research, access to these more recent registers is not permitted. The other more than 3000 volumes in both collections of Jewish registers are available on microfilms in the study room of the First Department of the National Archives. Gaps in the archival collections I have mentioned and in the registers of Jewish vital events have in recent years been filled by reference to volumes discovered in archives on the level of individual parishes. Damaged registers are being systematically restored in the National Archive’s department of conservation with the assistance of trainee conservators.
2. Other kinds of documents relevant to the history of Jews in the Czech Lands
Other kinds of documents relevant to the history of the Jewish population of the Czech Lands and preserved in Czech archives fall into two broad categories, according to whether the documents originated inside or outside the Jewish community. The first category consists of documents generated internally by Jewish communities, schools, associations, foundations, and prominent individuals. The nature of these records arises out of the functions which Jewish communities and institutions carried out toward their own members and vis-ą-vis the surrounding Christian world. The first set of functions, within the Jewish community itself, included elections of community representatives, conduct of religious life and education, poor relief, care of orphans, support for refugees and “foreign Jews” who had come to the end of their resources, philanthropy, and so on. In this context, I would like to alert you to some types of specific documentary sources that can be particularly useful for genealogical research – records of Jewish schools and associations, foundations and funeral confraternities, all of which usually include personal data of pupils or members and records of private persons.
The second set of functions, those carried out vis-ą-vis the surrounding Christian world, included implementing rules imposed by the state and the manorial administration, paying feudal levies and state taxes, keeping registers of vital events, dealing with complaints, and resolving conflicts. The correspondence with civic and church authorities and institutions in matters relevant to the whole Jewish community as well as individuals in conflicts with Christians over debts and criminal affairs is evidence that these duties were carried out very consistently. Unfortunately, because of loss and damage to documents during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia between 1938 and 1945, most of the archives of the original Jewish communities survive only as a fragment of their former selves. The few documents that have been preserved are deposited either in the Archives of Jewish Museum in Prague, or in the district state archives for the relevant locality, or in the municipal archives of the relevant large city. There are 72 district state archives for the various former administrative districts, and these now have become the constituents of the regional state archives. Alternatively, documents concerning the larger urban centres can be found in the city archives of Prague, Brno, Plzeň, Ústí nad Labem and Ostrava.
This is why I would also like to draw your attention to the second broad category of documentary sources on Czech Jewish history, those arising from the activities of state, regional and district authorities, town-councils, and other state and independent institutions at various levels. For more than 200 years (from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century) the Habsburg state tried to restrict and ultimately reduce the number of Jewish families in the Czech Lands. These efforts gave rise to many official registers – lists of all Jews settled in Bohemia in 1724, 1783 and 1793, and the so-called “Jewish Family Books“ (Jüdische Familiantenbücher) of 1811, recording the 8 500 Jewish families officially permitted to live in Bohemia and the 5 400 families permitted to live in Moravia. The lists of Jews and the “Jewish Family Books” usually provide personal data such as name, sex, age, marital status, relationship to household head, and occupation. However, in using these sources, especially those dating from before 1787, one must be aware that most Jews of that time did not use surnames in the modern way and it is often very difficult to trace relationships down the generations. For the territory of Bohemia, the book of Jewish families and the other lists of Jews which I have mentioned were collected by the “Bohemian Gubernium” and are now deposited in the National Archives in Prague. In Moravia, by contrast, the situation is quite different: insofar as lists and the registers of Jewish families have survived at all, they are to be found among the records of the manorial authorities.
In addition to these sources, an experienced genealogical researcher can make use of the documents generated by the manorial authorities which administered the large feudal domains in which Bohemians lived in the past. Before 1848, these feudal domains were the units of local administration. The manorial authorities were responsible for two things. First, they administered the property of the domain’s owner (usually a member of nobility), which also involved responsibility for the property of all the ordinary people who lived on that domain and for levying the feudal duties owed by serfs to their overlords. Second, the manorial authorities also acted as the local government administration – they administered matters relating to the police, commerce, politics, taxation, military affairs, judicial matters, and economic regulation.
