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[Pages 193-196]

History of Jews in Humpolec

(Czech Republic – 49°33' 15°22')

by Adolf Brock

Translated by Rita McLeod

It is not known when the first Jews settled in Humpolec. According to the oldest known document kept in the archives of the Zeliv monastery, dated May 15 1385, there were already several Jewish families living in Humpolec in 1385. Later, however, there is no mention of them and data from the 1618 census does not refer to a single Jewish inhabitant. It is however possible that the Jews were included under Heralec estate.

First census list (1719) archived in the Jewish Community offices in Humpolec, indicates the presence of 10 families with 49 members.

That same year a field was purchased and a cemetery established by the then chairman I. Mark Falg, a cloth merchant. The same also founded the Chevrah Kadisha in 1728 and became its first chairman. The following chairmen were Solomon Lobl Lurje, Bernard Beck (died 1801), Lazarus Bauer (died 1854), Albert Bauer (died 1884), Abraham Bondy (died 1897), Adolf Bauer (died 1900) and Simon Schneider (since).

Religious services were performed in private households. In 1754 the above mentioned Isaak Mark Falg applied to the owner of Heralec estate Jakub Benedikt, freeholder of Neffzern, as well as to the gubernium and the archbishop, for the permission to build a synagogue. The building began in 1760.

The building site (a garden of Jan Becvar, who received a field “Tajovsko” instead) was sold by the freeholder of Neffzern to the Jewish Community for 420 Rhine guilders. The money used was collected from local and foreign Israelites, and the new synagogue was dedicated in 1762 by the chairman Isaak Mark Falg. As the property was bought by the Jewish community from a Christian owner, the Jewish community had to pay two guilders to the Humpolec presbytery each year. This is evidenced by a certified confirmation of 1798 in the archives of the Jewish community in Humpolec.

The successor of Isaak Mark Falg was Isaak Michal Neumann. All we know about him is that he resigned in 1787 and died in 1801.

There were 24 Jewish families living in Humpolec in 1787. The same year Kopelman Bondy was elected chairman. He remained in office till 1801, and died in 1838. In 1801 Lowy Bauer became the chairman. He was probably the most influential chairman of the Jewish community. He was highly educated, a hard worker and renown for his charity. He founded a foundation of 10 000 guilders for poor brides from the Bauer family, and also a foundation for the poor members of the Humpolec Jewish community.

Both these foundations are to this day overseen by the city hall (according to Bauer's last testament of June 22, 1810). He also bought a house called “Flusovna” for 275 guilders. In 1801 he established a hospital and public bath in that building. To the synagogue he donated a new Torah with the entire silverware, and a velvet cover with gold embroidery, as well as the screen for the holy container (see the gift certificate of 1807).

After him came the chairman Salomon Beck (died 1824). During his chairmanship Isaak Kern of Ledec founded the foundation for the Jewish poor in Humpolec. After S. Beck came Benjamin Stiassny, and after him came Simon Horner (died 1842). A great disaster struck our community during his chairmanship. A fire in 1825 demolished 10 houses belonging to our members. Gabriel Hellmann was chairman after Horner (died 1852), and then came Rubin Bauer (died 1857), Aron Lowy and Emanuel Pollak (1846-1857).

During this period two charitable branches of the community were established: in 1851 “Kupos anijim” by Michal Lowy and Elias Hellmann, to support local and foreign Jewish poor, and in 1852 “Bikkur cholim” by dr. Salomon Frank for the purchase of medicine for the poor, and/or providing food to the poor.

In 1854 the former chairman Rubin Bauer donated a new Torah to the community, kuppah and the capital of 105 guilders, the interest of which is used for the maintenance of these objects.

At the same time a great benefactor Jakub Beck founded several foundations for the poor, donated grants for students, endowments for schools. Altogether he donated 1312 guilders and 50 crowns.

The same year for the first time a Jew was elected to the town council -- Dr. Salomon Frank. The following year brought our community a new gift of a Torah with its covering and silverware.

