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History of the Jewish Community in Teplice


The Jewish settlement in Teplice dates back to ancient times. The first records of the Jewish inhabitants living in this town go back to the year 1414, when this town was designated as an Abbey town, as it belonged to the local of the Benedictine convent. In the oldest record, these Jews were referred to as creditors of the local nobility and the tributary town Teplice provided them not only with permanent asylum but also with a favoured status not accorded them in royal towns. It was the royal towns in the Czech lands that systematically banished Jewish people from them. At that time Jews in our country had to obey the strict laws called Statuta Judeorum, decreed as early as the time of the King Přemysl Otakar II. The earliest written records of the synagogue can be found in the city books from the year 1550. Later a Jewish school and "mikve", the Jewish ritual bath, were attached to the synagogue. The most illustrative evidence of the Jews´ position at that time can be found in the documents called Instructions, issued in 1606 by Radslav Vchynský, the owner of the Teplice domain. This document reveals that the Jews living in this territory were not allowed to move, settle down, sell their houses or buy new houses without their lords´ permission; they were not allowed to complain about their situation to their rabbi in Prague. At the beginning of the Thirty Years´ War, in 1618, there were only 78 Jews in Teplice. Soon after the end of the war, in 1652, when only 500 Christian inhabitants were left in the town, the books refer only to approximately 231 Jews who lived in the town.

The first well-known rabbi in Teplice was Löbl Baum (1654). In 1668 the Teplice Jews were twice groundlessly punished by banishment from the town by a special decree; the remaining Jews who did not leave the town were sent to live in the Jewish Ghetto. The banished Jews settled in the Teplice neighbourhood, in the village called Sobědruhy, where they founded their own religious community, established their cemetery and built a synagogue.

The Jews have always been a welcome source of income for the establishment. They had to pay special fees both for their protection and for their activities associated with trade and various crafts. Thanks to one type of the fee, the "Pardongeld", introduced by Clary-Aldringeny in 1696, we can form an idea of the Teplice Jews´ life at that time. Thus we can learn about how they earned their living, developed trade activities, lent money for interest and participated in the trading activities associated with the spa. In addition to the above named fees, they also paid a special land and real estate tax to the municipal authorities, a tax for the passage way to the Jewish cemetery, a tax for making use of water from the city water piping system, even for living in the town, and finally they were expected to contribute to the army.

In 1726 the Family Act (Familitantní zákon) was issued, which strictly limited the number of Jewish families in the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. During the period when this act was effective the number of Jewish families in Teplice was reduced to 55.

The reign of the Emperor Joseph II brought Jewish people liberation from mediaeval restrictions. By issuing a series of patents certain laws that limited their rights were abolished, e.g. their duty to wear a special designation on their clothes or the obligation to live in a ghetto; they were also allowed to study at universities, to deal in nearly all trades and business activities; they were also allowed to associate with the Christian population of the town. A new act concerning names was also adopted - under this act the duty of the Jews was to always write their names in connection with a German surname.

On the 1st of June 1793 the whole town of Teplice was afflicted by a devastating fire, during which 166 Christian houses went to rack and ruin, including the whole Jewish ghetto in the middle of the town. Thanks to the support form the municipal authorities the whole quarter was soon rebuilt. During this reconstruction three new spas were established in Teplice - for men, women and "foreign" Jews. This new quarter of the town was not so strictly separated from the other community thus becoming part of the town. In 1831 a new institute was founded in the town, the Israelite Spa Institute (Israelitische Badeninstitut), which also controlled the hospital where "foreign" Jews were treated.

In 1832 the Teplice Jewish religious community boasted its first educated rabbi - Dr. Zachariah Frankl. The stormy year of 1848 then brought a significant change in the legal position of Jewish inhabitants. They were given back their political freedom. Again they were granted their freedom of movement and were given access to public authorities. In 1861 one of the last mediaeval restrictions was abolished. The Jews were allowed to own and rent land without any restrictions. In 1853 Teplice had 2,800 inhabitants, 500 of whom were of Jewish religion; in 1870 the number of Jews rose to 1,280. This growing number of members of the Jewish community in the years 1880-1882 led to the construction of the Grand Synagogue - the largest synagogue that has ever been built in Czech lands.