The records of the manorial administration include documents concerning the acceptance of Jews onto the domain, periodic lists of Jewish inhabitants, and the establishment and filling of the positions of “Familiants” (licensed Jews). The manorial authorities also supervised Jewish marriage licenses, tenancies and sales of real estate, especially distilleries, tanneries, potash-plants, and other forms of production commonly undertaken by Jews because they were unpopular among Christians. There were also Jewish traders who were invited to live on the domain under the title of “Schutzjude” (literally “protected Jew”). These protected Jewish traders were responsible for selling the output produced on the home farm of the overlord or his industrial operations – grain, livestock, alcoholic beverage, etc. They were also supposed to buy up the surplus output of the serfs of the domain, such as feathers, eggs, butter, linen cloth, and so on. Finally, these protected Jewish merchants were responsible for importing back onto the domain the common wares that were unavailable locally, such as spices, dry goods, fruits, coffee, etc. The manorial administration was directly involved in administering the inheritances of these “protected Jews”, and this gave rise to very useful documentary sources. These not only record the death of an individual, and include information about his property, repayment of his debts, and the division of his inheritance among his relatives. They can also be used to study the social and economic conditions of the Jewish families living in the small rural towns. Such records enable us to follow the whole process of the division of an inheritance, and to reconstruct a deceased person’s household equipment, craft or business, how people dressed, what kind of tools they used, and so on.
The manorial archives also include the records of elections to Jewish councils, the volumes of the synagogue, the establishment of Jewish schools, the appointment of Jewish teachers, and social care within Jewish communities. This is because the manorial authorities intervened in all spheres of the life of the Jewish community on the domain. As a result, manorial records, which are now held in the seven regional state archives of the Czech Republic, can be very helpful for genealogical research. Just a word of warning - to carry out research in this sort of records calls for an experienced researcher with the expertise to cope with the handwriting and language used in local-level documents, which are often non-standardized and difficult to understand.
The regional state archives also contain the records of the former regional administrative offices (the so-called “Kreisämte”), which were established in 1751 and existed for about 100 years. These offices generated several different types of register of inhabitants; lists of tax-payers; lists of travel and emigration permits; and many other miscellaneous documents. All these documents also record Jews and Jewish communities, and often provide very useful evidence on Jewish vital events.
After 1868, the regional administrative offices were abolished and replaced by the district administrative offices (the so-called “Bezirksämte”). These, too, generated numerous documents of genealogical interest, including registers of residency certificates, registers of passports and travel permits, indexes of work permits, and after 1918 registers of nationality certificates. From 1870 on, the district offices also registered births, marriages and deaths of all individuals who had no official religious denomination. The district offices also preserved the censuses which were drawn up every 10 years from 1857 onward. All the types of document generated by the district administrative offices are now stored in the district state archives, alongside the records of town and local archives.
For genealogists, another useful archival source is the so-called “Grundbücher”, literally “land-books”, some of which date back to the later fifteenth century. These were public registers recording all transfers of real estate between owners (whether by inheritance or sale), as well as many legal documents such as wills. But there are also many other interesting genealogical records, especially from the second half of the nineteenth century, such as registers of native and foreign persons belonging to the local community, registers of residency certificates, and registers of tradesmen.
Genealogists can also find interesting information in the records left by public schools, grammar schools and vocational schools. Personal data such as names, birthdates, addresses, and parents’ names can be found in school registers, graduation books, attendance registers, and registers of examination results.
Not even the records of the Christian church can be omitted in our survey of documents potentially useful for studying Jewish genealogy. As I have mentioned, the Catholic priests were supposed to keep their eye on all Jews living in their parishes. So among the records of parish offices, nowadays stored in the district state archives, is preserved information about Jews, particularly concerning conversions of Jews to the Catholic religion.
3. How to consult documents preserved in Czech Archives
Basic information about all the Czech archives I have mentioned here can be found on the website of the Czech Archive Society (at www.cesarch.cz) and the Ministry of the Interior (at www.mvcr.cz and www.mvcr.cz/archivy/). Both these websites provide access to a database called “Archive Holdings and Collections in the Czech Republic” (PevA) giving many more details.
Archives are part of the universal information system of the Czech Republic and are therefore accessible to the general public. However, for documents that have been deposited for less than 30 years, people can work with them only exceptionally and only with the permission of the archive director. Anyone who wants to look at archival documents is required to verify his or her identity by means of valid identity card or passport; foreigners require no special permit. Researchers are allowed to use their own digital cameras, although there may be restrictions depending on the content and the physical condition of particular documents.