In 1857 Emanuel Pollak resigned and was replaced by Albert Bauer, who resigned in 1858. In 1857 two more foundations were created: the Rubin Bauer Foundation (capital of 420 guilders), and Isaak Lowy Foundation (capital of 420 guilders, as well as synagogue seats number 26, 33, 40 and 15.) After Albert Bauer came Leopold Lowy, who was in office only for one year. (1858-59). After that, Ignac Hellmann was elected (1859-1864). This was a modern and progressive man, who kept pace with the mood of the time and cared to elevate the spiritual life of the community. Thanks to his generosity and charity, the synagogue was renovated and decorated. A gallery was built for the women's section, and number of seats extended. He also modernized the services and introduced singing into the services.

In 1861 he founded and built a two-class hebrew-german school. This school was approved by the council on September 15, 1861 (permit #46.516) and it opened in 1862.

In 1861 the citizens elected Ignaz Hellmann and Albert Bauer to the council, as well as Filip Stiassny as replacement. This was a proof of the religious tolerance and progress of the Christian citizens, who did not examine religion when electing councilors, but looked more at the individual's ability and suitability for an elected office. In 1864 many Jews received the rights of town citizens, this is an additional proof of religious tolerance. During that time Abraham Hellmann, Leopold Haller and Albert Bauer were elected to the town council and Emanuel Pollak was made a judge. Thus Ignac Hellmann elevated our community and earned for us the respect and appreciation of our Christian co-citizens. He resigned after five, for us blessed years, in 1864.

After his resignation, Marek Bauer was called as the chairman. This was a man of unusually high education (1864-1879). Many foundations were established under his chairmanship -- “Ner Tomid” (eternal light), a metal safe was bought together with Chevrah Kadisha, and a regular payment from the “beer money” was requested and obtained for the maintenance of the school. Under the direction of Solomon Klein he founded “Talmud Tora” (school supporting division of the community), foundation supporting poor women (1867). He also proposed a new set of bylaws for our community (1874), which was approved in 1875.

Although on the surface he was an excellent chairman, so much so that he was elected President of the State Jewish Organization, as well as a member of Humpolec town council, he did not understand and maintain the internal economy of our community. After his death the community was in such sorrow state that its financial resurrection was hardly possible. Not only was there no money, but the community was faced with many debts. An emergency general meeting of the community was called on July 6, 1879 and Leopold Haller (1879-1881) was elected chairman. He ruled energetically and with a steady hand he brought affairs under control.

In 1880, last day of the “Podzelene” holidays, the synagogue was robbed of its silver ware, part of which was later recovered from the chimney and from the gutter. When Chairman Heller wanted to expand the school by two rooms, he met with opposition and therefore resigned.

After him, Moric Bondy became the chairman on August 15, 1881 (1881-1887). During his chairmanship a thorough reconstruction of the synagogue and of the school was undertaken (1882) and the Jewish community joined the group of “Czech academics-Jews” in Prague (1883).

On May 25, 1886, our community was dealt a major blow. At 2 a.m. a fire started in the tailor Medek's house in the “Jewish town”. In strong winds, the fire consumed 16 houses and the synagogue. Nine Jewish families were left homeless. However, the same day by 10 a.m. members of the congregation collected among themselves 337 guldens and 35 kreutzers and 290 guldens were immediately distributed to the victims. For schooling, a room at the “White Lion” inn was rented. The collection yielded altogether 2555 guldens and 80 kreutzers.

General meeting on June 20, 1886 decided to begin construction of a new school building and to rebuild the synagogue. This was completed by the end of August 1886.

Moric Bondy's leadership of our community was careful and he anxiously took care to keep order in financial matters. During the next election, held on August 7 1887, JUDr. [Doctor of Law] Alexander Frank (1887-1902) was elected. He was well known for his good heartedness. He was generous to the poor, and supported all things beautiful, not only in our community, but also in the wider public, where he was held in high esteem. On the other hand, he did not pay too much attention to the matters of the community and neglected many things. Under his leadership, a choir “Shir Sion” was founded in 1890, and two years later a semicircular choir stall was built at the synagogue. This is where the choir placed its organ. The law of March 21, 1890 forced our community to set up a competition for the position of Rabbi. PhDr. Moric Wohl was appointed (1894). The time gave birth to the Pollak Endowment (2000 crowns for the poor) and our community joined the “National Czech-Jewish Unity”. Rabbi Dr. Wohl started with us in 1895 and left us in 1898. Since then, our Rabbi had been Marek Jedlinský.