After World War I a large group of orthodox Jews (refugees from Eastern Europe) came and settled down in the Teplice region. In 1932 the Jewish Religious Community in Teplice had approximately 5,000 persons. The whole Jewish community, apart from Teplice and one part of Trnovany,  comprised the following villages: Bořislav, Rtyně nad Bílinou, Kladruby, Újezdeček, Žalany, Řetenice, Hudcov, Bystřany, Duchcov, Ledvice, Lahošť, Mariánské Radčice, Jeníkov, Oldřichov a Zabrušany.

As a result of Nazi Germany, the annexation of Austria and the threat of the occupation of the Czech border lands, a great number of Jewish families left the country as early as the end of summer and in September 1938. By the end of the year approximately 7,000 Jews had abandoned the Teplice District. They all left a considerable amount of property. The Teplice Chronicle includes the following figures: of the 231 larger companies in Teplice 89 were Jewish-owned, also nearly all shops. After the occupation of the Border Land by Nazi Germany 511 houses and villas and 526 flats were abandoned by Teplice Jews.

After the war only a handful of the original Jewish inhabitants returned to this town and thus the majority of the renewed Jewish community was formed by refugees from the Sub-Carpathian Ukraine. Later, the majority of them made use of the opportunity to leave the town and live in the newly created state of Israel. Around 1949 there were only 420 Jews in Teplice. Today the Teplice Jewish community, which also conducts its activities in the Districts of Most, Chomutov and Louny, has only 100 members and one meeting-house (chapel, tabernacle) in Lípová 25, Teplice, in the building of the former Spa Institute, since both pre-war synagogues fell victims to the war and post-war efforts to erase Jewish history and everything that evokes memories of it from our towns.

The New Synagogue in Teplice

In the late 19th century the Teplice Jewish community started to grow rapidly. In the 1870s the Old Synagogue in the former ghetto did not succeed in housing all the faithful and thus the decision was made to erect a new synagogue that would accommodate the growing Jewish community and at the same time was able to represent it. The number of Jews in Teplice was increasing that time - in 1879 the consensus revealed the figure of 1,718 persons of the Jewish creed and in 1890 the Teplice Jewish community with 1,865 persons/members was the second largest community in Bohemia after Prague. In 1872 the Teplice Jewish Community succeeded in making a purchase of the Halas Family land - 5,071 square meters for 25,000 florins - which was situated in one of the most suitable places - on a hill which dominated, together with two others, the closest vicinity of the town of Teplice. Until the mid-17th century this hill was called Breite Stein (Široký vrch/Wide Hill), and later Judenberg (Jewish Hill), when in 1669 the original Jewish cemetery was relocated/transferred to this place. When soon after 1862 the cemetery was closed, the locality started to become a lucrative new housing development. At the very top of the hill, in close vicinity to the Jewish cemetery the Evangelical Church of St. Bartholomew was built in 1861-4; on the southern slope of the hill there was a path (later called Lípová Street) connecting the town of Teplice with Šanov and along this path new splendid villas started spring up.

The birth of the first building designed by the famous Viennese architect Wilhelm Stiassne, as recorded in the later report of the Temple Society, can be set in the same period. Although contemporary progress of research does not provide us with any of Stiassne´s signs, draughts or any other indicia that would prove his authorship, it does not warrant denial, even if the performance plans for the new synagogue were created by a different architect. We can assume that the strong and rich Jewish community of Teplice wanted to find the best architect of the time for this significant building. This community turned its attention to Vienna and addressed the architect W. Stiassne (1842-1910), who held an office of the Construction Councillor at that time. This man was the designer of numerous buildings in Vienna, of numerous synagogues (Vienna II - Leopoldstrasse 29, Praha - Vinohrady and Jerusalem Street, Čáslav, Jablonec nad Nisou, Malacky), who later became the Chairman of the Vienna Jewish community. This community was thus protected by the name of a famous architect, who could not devote his attention to similar designs at that time. These plans were drawn up by Herrmann Rudolph (1846-1924), who came to Teplice from Dresden to finish the construction of the first municipal theatre and settled here.

Although the plans/designs for the synagogue were ready, the construction was delayed by several years, mainly due to ongoing disputes and controversial opinions inside the Jewish community. They all agreed that it was necessary to build the synagogue, nevertheless they could not agree on such a monumental and costly project.

