Czech Republic

A supplement for Čkyně

From the Jewish History of Čkyně

       The town of Čkyně, near the Sumava mountains, had a rich history of Jewish settlements whose beginnings reached back to the 16th century.  Today this is a closed chapter of history for the town.  Looking back to the historical fates of Ckynes’ Israelites, not their individual histories, and to see the monuments which we remember them by is the subject of this article.

       Under a feudal society no Jewish settlement in any particular place was entitled to full civil rights, as a matter of course.  Their settlements and life in the country depended upon the benevolence of a ruling king, the aristocracy, and the Christian population.  During times of relative calm and peace the Jews were tolerated  but, during periods of political and social upheaval, Jews were always the first victims.  From this perspective we must judge the evolution of Jewish settlement in Čkyně.

       Čkyně at the end of the 16th century was the commercial and trade center of what was then southwest Volyn, and there were a number of Jewish families there.  In the 30 Year War, which destructively reached Čkyně and its surrounding area, the Jewish population declined to one family.  The tax book recorded in 1654 that on the Vysoky farm and in Čkyně there lived two Jews:  Stastny who lived poorly, and Izaka who came with his parents from Poland but went to Moravia and stayed.

       After the 30 Year War, Jews again began slowly to resettle Čkyně.  Most Jews in Čkyně were in the business of trade, some peddled waresfrom house to house, a few farmed, and the wealthier ones lent money for interest.  Between the years 1703 and 1728, Adam Frantisek Hrusovsky, then the owner of Čkyně, defended the Jews from a Volyn magistrate with whom they were in dispute.  The Teresian land register from 1748 states that in Čkyně county there were ten Jewish families: six traded in  wool, linen, and feathers; two families traded in hides; one family sold liquor; and one Jew worked as a painter.  On August 16, 1825 the statistical book of Frantisek Loebl showed that in Čkyně there were 28 Jewish houses containing 151 Jewish settlers and 79 Christian houses containing 526 Christian settlers.  The Čkyně priest, P. Frantisek Stane, in his German news book about Čkyně, wrote that on January 3, 1826, in addition to the Catholic inhabitants, there were 30 Jewish families who had built a nicely equipped synagogue.  The rise in Jewish settlements is also documented in a large ethnological work, Das Konigreich Bohmen, Statistish - topographisch Dargestellt, whose author, Johann Gottfried Sommer, stated that, in 1840, 34 Jewish families with 207 people settled in Čkyně.  Sommer also said that these Jews were in commerce:  4 in trade; 1 shopkeeper; and 24 housepeddlers.

       The synagogue was, as in other settlements, the spiritual center of the Jewish village in Čkyně.  The original synagogue that stood in the middle of so-called Vysoky dvur was within a neighborhood of commercial buildings.  The owner of Čkyně, Judr. Karel Cloudi, after mutual agreement, used the synagogue for commercial purposes.  In 1828, Cloudi built a new synagogue with his own money which still exists today as a regular house, no. 105.

       In a book commemorating the Čkyně parish  was a record about abolishing the old synagogue and building a new one.  The construction of the new synagogue began on April 14, 1828 and was finished September 26 of the same year.  This new synagogue was one of the biggest and most beautiful synagogues in Prachen  county.  P. Frantisek wrote on November 13, 1829 that this synagogue was the most beautiful building, and certainly nothing matched its beauty in all of Prachen county.  The synagogue was also mentioned in a we2ork by Johann Gottfried Sommer.
In its zenith during the nineteenth century, the Jewish community of Čkyně had its own rabbi, cantor, and shammos (the synagogue caretaker).  Besides the Čkyně Jews, other Jews from areas surrounding Čkyně attended services, especially on the holidays.  Services were conducted regularly until 1895, after which services were then held in the town of Vimperk.  However, the rabbis continued to live in Čkyně.  On occasions the synagogue was still used for religious services until the end of the World War I.  During that  war, Julius Lowenbein led the services.

       In the year 1849, the legislative segregation of the Jewish population was abolished.  After this, many Jews moved from small villages to larger towns and cities for a better life.  Because Jewish settlements were in great decline in Bohemia between 1849 and 1890, the Austro-Hungarian government had to react.  In 1890, a law was put into action which stated that there is a necessity to start or keep Jewish settlements in the villages.  However, the emigration of Jews from the villages continued after 1890.