In 1896, new bylaws and regulations of our community, as a self-governing corporation, were developed, and approved by the regional imperial government of Czech lands. These were based on the law of March 21, 1890, which established new rules of governing Jewish communities. The school, established in 1861, was abolished at the end of 1900 school year. After the death of Dr. Frank in June 1902, the community was chaired briefly by Emanuel Mandler, and then, in elections on July 27, 1902, Dr. Žibøid Lederer was elected. At that time our community had 63 members and 320 family members, and the incorporated area of the community included Humpolec district, and the Vìž and Lipnice villages. Apart from the synagogue and the school, the community owned house # 494 in Humpolec and had funds of 32 000 crowns for charitable purposes. There were four independent groups active in our community: 1. The funeral brotherhood of Chevrah Kadisha, 2. Group for supporting poor Israelite women, 3. Group for supporting poor girls, and 4. Choir group “Shir Sion”. Other departments of the community included a) “Kupas Anijim” for the poor, b) educational “Talmud Torah”, c) “Bikur Cholim” for the sick, d) “Zedaka”, and e) Ner Tomid” for keeping the eternal light.

Chairmen of the Jewish community in Humpolec (1719-1902): Isák Marek Falg (1719-??), Isák Michal Neumann (??-1797), Kopelman Bondy (1787-1901), Löwy Bauer (1801-1807), Šalamoun Beck (1807-1824), Benjamin Stiassny (1824-??), Simon Horner (??-1842), Gabriel Hellmann (1842-1843), Rubín Bauer (1843-1844), Aron Löwy (1844-1846), Emanuel Pollák (1846-1857), Albert Bauer (1857-1858), Leopold Löwy (1858-1859), Ignác Hellmann (1859-1864), Marek Bauer (1864-1879), Leopold Haller (1879-1881), Moric Bondy (1881-1887), JUDr. Alexander Frank (1887-1902), JUDr. Žibøid Lederer (1902-).

New board of the community, elected on July 27 1902, was very busy sorting out all the bills and funds, and reforming the governing process of the community. On its first meeting on August 4 1902, they established private tutoring in Hebrew, support of the poor who did not belong to the community, and established proper accounting procedures in the community books. After abolishing the private German school, some of the educational materials were left to the school in Dobøíš, some to local public schools.

In April 1903, Antonie Dvoøáková from Bystrá started a rumour about a ritual murder committed by the cantor Mr. Posamentir. The court investigation, which started immediately, exonerated the accused and Antonie Dvoøáková was imprisoned for eight days. In 1904, religious education was commenced and fees set for marriage ceremonies. Next year the bylaws for the poor women support group were adopted, and new elections confirmed again Dr. Lederer as chairman.

At the same time, the community finally received the ownership of the house # 194, donated by the Reiner family from Královec, which was sold on September 8 1905 to Mr. Pichler for 1200 crowns. Half of that amount was used to adapt an apartment in the former school for the second cantor, Mr. Traub, the rest of 600 crowns was deposited in a term account for the community needs.

In 1907, appropriate measures were take to establish religious education in Vìž, Herálec, Vojslavice and Èejov.

In February 1908, new elections again confirmed Dr. Lederer.

On Jewish New Year, Mr. Beck donated to the community a precious gift of 200 crowns. Half of that amount was distributed among the poor, half was used for the reconstruction fund of the synagogue.

In 1909, Dr. Stiller from Budapest announced to the community an inheritance from the Baroness Schlossberg of 600 crowns.

New elections in April 1911 again confirmed Dr. Lederer.

In August 1911, after working for the community for 32 years, cantor Jakub Posamentir died.

September 12, 1912, first year of the New Year 5673, commemorated 150 years since the synagogue was consecrated, which Rabbi Jedlinský remembered in his address.

On February 4, 1913, the Board of our community named Herman Beck of Vienna, the director of Emerich Dítì company in Humpolec, an honorary member of our community. Managers of this company installed electric light in the entire building of the synagogue, totally at their own cost. This allowed the synagogue to shine in its full glory for the first time on the eve of Pesach on April 21 1913. In December 1913 our vice-cantor, Max Schwarz left our community, as he moved to Prague.

In 1914, our community took over the Rosalie Bondová Endowment from Lipnice of 200 crowns for the poor, and Adolf Pollák Endowment from Vienna of 4000 crowns for the upkeep of graves and for the poor. In April 1914, to commemorate his dead parents, Richard Dubský from Prague 2 donated two stain-glass windows to the synagogue, which enhanced its beauty enormously.