The main way to examine archive documents is by visiting the archive in person. It is also possible to obtain basic information through a written request to the archive. When one fills out an application to do genealogical research, whether in writing or on a personal visit, one needs to provide as many details as possible concerning the person one is looking for – not just the name, but the date of birth, marriage, and death, the places where these events occurred, and all other known facts about this individual. If information about the locality of vital events is unknown, then the next best thing is to provide information about any other places where the person lived, such as the last known address, the place of residence of family members or relatives, or the location of the school attended by that individual. It is important to remember that documents from the nineteenth century will use the German version of the names of Czech towns and villages, so one should make sure to enter the original place names, or even better, enclose photocopies of any old documents or mementos in the possession of the family. If the registers of the locality relevant to the person one is searching for have not survived, then one can address one’s request to the regional or district state archives and ask that research be undertaken into the Catholic parish registers, the registers of local residents, the school registers, the archives of the Jewish community, or the censuses.
However, it is important to realize that personal data from the history of the Czech Lands have not yet been digitized or computerized, and archives do not have the resources to engage in extensive genealogical research for private applicants. A Czech archive will typically respond to a written request from a private user by providing basic information, giving advice concerning the other archives or archival holdings which might contain the requested data, and recommending the use of private genealogical researchers or firms if more extensive research is required.
The National Archives can provide extracts from registers for those applying to do genealogical research. The original birth, marriage, and death certificates are to be found in the Registry of the Úřad městské části Praha 1, whose address is Vodičkova 18, 115 68 Praha 1.
4. Genealogical research in practice: the Glaser family in Postoloprty
I would now like to demonstrate the process of carrying out genealogical research into Jewish inhabitants of the Czech Lands on the basis of a particular concrete example. What I shall do is show how I traced all the available records for a family called Glaser in the small town of Postoloprty and the village of Lenešice in the district of Louny in north-west Bohemia.
I began only with the most basic of information. The person I was looking for was Adolf Glaser, born in 1886, who lived in Postoloprty until the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, and was then lost in a concentration camp at some point during World War II. Among those declared dead, I found a document recording the vital events of Adolf Glaser, born on 30 April 1886 in Postoloprty, unmarried, son of Moritz Glaser and Anna Pollak. He was domiciled in Postoloprty, but the last address before his deportation was in Prague. Adolf Glaser was declared dead on the request of Gabriela Chlamtatsch from Palestine and Lotty Glaser from England, both of whom were represented by a Czech lawyer. In the same archival carton, I also found information on Emilie Glaser, born on 5 June 1896 in Postoloprty, who was the sister of Adolf Glaser. Both Adolf and Emilie were deported from Prague to the Ghetto of Terezín by transport AAt on 23 July 1942. Then, on 1 September 1942, they were both deported by transport Be to Raasika. They never came back and were declared dead on 1 March 1943.
I then looked for other relatives of Adolf Glaser in the surviving registers of births, marriages, and deaths for the Jewish community of Postoloprty. This search brought to light quite a lot of additional information about the vital events of Adolf and his relatives. Adolf had one elder brother called Friedrich (Bedřich in Czech), who was born in 1885. Friedrich went to the bar and at time of his marriage to Elisabeth Strass in 1921 was working in a bank in Vienna. The birth register also recorded three sisters of Adolf – Charlotte (born in 1890), Gabriele (born in 1892), and Emmi (born in 1896). Gabriela (who married a man called Chlamtatsch) and Charlotte (whose nickname was Lotty) left the country at some point, and after the war had some reason to request death certificates and official death declarations for their siblings.
To find out more details about the family of Adolf Glaser and the Jewish community in Postoloprty, I visited the district state archives in Louny. These archives contain the documents of the district authorities, the archives of the town of Postoloprty, the 1921 census, and many records of other local institutions and personalities. According to the 1921 census, Adolf Glaser was living in house number 62 in Postoloprty, together with his parents and his two younger sisters. His father Moritz Glaser (born in 1857 in Postoloprty) was a farmer, and Adolf was assisting him in his agricultural activities. Adolf’s mother Anna (born in 1860) and Adolf’s sisters Ella and Emma kept the household. The family was of the Jewish religion and spoke the German language. The census also records three servants – a coachman, a house-maid, and a cook, all of the Catholic religion.