       This situation is also seen in the Jewish settlement of Čkyně.  Up until the twentieth century, the number of Jews was in decline in Čkyně as Vimperk became the local seat of Jewish settlement.  In the First Republic (1930), there were only three Jewish families in Čkyně, consisting of eleven people.  In Prachatice county, there were twenty Jewish families until the German occupation, when the synagogue was consecrated in 1926, and then burned down in 1938.

       After the abolishment of legislative segregation, not only could the Jews settle anywhere, they could also join commercial, political, and cultural life.  After leaving their ghettos they began a slow process of assimilation with the Czechs, even within Jewish settlements in larger towns.  The Jewish people spoke mostly German and assimilated within German culture.

       From Čkyně, one Jew became the famous Czech lawyer and professor Alois Zucker (born July 4, 1842 - died October 1906 in Prague).  Zucker was a professor of the law school in Prague and the author of a large work concerning penal codes (16 books in German and Czech, as well as many magazines in Bohemia and abroad).  He was also an expert in international law and philosophy of law.  Zucker was also decorated, a member of prestigious societies, and a member of the Czech-Jewish movement, which was for Czech-oriented Jews.  In 1901, Alois Zucker published  an interesting article, “Jiri Podebradsky and Czech International Contacts in the Fifteenth Century.”  Zucker was one of the first to appraise the importance of the king’s peace negotiations from 1462-1464, and to compare them with the Hague conference in 1899.

       Although Alois Zucker was the most prominent Jew from Čkyně, other Jews from Čkyně also joined the public arena.  For example, the first postmaster, Joseph Lederer, was a member of the Jewish synagogue (died May 4, 1905, and buried in a Čkyně cemetery).  Also from Čkyně was a rabbi by the name of Joseph Bloch.  Presumably, he had a friendship with architect Joseph Zitek (1832-1909), builder of the National theater and owner of Lcovice.  Joseph Zitek was very glad to listen to this Jewish spiritual man, and he would invite Jewish children to his park to pick fruit from his trees.  When Zitek died, his funeral was in Malenice.  Supposedly, one hour before the ceremony, the Čkyně rabbi came with forty Jewish children to say goodbye, according to Jewish ritual.

       From the end of the nineteenth century until the end of the first republic, the most prominent family in Čkyně was the Lederer family.  Today the house numbers of the Lederer family are 62 and 63.  Marek Lederer (May 4, 1860-July 6, 1931) owned a store with a variety of content, including wood products such as shoes, baskets, handles, and brooms.  Lederer bought the wood products mostly from German producers who lived in villages around Vimperk.  The company of Filip Lederer was founded in 1840 in Čkyně.  After 1918, this export declined.

       The Jewish and Christian population in Čkyně had rather peaceful relations, at least until the end of the First Republic.  Without idealizing the relationship between the Christian majority and the Jewish minority in Čkyně, there were some complaints about Jews from local Christians.  However, it is safe to say that relations between the two groups were good, and there was no religious, nationalistic, or anti-Semitic tension.  The only tension between Čkyně Jews and Christians was economic in nature.  Many Christians saw Jews as economic competitors.  As an example of this peaceful relationship one must mention Jan Schlemer from the first half of the nineteenth century, a priest who loved people and a defender of subject people against temporal authorities.  He inoculated Christian and Jewish children against small pox.  Also, there was Frantisek Stane who collected valuable information about the Jewish settlement and the synagogue.  From the beginning of the twentieth century, townspeople recalled how some Catholic members of Čkyně attended Jewish ceremonies in the synagogue and, similarly,  some Jews attended Catholic services.  As a matter of course, they attended each other's funerals regardless of religious affiliations.

       The destruction of the Czech republic in the World War II brought the most tragic results for our citizens of Jewish faith and origin since, for them, the nationalistic, racist, and anti-Semitic sentiment was a mortal danger.  In the occupation of the Czech lands after the so called “protectorate of Bohmen and Mahren,” the brutal treatment of the Jewish people led to the almost total destruction of the entire Jewish population.

      After the population the Nuremburg laws came into effect, which made it mandatory for all Jews to wear a yellow star with Jude in the middle.  In October, 1941 Jews were separated from the rest of the population,  and the Nazis confiscated all Jewish property.  In their next phase, the Germans began to deport Jews to Terezin (which was labeled in 1941 as a ghetto, but in reality it was the largest concentration camp on Czech territory).  Terezin served as a transition camp from which many were deported to other death camps in Poland and Russia where the majority died of hunger, sickness, work, and mass murder in gas chambers.