The foundation of the Society for the Construction of the Synagogue (Tempelbau Verein) in 1879 was an important moment in the history of the Jewish community. The main purpose of the Society, modelled on its counterpart, i.e. the Society for the Construction of the Christian Cathedral in Vienna, was to make use of voluntary collections and donations, create a construction fund, get as many supporters as possible and start to carry out the project - the construction of the new synagogue. At the end of January 1880 the local paper Teplitz-Schönauer Anzeiger repeatedly published a notice of the impending general meeting of the Society. The proposed agenda of the meeting planned to accept new members, elect the Board of Directors of the Society for the following year and negotiate the submitted proposals. The General Meeting was held on 1st February 1880 in the presence of 36 members; in May 1880, after more than half a year of its regular activity, the Association could boast 111 active members and eighty-six contributing members; it collected property amounting to 910 florins and 58 kreutzers and was ranked among the most active societies in the whole Jewish community.

In summer 1880 it was finally decided to build a synagogue according to the plans designed by Herrmann Rudolph. These were submitted as an implementation documentation to be assessed by the Teplice Municipal Authority (Town Hall) on 19th August 1880 and its representatives made a decision two days later to permit the construction of the New Synagogue in Teplice. Hermann Rudolph himself was appointed the chief agent of the site and he carried out the project together with the well-known Teplice architect David Ferber. The ceremony on the occasion of the laying down of the foundation stone, held in the presence of numerous guests, took place in rather unusual period of the year, in the middle of winter, on 28th December 1881. The construction which was making rapid progress had to be suddenly interrupted, due to technical problems. The parts of brickwork/ masonry and four pillars that were to bear the dome of the synagogue were sinking/subsiding ). The pillars had to be broken away and rebuilt on deepened and strengthened foundations. Equally, as advised by Josef Mocker, the leading Czech architect, at that time the chief architect for the completion of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, these pillars had to be equipped with iron beams which were to equally distribute the weight of the dome. All these changes required a new and more careful project, which was approved at the end of February 1882 and was subsequently finished without any difficulties in summer of the same year.On Friday, 16th June 1882 the construction of the synagogue was completed with the final ceremony of the soldering of the cupola (dome). This ceremony was organised by the Society in the presence of the Jewish community. The representatives of the community placed in the copula very important documents informing future generations about the progress of construction activities and other materials about the period in which it was built. The approval procedure was held on 6th September 1882.

The construction of the new synagogue lasted only a short period of time - 18 months. The construction costs also corresponded to this short period of construction - after the reconstruction and the inclusion of the price for the basic equipment of the synagogue, the costs climbed up to 100,000 florins. This amount of money invested by the Teplice Jewish community was to a great extent covered by loans of Teplice banking houses and numerous mortgages for both the construction itself and the land on which it was built. One portion of this amount was, thanks to the hard work of the Society, acquired by collecting contributions among members of the Jewish community.

Another significant event, prepared on the occasion of consecration of the new synagogue and organised by the whole Jewish community, was held on Sunday afternoon, 10th September 1882. An organised procession of Jewish community members, also accompanied by numerous inhabitants of the town, set out on a symbolic journey from the old Synagogue in the former ghetto to the new synagogue. The weather on that day was wonderful; after the ceremony of the opening of the synagogue, the festivities continued with the consecration of the inside of the Temple. This act was observed, according to estimates of the Teplitz Schönauer Anzeiger, approximately by 2,000 people. Also a great number of important guests and delegations from the surrounding Jewish communities, took part in the ceremony, and those who could not come sent at least a telegram congratulating the Teplice Jewish community on that event. In the evening there was a banquet in the Garden Hall (Gartensaal ) of Prince Clary. On the occasion of the consecration a jubilee pewter medal (commemorative) was issued.

At the time of the consecration of the temple, the building was not fully equipped - it was opened without proper internal lighting (at that time replaced by candles), the heating had not been introduced and the furniture of the building was only partially existent, adornment with paintings and other artisan works had to be postponed because of the enormous humidity in the building . The Synagogue was built in Neo-Renaissance style with Moorish decorative elements. The Neo-Renaissance was a dominating architectural style at that time, mainly for public and monumental buildings. Therefore it is no wonder that the above named style was also selected for the construction of the new Teplice synagogue. This building, however, was not only a sacred place of the Jewish worship - God´s Dome, but also a building where all Jews could meet and study, or sort out social affairs. With its pretentiousness and large size this building was to represent both the power and strength of the Jewish community. It was the Neo-Renaissance architectural style that corresponded to the purpose of the building. It was characterised by perfect symmetry, numerous types of decorative elements in its front facade and a big dome that reminded all people of the dome in Florence.