The district archives of Louny also contain a manuscript city chronicle for Postoloprty, which is deposited in the personal collection of Emil Mendl. In this chronicle, I found a list of the Jewish magistrates and the heads of the Jewish community in Postoloprty since 1674. Adolf’s father Moritz Glaser was the head of the Jewish community in the town for 31 years, from 1893 until his death in 1924.
Unfortunately, the records of the Jewish community in Postoloprty, in which I hoped to find more information about the activities of Moritz Glaser and his relatives, have been lost. But further research in the registers of Jewish vital events and the books of Jewish Families (both deposited in the National Archives in Prague), as well as in the records of the manorial administration of the domain of Postoloprty (deposited in the Regional State Archives in Třeboň) enabled me to discover additional generations of the Glaser family.
Adolf’s father, Moritz Leopold Glaser, was born as the last of 8 children of Simon Glaser and his wife Charlotte Hirsch from Úštěk. Moritz’s father Simon Glaser – Adolf’s grandfather – was the second son born to a certain Löbl Glaser. In 1844, Simon obtained permission to marry and replaced a familiant (licensed Jew) in Postoloprty who had died without male issue.
Löbl Glaser was thus Adolf’s great-grandfather. He was also called Löwy or Leopold, as I found from some of the documents referring to him. Löbl is thought to have been born in 1773, and he definitely died in 1846. In 1799, he obtained permission to get married because he was a glazier (Glaser in German) and his craft was needed on the domain. The occupation of glazier was practiced before him by his father Elias, who already used the German term Glaser as his own identification among the Jewish families of Postoloprty. The earliest birth register for the Jewish community of Postoloprty records a total of 11 children for Löbl Glaser and his wife Eva Mendlin (Heller).
As mentioned, Löbl’s father was called Elias, in fact Elias Wolf. He is thought to have been born in 1735 and he died in 1805. It was in 1797 that he took on the surname Glaser for himself and for his unmarried sons Simon, Löbl and Isaak. Elias – our Adolf’s great-great-grandfather – is the first member of the Glaser family in Postoloprty who can definitely be verified in the sources. His adoption of the surname Glaser is confirmed in the records of the manorial administration of the estate of Postoloprty, currently held in the Regional State Archives in Třeboň. Among other documents, this archive contains official confirmations of adoptions of new first names and surnames by Jews from 1787 onward. As a glazier, Elias Wolf was in 1759 allowed to get married to Barbara Löwenfeld (Löbl). Their 4 sons can only be found in the Book of Jewish families, because the Jewish vital registers in Postoloprty only started in 1788. At that time, their oldest son Wolf, who also accepted the surname Glaser, was allowed to marry Kressel (Katharina) Kofman and gained his own position of licensed Jew on the estate of Lenešice. Wolf’s sons Michael (1787), Pinkas (1791) and Löwy (1796) were born there, while Elias (1807) and Moises (1810) were born in Postoloprty, because Wolf was invited back to occupy his father’s position as licensed Jew there. We do not know how many daughters were born to the family, because the Books of Jewish families only record sons.
It was possible to trace the family even further back by consulting the lists of Jews written up in Bohemia in 1793, 1784 and 1724, as well as the papers of the so-called Theresianum – the early eighteenth-century Czech cadaster, where the Jews settled on the estate of Postoloprty were recorded in 1715, with information going back to 1670. The 1793 list of Jews has been opened up to the public in a scholarly edition prepared by students of archival science at the Charles University in Prague. This 1793 list records the glazier Elias Glaser, with his wife Barbara and his sons Lewi, Simon presently in Vienna, and Isaak. The family is recorded as being under the protection of the estate of Postoloprty. The 1793 list also records for the estate of Lenešice Elias’s son Wolf with his wife Katharina and his two sons. They owned a house which had been sold to them by the manorial administration and they lived from potash production.
Elias Glaser is also recorded in Postoloprty in the 1783 list of Jews, with his wife and 4 children. This list records that for three months of the year he worked as a glazier, and the rest of year lived from selling spices and haberdashery.