       Genocide of the Jewish population in Czech lands as carried out by the Nazi regime produced a definite end to Jewish country settlements in Bohemia and Moravia, as well as in Prachatice county.  From the occupied border region the Jews were first expelled into the cut-off, smaller Czech republic.  For example, some Vimperk Jews found temporary asylum with their Jewish compatriots in Čkyně, such as the family of Isodor Schwager.  After the founding of the Theresian ghetto, the Prachatice region, which included Čkyně, was incorporated into the Protectorate.  Thus, Jews were now being deported from this region as well.  The local Jewish population was taken first to Klatovy, the location of the German Oberlandrat.  From Klatovy they were taken with other Jews to Terezinstadt on two transports:  “Cd” with 650 prisoners which arrived in Terezin on November 26, 1982; and transport “Ce” with 619 prisoners, which arrived on November 30, 1942.  From both transports, only seventy people survived; all others died.

       To determine who was to be deported, the Germans demanded strict registration of the Jewish population, and not only those of Jewish faith but those of Jewish origin as well.  A German Nazi map from 1942, which locates registered Jews and their domiciles in the Klatovy region (Der Oberlandsratbezirk Klattau mit den von Juden bewohnten Orten), shows sixteen Jews in Čkyně.  All the discriminatory regulations were applied to them; for example, men were put to heavy manual work.  With the deportations began a road of martyrdom from which there were no returns.  Of the sixteen Čkyně citizens of Jewish faith and origin, fourteen died far away from their home as victims of the Nazi “final solution of the Jewish question.”  Their lives were destroyed by Nazi terror, and only their names are left.

       Only two citizens of Čkyně survived German occupation, due mainly to their mixed marriages:  Jaroslav Lederer (born February 18, 1901)  went with transport AE2-220 from Prague to Terezin, and from there back to Čkyně after liberation and finally back to Prague where he died in 1979; and Karolina Spaningerova (maiden name Cervinkova, born May 18, 1890, Čkyně no. 105), who was not deported at all.  Karolina died in Brenice in 1984, the last survivng Čkyně Jew.
       Besides the fourteen martyred Čkyně Jewish citizens, other Jews from the outlying area around Čkyně also died.  For example, from the Lederer family: Ludvik Lederer (born 1897); Irma Lederer (born 1892, married name Polacek) together with her husband and two daughters; Wilem Lederer, (born 1903) together with his wife and son; Hanna Lederer (born 1911, married name Platovsky), together with her husband and son; and Frantisek Lederer (born 1896) who was shot to death on March 7, 1942 in Osvetim.  Also, Ervin Lederer (born 1989), the head clerk in the Kosmos factory in Caslav and a long term member of the anti-fascist underground,  was deported as a penalty for the Heydrich assassination.  He was put on a transport (AAh) consisting of 1000 prisoners that originated in Prague on July 10, 1842 and went to Poland, from which one person survived.  Finally, there was Elsa Lederer and her husband who, with their son and daughter, survived by flying to Palestine in 1939.

       The Nazi terror ended the historical development of Jewish settlement in Čkyně and other places in Bohemia, as well as in the rest of Europe that  was under the German influence.  No Jewish people now live in Čkyně or in the surrounding areas.  Only the deserted synagogue and the old Jewish cemetery bear testimony to the Jews' prior existence.  Slowly, the memories of the local people are fading and, with the last of the people who can still remember, the Jewish history of the area is slipping into oblivion.  The tragic end of the last generation of Jews is so important that it must never be forgotten.

       The synagogue and Jewish cemetery in Čkyně have not served their original purpose in quite some time. They remain as interesting cultural monuments that are the only reminders of Jewish settlement in this town.  The old synagogue in the Vysoky dvur no longer exists today.  The new synagogue from 1828 has been adopted by residential house number 105, and still exists today.  It is a large, one-tract building in a rectangular shape.  Although the Čkyně synagogue has been architecturally obliterated by renovation and adaptation of the synagogue into a regular house and woodworking shop, it is possible to visualize the synagogue as it may have looked originally.  In the present condition of the house we can define some of its original structure.  On its south and north sides most of the windows are original, and on the east side there is an original portal.  The renovation and adaptation occurred after the Jewish community sold it to a husband and wife named Spanninger.  Most of the changes occurred in the east part where the main praying room was situated.  The western part has remained mostly intact.  The building has three-sided gables.  The eastern gable is full of little oval windows, with a relief of so-called "God’s eye" among them.  On the south and north side are tall windows with half-circled vaults.  The adaptation not only changed the look of the east side, but also the interior.  The structure became unoccupied as of 1983.  There is a possibility it may be used for cultural events in the future.