The Moorish style in our countries, on the contrary, was used exclusively in/with synagogues. The Jews in the middle of the last century, i.e. in the period when their civil freedom was strengthened, put more emphasis on the place from which they originally came. The country of their origin - Palestine - had been influenced by the style of Arabian architects for many centuries. Therefore, it is no wonder that, when Jews in Europe wanted to be reminded of their original home, they also showed it in the construction of their houses or some other buildings they used. They turned back to Islamic architecture. This is also the case of the Teplice Synagogue, where elements of the Moorish style were mixed, quite inconspicuously, with the dominating Neo-Renaissance style. The most significant among them were four small domes placed in corners of the building which seemed to contribute to the effect created by the main dome of the temple. The effect was compared to the role of four minarets which completed the domes of Islamic mosques. Many other elements of Moorish origin were hidden to the eyes of outer viewers - in the internal decorations of the temple.

The Synagogue was a huge cubic, two-storey building with a three-aisled layout, on the eastern side finished by a half-circular apse. All four fronts of the building were symmetrically divided by high windows and they were also filled with numerous decorative elements which drew on the heritage of Renaissance architecture. The fronts were finished by a slightly sloped roof crowned with a large central dome together with four small ones placed in four corners of the building. The monumentality of the project (of the following dimensions: length - 41m, width - 25 m and 42 m to the top of the mast of the main dome) was also stressed by the location of its construction site. The Synagogue thus, together with the Evangelical church dominated the whole Jewish Hill and, when looking at it from the distance, it also dominated the panorama of the whole town - its high central dome was visible all around the countryside of the town.

Synagogue _1900_ Postcard.jpg (198988 bytes)                Synagogue_and_Town_1900_Postcard.jpg (162734 bytes)
Click on an image for a larger view.

In this part of the brief historical survey it is necessary to note that the building with its magnificence and monumentality belonged to the jewels of the Jewish sacred architecture of north Western Bohemia. The total capacity of seats had no match in Bohemia at that time - the only comparable synagogue is the building of the Great Synagogue in Plzeň. In the Teplice Synagogue the ground floor behind the entrance hall was finished with a sanctuary with Thora, the place for men only, which provided 734 seats, The seats for women, as it is the custom in Jewish synagogues, were strictly separated from men´s seats. In this case they were located on the first and second floors, in the galleries located along the main aisle in a U-shape. The galleries provided 638 seats for women. The room above the ground floor hall was used for prayer meetings; it offered 120 seats for men and 70 seats for women.

The Synagogue provided a lot of room for various culturally-oriented activities. Until 1938 it was a seat of the Teplice Temple Association, which became a follower of the original Society for the Construction of the Temple. In its Statutes the Association determined /defined the following activities as its sphere of interest: "getting material means for the equipment and decoration of the Jewish synagogue in Teplice, supporting Jews that were dependent on this assistance and providing clothes to poor Jewish school children."

Regular activities of this Society were intermingled with extraordinary activity associated predominantly with the provision of a variety of construction alterations, adaptations and reconstructions inside the synagogue. In 1883 the installation of gas lighting was one of the most significant. In 1905 it was succeeded by a series of alterations - the painting of internal sections of the castle was completed together with the marble facing (red marble was used) up to the height of 1m; double windows were set and a steam heating boiler was installed in the synagogue. In 1927 the old-fashioned gas lighting was replaced by electric lighting.

In October 1938 the town of Teplice was ceded to Germany. A great majority of the Teplice Jews, however, succeeded in leaving the town and the synagogue was abandoned from 9th October. In December 1938 the Teplice Mayor took some measures which enabled him to protect the property and closed the synagogue to avoid possible attacks from vandals. Together with the Reich Authorities he tried to find new a utilisation for this building. For the town which needed new municipal buildings the best thing to do was to transfer the town museum and the municipal archives etc. to this building and at the same time to make use of its space for concerts and theatre performances. This solution was also accepted by the Reich Administration. An attempt to preserve this magnificent building was thwarted by riots which took place during the night from 14th to 15th March. The synagogue was set on fire and totally destroyed by the next morning. Due to the damage the municipal Building Authority decided almost immediately on its demolition.

Thus, in this despicable manner, one of the real jewels of Teplice architecture has completely disappeared. The majority of other magnificent synagogues located in the Border area met the same fate during this period of the Second World War. The only things left up to the present day are numerous memories, some documents and period photographs.


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