Here the clear genealogical linkage between Adolf Glaser and Elias Glaser ends. The 1724 list of Jews, and also the records of the Theresianum from 1715, only mention a Jew called Elias Veith. This man lived in Postoloprty for 44 years, and in 1715 had a wife and five children. He held the office of Jewish magistrate or headman in Postoloprty. The information about Elias Veith states that he came to Bohemia from Austria at a very young age, earned his living by trading in linen and other goods, and paid 30 Gulden “protection-money” (Schutzgeld) to the manorial authorities each year. This information about Elias Veith is consistent with the fact, noted in several regional histories, that in 1671 the owner of the estate of Postoloprty, Count von Sinzendorf, brought 55 Jews to his estate who had been banished from Austria. We may speculate that Elias Veith was an ancestor of Elias Wolf Glaser, the great-great-grandfather of our Adolf Glaser, and thus that the history of the Glaser family in Postoloprty can be traced back, rather insecurely, to the later seventeenth century. However, we cannot have absolute confidence in any of the links before 1783.
Let me now give you one more brief demonstration. On the occasion of my visit to the district archives in Louny in search of Adolf Glaser and his ancestors, an archivist colleague showed me the card register of local Jews, drawn up by the district authorities in 1938 and 1939. The registration cards were completed with photographs of registered Jews. If such a card can be found, then it will often provide the sole surviving picture of an individual who may have been killed in a concentration camp. In the card register for Louny, I found the cards and pictures for the family of Julius (born in 1890) and Marie (born in 1900) Glaser and their daughters Johanna (born in 1926) and Marie (born in 1928) from Lenešice. While Julius is recorded as being of the Jewish religion, his wife and daughters were recorded as being Catholic. Julius came from the family of Friedrich Glaser (born in 1858), owner of a farm in Lenešice, and Julie Getreuer from Louny. His grandfather Simon Glaser (born in 1826) departed from the family occupation of glaziers, and became a tanner in Lenešice. In 1849 he obtained permission to get married to Theresia Glaser from Leškov. The couple had 8 children. Julius’s great-grandfather Michael Glaser (born in 1787) came from Postoloprty and was a son of the great-great-grandfather of the family, Wolf Glaser (born 1760) and Kressel Kofman (Katharina Kaufmann). The family circle is closed in the person of Julius’s great-great-great-grandfather Elias Glaser (born 1735), who was the head of the Glaser family in the second half of the eighteenth century, as I described before.
While Adolf and Julius Glaser had the same ancestors and relatives, their fates during the period of World War II were quite different. Adolf was deported as early as 1942 and killed, but Julius was sent to a labour camp at the beginning of 1945 and survived. It seems that his wife was not of Jewish origin and for this reason during the Nazi occupation Julius was more protected than other Jews, and Marie and his daughters escaped. How they lived after 1945, we do not know. Because of the legislation governing personal data protection, it is not possible for anyone who is not a direct descendant to continue genealogical research.
If we accept the speculation that Elias Veith, who came to Postoloprty from Austria in the later seventeenth century, was the direct ancestor of Elias Wolf Glaser, we can follow the Glaser family in the Jewish community for more than 250 years. The occupation of glazier, in which most of them were engaged, gave the surname to five generations of the family. The heads of the Glaser family were among the representatives of the Jewish community, where they held several formal offices. They had large families with large numbers of children. Thanks to the relatively stable conditions in the Jewish community and the protection granted to Jews by the manorial authorities, most of the sons from all branches of the Glaser family obtained positions as licensed Jews or were able to earn a livelihood in some other way, either in Postoloprty or in the villages or domains in the vicinity. The centuries-long history of the Jewish community in Postoloprty was broken by violence in World War II and did not recover because those who might have been able to continue its activities were lost.
The estate of Postoloprty and its Jewish community was unusually successful in collecting and preserving almost all of the types of archival documents I have discussed in this lecture. However, it is important to recognize that many archives of Jewish communities were either destroyed or damaged beyond redemption during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and the Second Wordl War. Genealogical research is like solving a „puzzle“, in which the pieces are not stored in a single box, but instead scattered in different places, so even before they can be fit together, they have to be sought out and collected.
5. Accessing archival sources: the project „Bohemia, Moravia et Silesia Judaica“
Genealogical research does not always end with the compiling of a family tree. The desire for a colourfully illustrated tree of life often inspires a dream of putting specific faces to the names one has found, investigating one’s ancestors’ lives more closely, and following up each life story. This dream cannot be satisfied merely by the simple records found in the registers of births, marriages and deaths. One has to search for historical causes, learn more about economic and social situation of a particular time in history, and in particular explore the history of the Jewish community in a particular country.