       The Jewish cemetery in Čkyně, 1849 square meters in size, is not far from the eastern end of town, above the railroad tracks from Strakonice to Vimperk.  It was founded in the last quarter of the seventeenth century and the oldest tombstones are from 1688 and 1700.  The burials were not only from Čkyně, but also from surrounding areas.  After the Jewish ghetto was dissolved, the cemetery was taken care of by the Vimperk Jewish community.  The last burials occurred in 1942.  The Jewish cemetery in Čkyně is now the property of the Jewish religious community in Prague (which owns cemeteries all over the Czech Republic) and is a historical monument under the protection of the state.  The cultural and historical significance of Jewish cemeteries in Bohemia and Moravia are in the aesthetics and art value of the tombstones, as well as the historical value of the inscriptions.  The oldest tombstones in Jewish cemeteries from southwest Bohemia are the Baroque stones fashioned from white marble.  They are rough-cut with plant motifs as decoration.  The best examples of this style of tombstones, influenced mainly by Czech and Jewish folk art, can be seen in Volyn, and are quite comparable to those in Čkyně.  From the second half of the nineteenth century, the tombstones found in Jewish cemeteries (including Čkyně) have standard craftsmanship.

       The ornamental decoration of tombstones in Jewish cemeteries have mostly symbolic meanings, and they can be characterized into four groups:

  1. Symbols which characterize the belonging of the deceased to the descendent of biblical clergy: Cohanes (blessing hands) or Levites (set of jug and basin).
  2. Symbols of personal or family name of the deceased, for example a lion for the name of Jeduha, Arje, Low; a deer for the name Zvi, Hirsch; a rose for Rose; etc.
  3. Symbols of the occupation of the deceased such as a picture of a particular instrument for that occupation: a pair of scissors for a tailor; a mortar and pestle for a pharmacist; etc.
  4. Common symbols such as a crown to symbolize matrimonial faithfulness or a good name, grapes symbolizing fertility or wisdom, and stars of David which sometimes represented the name David but usually just represented the Jewish faith.
       In most cases we can see these symbols also in the Jewish cemetery of Čkyně.  On later tombstones in the Jewish cemetery of Čkyně we see religious symbols such as the star of David or the blessing hands of Cohen.

       The tombstones in Jewish cemeteries are not only valuable antiques, they also have historical value for Jews.  The inscription of a Jewish tombstone has the name of the deceased and the name of the father of the deceased; for a married woman the inscription has the name of her husband; and all inscriptions had the date of death or date of the funeral.  The biggest part of the inscription described the deceased's merits, his occupation and status in the village, his knowledge, the sadness of the survivors, and wishes for reward in the afterlife.  The tombstones’ inscriptions on the older graves in the Jewish cemetery in Čkyně are as they are in other Jewish cemeteries in Bohemia - only in the Hebrew language.  The inscriptions on the later tombstones are mostly in two languages: Hebrew and German, or Hebrew and Czech.

       The mortuary of the Čkyně Jewish cemetery is a simple, small building from the 19th century that serves as an entrance into cemetery and, in the past, was used as a ritual body washing room for the deceased.  On an inside wall is a preserved decorative (Calligraphic) Hebrew inscription that contains a citation from Jewish funeral prayers.

      The Jewish cemetery in Čkyně was, until the 1950’s, tended by the Spanninger couple but fell into decay by as a result of weather, weeds, and vandalism that destroyed many graves.  In 1982, thanks to the understanding of ONV Prachtice and the Department of Culture, MNV Čkyně, and ZNO in Prague, as well as dedicated individuals in Čkyně and the surrounding areas, reconstruction of the graves began and is ongoing.  The goal is to return the cemetery and this important cultural memorial into a dignified state.

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Copyright © 2013 E. Randol Schoenberg