Dr. Žibøid Lederer was again successfully elected in June 1914.

The World War affected the life of our community, as many members of our community or their sons were drafted to serve. The war affected us in other ways as well. The Jewish refugees from Galicia arrived, and our community and its individual members had to provide support of clothes and money to them. In April 1915, the number of Jewish refugees from Poland increased considerably, and although members of the local community committed voluntarily 670 crowns a month, their support and generosity was not enough. Therefore, a collection from the wider community was initiated, which brought in over 2000 crowns.

The presence of Jewish refugees in the region increased the already existing anti-Jewish tensions, mainly because the refugees insisted on their rituals and customs. This caused animosity and hatred from the local inhabitants who often accused them unjustly of various crimes.

In January and February 1916, several more members of our community, mostly older ones, joined the Army. We regret the passing of Arnošt Kraus who at the age of 49 lost his life to typhus on a Russian battlefield and was buried at the Jewish cemetery in Lucek on April 20 1916.

Our community lost a long-time member and Chevrah Kadisha its chairman. Members of our community will no doubt keep his memory alive.

In last days of June 1916, another 297 refugees arrived in the Humpolec region and it was necessary for our members to take care of them. In 1918, the work began on repatriating these refugees back to Galicia and Bukovina. Because of their total number of 724, their stay was becoming intolerable, as food rations were low. Last refugees left our region on May 9 1918.

On October 28 1918, an independent and free Czechoslovak State was proclaimed in Prague, under the cheers of thousands and thousands. The 300 years long servitude of the Czech nation was over.

In Humpolec, happy inhabitants celebrated this on October 29. The Jewish Community celebrated the new Czechoslovak State by a special service on November 7, 1918. Just a few days before, at a special commemorative meeting of the Jewish community, Chairman Lederer delivered an exultant speech and conveyed our hope for better future of the Jewish people. During the same meeting, the Board donated 400 crowns to the widows and orphans of the Czech legionaries. At the occasion of the finished war and truce, our Chairman remembered all the fallen peers from our community: Arnošt Kraus, Leo Haller, and J. Müller from Humpolec, J. Freund from Želiv, Hugo Pollák from Kejžlice, J. Bauer and G. Glückner from Herálec and J. Bondy from Lipnice.

Their memory was honored by inscription in our Memorial book and by members standing up.

January 11 1920 brought another election, and Dr. Žibøid Lederer was again elected chairman. He resigned in February 1922, and when, despite protests and pleas of the community he persisted, Adolf Brock was elected new chairman on March 4, 1920 and his deputy was JUDr. Otto Posamentir.

The same year the synagogue and cemetery were repaired by the joint effort of Chevrah Kadisha and the community, at the cost of 13 thousand crowns. This money was partly obtained by a collection among local members and compatriots living abroad.

During the election on November 22, 1922 Dr. Otto Posamentir was elected chairman and Žibøid Zajtschek was elected his deputy.

In 1923, the town of Humpolec built a pavement in front of the synagogue, with partial contribution of the Jewish Community. On December 12, 1923 Rabbi Jedlinský died (4 Tebet 5684) and was buried on December 16 in the local cemetery.

The previous year already marked a decrease in synagogue attendance, and this trend continues. There are a number of causes. Older members pass on and their descendants do not care to come, mainly because of their lack of Hebrew. This prevents them from following the services. This shows what happens when inflexibility and backwardness in religion prevails. Only the renewal of Jewish religion and its reform into the national language, in this case the Czech language, can bring the desired improvements.

In July 1924, our community got a new Rabbi, Benedikt Wendeles.

Our former chairman Dr. Žibøid Lederer died on September 5, 1924 (6 Elul 5684) and was buried on September 7 at the local cemetery. Nobody from the Board made a speech to commemorate a man who administered the community so honestly and diligently from July 27 1902 until March 4 1922.

The elections on January 3, 1926 did not bring any changes in the leadership and Dr. Posamentir was again elected Chairman. Membership is continually decreasing, which causes increases in membership fees. In order for the community to maintain its financial viability, the Board is forced to ask members as well as compatriots living abroad for voluntary contributions. The future looks bleak and unsustainable.

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