In the last ten years, an increasing number of Bohemian and Moravian archivists and historians have focussed on the history of the Jews in the Czech Lands. Most attention has been devoted to the events of World War II and the Shoah of Czech Jews. But in addition there are many publications focussing on the history of Czech Jews from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. The work of archivists has been mostly aimed at opening up the hitherto unused archival sources they have found in the course of their routine professional activities. A review of what has been published on the history of Jews and Jewish communities in the Czech Lands over the last ten years can be found in the journal Judaica Bohemiae, volume XL, for 2004 (published by the Jewish Museum in Prague, 2005, pages 277-290).
Modern historians dealing with the history of Jews in the Czech Lands in the early modern period repeatedly refer to the fact that existing archival sources have not been sufficiently explored. The observation relates primarily to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Researchers only have at their disposal a few old-fashioned and unsatisfactory editions of the historical sources from this period. As a result, nine years ago historians and archivists began a research project entitled “Bohemia, Moravia et Silesia Judaica” (BMSJ) – a part of the international project “Germania Judaica IV”. The aim of this project was to locate as many archival sources as possible for the history of the Jews in the Czech Lands – which means in Bohemia, Moravia and the Czech part of Silesia – for the period 1520-1670, and to make these documents available in the form of a scholarly edition. The project, which covered the territory of Czech Lands within the borders of 1750, started in the summer of 1999 in the framework of a project entitled “Austria Judaica” led by the Institute for the History of the Jews in Austria (Institut für Geschichte der Juden in Österreich). Since 2005, this project has been directed and supported by the Society for the History of Jews in the Czech Republic, headed by the historian Dr. Helmut Teufel.
The members of the project have been undertaking research into a number of archives in the Czech Republic and have been covering all sources from the period 1520-1670 which have any application to the Jewish inhabitants. This method of research is time-consuming and expensive, but very effective, and after many years of intensive research is now bringing in good results. The archival documents which are discovered are processed in the following form:
a) A full transcription is made of all documents falling into particular categories, such as significant privileges, deeds and letters, and important records in official registers which deal primarily with the Jewish population. In these cases, the full text of each document is transcribed and supplemented with a short summary of the content; texts in the Germany language are always transliterated.
b) A partial transcription supplemented by an extended summary is provided for all documentary sources which were primarily written up to record the majority Christian population but which mention Jews in passing; these include registers of serf obligations, censuses, tax registers, financial papers, account-books, and general correspondence.
c) A brief summary of the contents and the precise archival reference is provided for all archival sources which already exist in other editions, are duplicates of sources in other collections, are dated outside the primary period of interest, or are not very important for the history of Jewish people.
This approach to processing the documents complies with the principles of producing a scholarly edition of archival sources. The edition is also equipped with appropriate footnotes, references to other editions of documents, and secondary literature about the documentary sources. In addition, all information about Jewish individuals mentioned in the documentary sources – name, sex, occupation, family relationships, place of origin, and archival reference – are recorded in a parallel electronic database in the form of an Excel file which is set up in such a way as to enable statistical and demographic analyses.
Any archival sources in the Hebrew language have been reproduced, indexed, and passed over to Hebrew specialists to transcribe and translate. The same process has been applied to any Jewish seals discovered on the documents. Part of the edition of a number of these archival sources consists of photographs of texts in Hebrew and Jewish seals.
The archival research underlying this project has been financed by public sources (supplied by foundatiosn and grants) and by donations from private individuals. The results of the intensive research currently being conducted in Moravian archives are gradually being made available on the website of the Society for the History of the Jews at www.BMSJ.eu. This website has versions in two languages – Czech and German. An English-language version is planned for the introductory and associated texts, while the edition itself will stick with the language used in the original sources (either Czech or German). The website has been fully functional since the beginning of January 2008. At present, it makes available archival files from eight archives, mainly in Moravia. Information on the documentary sources that have been used is currently being completed. If finances and the time of the researchers permit, additional documentary collections will be included from Czech archives and – in the case of Silesia – also from Poland archives.
