STRAZNICE JEWISH CEMETERY
In June 2008 this south Moravian cemetery was visited by hundreds of townspeople, local, regional and Prague dignitaries and twenty foreign descendants of the town's disappeared Jewish families.
Map of cemetery
They had all come on a hot summer's day to celebrate the opening of the freshly restored two hundred year old synagogue of Stránice.
After more than fifty years of benign neglect, destruction and attempted renovations in the 1870's and 1900's the Jewish settlement of Stránice was again the site of cantorial songs. Brno cantor Jiři Neufeld and his nephew Cantor Toma Neufeld sang the Shema outside the shule.
Jiři Danicek, Chairman of the Jewish Federation made a speech as did the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Stránice who welcomed the crowds. The Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic based in Prague owns the cemetery which was restituted in 1993.The local media was there in force and the event was featured on national television.
Prior to the ceremony, a special Mayoral reception was held in the Town Hall to honour the descendants and their families who arrived from America, Australia, England, Israel, and Italy. At the cemetery and after the speeches all the onlookers were invited into the restored synagogue it had taken at least 15 years for the restorations to be completed- where the local Museum had installed a comprehensive exhibition about the Jews of Stránice. It included ancient photographs of pre- war Jewish communal life, a Torah, a model of the town showing the old ghetto and large panels devoted to the Jewish school and the five thousand square metre cemetery.
The synagogue will be used by the Museum for concerts and exhibitions and will be open Friday, Saturday, and Sundays, staffed by volunteers from the town for limited hours. The opening hours will be 13.30-17.30pm from 5 June to 15 September 2008.
Next to the synagogue stands the unrestored burial hall. The ninety four houses in the old ghetto are still there and now house locals. In addition to the synagogue, burial hall and cemetery there is an ancient Mikveh in the basement of the house used by the former caretaker and amateur archaeologist Dr Pajer.
Stránice is a small town in southern Moravia 245 km SE of Prague. Opinions are divided on when it was founded; some claim the Thirteenth Century, others as late as the Fifteenth Century. According to Czech author Jiři Fiedler (1) at least fifty five Jewish families lived there in 1699; a century later 84 Jewish families were permitted to reside there. Five hundred and sixty nine Jewish persons are recorded in 1848 but only 323 by 1900 and the number dropped further to 194 in 1930. Today there are no Jews in the town.
The New Jewish Quarter is on the NE boundary (today's Sadová, Bzenecká, Zákoutí, B. Hrejsové and Kovářská streets). It was not an enclosed ghetto as Christians lived there as well as Jews. The school and the rabbi's home were in Bzenecká 33.
The synagogue is in Sadová Street 500m NNE of the Town Square. It was rebuilt in the neo Romanesque style after 1869 and renewed in 1906. Services were held until WW2. The interior and furnishing were destroyed under the Nazi occupation and the women's NW extension pulled down. The synagogue is surrounded on three sides by the cemetery, which is unusual in the Czech Republic.
The opening ceremony of June 2008 featured the addition of a plaque designed by Ing. Jaroslav Klenovský (2) and sculptor Nikos Armutidis, to commemorate the Jews killed in the Shoah. Of 154 Jews of Straznice forcibly deported in January 1943 by the Nazis only 13 returned after the war (3). The ceremony also inaugurated the tall new black metal gates designed by Ing. Klenovský which are decorated by a large golden Magen David on each gate.
For days before and after the ceremony a group of volunteers photographed and recorded about one third of the 1,100 stones in the cemetery. Most of the photos were taken by Peter Gordy. The work was coordinated by Daniela Torsh of Sydney, Australia and Dr Michael Gordy of Maryland, USA with the assistance of Ing. Jaroslav Klenovský from Brno, Dr Susan Bryant of Connecticut USA, Peter and Carol Gordy from New York, USA, Cristina Reiss Gigl from Tuscany, Italy and the Czech caretaker Rudolf Masek and his wife Karolina.
The work brigade found new family graves and using our combined skills was able to make some significant discoveries. Dr Michael Gordy found that the overall organization of the cemetery was wealthy benefactors mainly to the east, oldest stones to the north, and children to the far west. The cemetery is in a reasonable state and most of the tombstones are still standing though the older ones are weathering with some having lost their inscriptions. The oldest legible tombstones date from 1647.
Stones consist of marble, granite and sandstone. Styles range from baroque, art deco, classicist to modernist and decorations include a mohel's knife and a shofar; most are inscribed in Hebrew, German and a few in Czech. Some more recent stones have photos of the deceased and many are enclosed by low metal fences and gates. There are fruit trees growing in the cemetery but it is not overgrown. There is a wall around the cemetery but this has not stopped some vandalism.
After the celebrations in June the synagogue and cemetery might have a better future now that they will be used by the town which is committed to their maintenance.
References and notes
Czech Foundation for Holocaust Victims website is www.fondholocaust.cz.
Federation of Jewish Communities in Czech Republic website: www.fedzid.com.
The website for Stránice is www.straznice-mesto.cz. The town hall is at Metsky urad, nam Svobody, 503 Straznice, Czech Republic.
Written by Daniela Torsh
- Jiři Fiedler. Guide Book. Jewish Sights of Bohemia and Moravia. Sefer, Prague, 1991
- Jaroslav Klenovský. Zidovske pamatky Moravy a Sleszka. Jewish Monuments of Moravia and Silesia. ERA, Brno, 2001.
- G.Rucká: Osudy stránických idů za 2.světové války, in idé a Morava 2000, Kroměří, 2001, pp147- 152
19 January 2009