The Internet website www.BMSJ.eu has two levels – a public level and a fee-paying level. The public level provides access to the introductory and associated texts concerning the archives and collections, a summary of a number of documentary sources, and the Excel files which fulfil the function of indexes. The fee-paying level of the website offers, in return for payment of a user-fee, unlimited access to the editions of all the documentary sources that have been collected. The funds raised through these website fees will be used for collection of further archival information on the Jewish population of the Czech Lands.
One particular group of documentary sources which have been located and made available within this project are a number of censuses of the Jewish population of the Czech Lands. These are among the most valuable historical sources not only for historical demography and statistics, but also for genealogical studies. These censuses and lists are presented in a special group of documents under the rubric „Lists of Jews“. They include surveys and lists drawn up on the orders of the manorial authorities as well as on the command of the state (such as censuses and tax-cadasters). The documents included in this group contain, at a minimum, the nominal list of Jews settled in each locality. For later periods, such lists include a much greater quantity of associated information concerning the property and occupation of the Jews who are listed. Most important for genealogical research are the vital events and information concerning wives, children, other family members and relatives. One of the main aims of this project is to make public the lists drawn up from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century and to fill the existing lack of documetnary sources for genealogical research after 1670. These editions of the lists of the Jewish population are fully accessible upon payment of a registration fee.
The structure of the project’s internet website can be seen now in a brief presentation. After the opening page, which has basic information relating to the project „Bohemia, Moravia et Silesia Judaica“ and a survey of results so far, there is a statement concerning the organization currently responsible for the proejct, the „Association for the History of the Jews in the Czech Republic“ („Společnost pro dějiny židů v České republice“) based in Brno, at the address Slovanské nám. 8 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). The slot labeled “Survey of the archive” (Seznam archivů) gives the gist of the editions of documents. This section of the website publishes all the sources which have been worked up, according to the various archives and archival collections in which the research was carried out or is currently being performed.
At present, the following archives are available: Archiv města Brna (AMB) – City Archives of Brno
The second part of the survey of archives provides a complete edition or transcription of the text of various documentary sources, including footnotes containing all the important information concerning the documents used, including bibliographical data. This part of the edition is accessible once one pays a registration fee.
As is apparent, the project „Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia Judaica“ offers to researchers information useful not only for the history of Jews in the Czech Lands, but also for regional history, historical demography, and studies of the social and economic conditions of Jews living in Moravian towns and villages. Whether analogous research in other Moravian and Czech Archives will continue in future depends above all on the availability of funding to keep together the current productive and expert research team.
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The number of people wishing compile their own family tree has increased significantly over the last decade. Researchers usually begin by investigating the three basic events that significantly influence a person’s fate - birth, marriage and death. Some of them come to the archives prepared, with basic information concerning their ancestors or relatives and sometimes also familiar with the history of Czech Land. But those are not so many. There are more researchers who come with the name and at best an approximate year of birth (or marriage, or death) of the person they are looking for, somewhere in the Czech or Austrian Lands. There are even some researchers who lost all documents and also any possibility of learning anything by word of mouth, because their parents, grandparents, relatives or friends were killed in the Holocaust.
What can be quite easy in undertaking Christian genealogy is usually more complicated in Jewish genealogical research. As we have seen, the collection of Jewish registers of vital events is not complete because most of the originals were destroyed, along with other Jewish documents and archives, during the Second World War. Jewish families also moved house more often than Christian families, and often the last known address where they were living before being deported to a concentrations camp was not in the locality where they and their ancestors had been living for many generations. This is especially true of Jews who had previously lived in the Nazi-occupied “Sudeten” borderland regions of Czechoslovakia. The discriminatory laws even influenced Jewish names and the state of the master records, which makes genealogical research even more difficult.
In cases where someone searching for their Jewish ancestors comes with just a few small hints, the archivists will do their best to find information in all the different kinds of documents available – both well-known and obscure. The aim of my lecture today has been to show you where to go to inquire, how to do so, and what the archives can and cannot do. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that luck matters – but fortune favours the person who is well-prepared.
I hope that my presentation today will provide helpful to you in orientating yourselves in the archival sources on the history of Jews in the Czech Lands and to achieving a fuller understanding of the challenges and rewards of genealogical research on Czech Jews.
Thank you very much for your attention.